Lynx solidify status as WNBA dynasty with fourth title in seven years

Since the end of the Qing Empire in China, the word dynasty has become more closely associated with sports than with anything else. It gets tossed around in just about any conversation having to do with the best in sports. The New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls, and New England Patriots are a few of the teams that have earned the revered title of dynasty. Each of those clubs had a steady streak of dominance, a handful of Hall of Famers, and a strong leader to helm the ship.

Now there’s one more team that deserves the honor of dynasty: the Minnesota Lynx.

Yes, that’s right; the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. You know, that professional women’s basketball league in the United States that bears the same initials as its multi-billion dollar male counterpart. The Lynx captured their fourth WNBA title in seven years on Wednesday night with an 85-76 Game 5 win over the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks, becoming the first franchise since the defunct Houston Comets to win four championships.

[More from Excelle Sports: Lynx win 2017 WNBA Finals to capture fourth title in seven years]

The Legacy

The win was sweet revenge and redemption for Minnesota after losing Game 5 of last year’s WNBA Finals at home to the Sparks. But this year it was different, and by winning their fourth championship, the Lynx established themselves as the premier franchise in the league’s 21-year history.

Of course, that last sentence was written with some caution. The first four years of the WNBA were dominated by the Houston Comets, who were led by three perennial All-Stars on their championship teams. Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes are already in the Basketball Hall of Fame, while Tina Thompson will likely be joining them in Springfield soon. Unlike the Lynx, the Comets repeated as champions from 1997-2000. Most importantly, Houston’s incredible success served as the foundation for the league’s continued growth.

But the competition and talent of the WNBA is far better now than it was at the league’s infancy. Even Basketball Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who played against those great Comets teams, agrees:

Just think about who the Lynx have had to face over the last seven years. First, they had to dispatch a talented Atlanta Dream team in the Finals twice in 2011 and 2013. Secondly, Minnesota had to bounce back in 2015 and defeat Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever after losing to them in 2012. Not to mention, the Lynx failed to make it to the Finals in 2014 after losing to Diana Taurasi and the three-time champion Phoenix Mercury. Similar to their battles with Indiana, the Lynx had to rebound this year against Los Angeles after losing in the Finals last season to the Sparks in heartbreaking fashion. Houston didn’t face nearly the same competition as the Lynx have this decade.

Not to mention, the Lynx had to overcome both a 2-1 series deficit to Los Angeles in these Finals and the growing criticism that the Lynx couldn’t beat the Sparks and that their time as a great team had passed them by.

Having made six appearances in the WNBA Finals (the most in league history), the Lynx have seen it all since 2011. It’s what makes them the greatest team in the history of the league and surpasses what Houston accomplished. Sure, there are going to be some who complain that Minnesota has never repeated as champions and cite their ability to win in only odd-numbered years (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017).

But no team in league history has had more longevity and continuity as a champion than the Minnesota Lynx. Longevity has to count for something, as it does when we consider what a team like the San Antonio Spurs have accomplished in the NBA. As teams and eras have come and gone, one team has remained constant: the Minnesota Lynx.

The Coach

That consistency of success starts and ends with Minnesota’s head coach, Cheryl Reeve. Along with Comets head coach and Hall of Famer Van Chancellor, Reeve is at the mountaintop of WNBA coaches with four rings. She was, as some may forget, a two-time WNBA champion as an assistant for Bill Laimbeer with the Detroit Shock. Now, it’s becoming harder than ever to argue against Cheryl Reeve being the greatest coach in league history.

“They’re so special,” Reeve said after the game in her press conference. “I just can’t even impart to you how special this group is, and I hope that you all continue to kind of bestow your adulation upon them, because this is incredible times in Minnesota sports history and obviously in WNBA history.”

The Core

That continuity can be attributed to the Lynx’s core of Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, and Lindsay Whalen. And of course Rebekkah Brunson, who now has more championship rings (five) than any other WNBA player in league history. It’s a core that has been together for a long time. Augustus and Moore were drafted by the team in 2006 and 2011, while the team traded for Whalen in 2010 and Fowles in 2015. Brunson was acquired in 2010 too.

This has been the year of Sylvia Fowles, who captured both the regular season MVP and Finals MVP during her career-best season. Fowles became the fourth player in league history to win multiple Finals MVPs after also earning the honors in 2015. Fowles showcased her dominance on the floor in this series by recording a double-double in every game against the Sparks, including a Finals-record 20 rebounds in the Game 5 clincher.

While Fowles may be the Lynx’s most dominant player, there is no better scorer or playmaker on the floor than Maya Moore. She led the team in scoring in Game 5 with 18 points, but her biggest play didn’t come until the final 30 seconds of the game. Minnesota was leading Los Angeles 79-67 with under two minutes to go before the Sparks went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to three. The Sparks had all the momentum, and the Lynx needed a bucket to put the game away. They turned to Moore, and she delivered with a running jumper from the free-throw line to put the Lynx up 81-76. Moore’s jumper all but sealed the win for Minnesota. Add it to the extensive collection of great moments in Moore’s championship-filled career.

Here’s the shot that iced the game:

“It’s just hard to compare, obviously, because when times change and talent gets better and we have more opportunities and things now to take advantage of, but I don’t know if you’re going to get a more deep, committed, selfless group that we have right now,” Moore said reflecting on Minnesota’s place in WNBA history after the win. “You have talent, but the people that make up this organization is — it would be really hard to find again, top to bottom.”

While the star power of Fowles and Moore will always grab the majority of headlines surrounding Minnesota, it’s the veteran leadership and experience of Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, and Rebekkah Brunson that has made the difference for the Lynx during their dynasty. The Lynx would not have won the title, let alone four titles, without its three veteran leaders setting the tone, as the Lynx needed its supporting cast to step up alongside Fowles and Moore in order to defeat the Sparks. All three players scored in double figures, with Minnesota’s floor general Whalen leading the way with 17 points.

“I think every time you do this, it just gets a little bit more special because it gets a little harder and it gets a little more meaningful because you know it’s not easy, you know it’s not something that we try to take for granted ever, and we’ve now been on this journey together since 2010, but 2011 was our first ring, and every year since then it gets a little tougher,” Whalen said after the game. “But we keep coming back, and that’s just a testament to our organization, to our coach, and to everybody on this team is that we keep fighting, we keep coming.”

Augustus (33), Whalen (35), and Brunson (35) are moving into the twilight years of their careers, but their will and drive to win has only increased as they’ve gotten older.

[More from Excelle Sports: Excelle Talks Basketball Podcast: WNBA Finals Game 5 Preview]

The definition of dynasty that was referenced at the start of this piece mentions family. That word, and as a matter of fact that entire definition of dynasty, embodies everything that the Minnesota Lynx have represented over the last seven years.

It’s fair to say that many would love to see a trilogy in the epic Lynx-Sparks rivalry next year. Both teams aren’t going anywhere and will certainly be the favorites to return to the Finals in 2018. There may be some concerns with Minnesota’s aging roster, which is the oldest in the league and features four of the five oldest players in the WNBA, but there’s no team outside of the Sparks at this moment that is at the doorstep ready to overtake the Lynx at the mountaintop of professional women’s basketball.

But in the meantime before their championship window closes, let’s appreciate the greatness of this Minnesota Lynx franchise over the last seven years and the dynasty that they have established in the WNBA.

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