Author’s note: At the beginning of each WNBA season, I like to remind and/or annoy some colleagues that we were fortunate to witness one of the greatest practitioners in the history of her sport playing for our local squad. In 2017, I decided to change it up and pay homage to one of her teammates. This post has been sitting in my ‘draft’ folder ever since. I rediscovered it soon after hearing the news about what I’m calling “The End of an Era.”
I know you’re expecting an annual exposition of Maya Moore’s winning percentage in sanctioned games, which is the highest of anyone who has ever participated in team sports. You’re probably also expecting a catalogue of evidence, a tally of numbers dating back to when she started as a freshman for her high-school varsity team and led it to a 125-3 record; then four years at the University of Connecticut, where she finished 150-4; then and now with the Lynx, as well as league titles in Spain, China, Russia; her specific stats on an undefeated team in two Olympic Games. Let’s get this out of the way: Every time Maya Moore steps on a basketball court with a certified referee, there’s a 90 percent chance her team will win.
However, this is about a player I’ve enjoyed even longer, ever since she led Louisiana State University to three consecutive Final Fours (2004, 2005, 2006). I waited in anticipation that, one day, the Lynx would certainly be in position to draft her. Like Maya Moore, who was recruited after her, she was a two-time NCAA Player of the Year, easily the most dynamic player of her class and a certain overall #1 draft pick. Like Maya Moore, she was the sort of player under a microscope, borne into expectations that exceed the imagination – one that faces the kind of pressure that might break the average mortal, but who also inspires others to rise with the heat.
At that time, the Lynx were horrible, the worst team in the league; they were laughably bad sometimes. Because of this, the team had the opportunity to draft #1 overall.
Seimone Augustus was the obvious choice. And the focus of all my praise.
Simultaneously at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, Hutchinson, Minn.’s confessed gym rat, Lindsay Whalen, laid the ground for a popular women’s star in the local market.
Lindsay was drafted elsewhere. Seimone arrived to take her place.
Fans of local women’s basketball, collegiate and professional, suffered mightily through the ’90s and early ’00s. We don’t need to relive it here. Anyone remember the 1970s Fillies?
The men’s side was in worse shape in 2006. Kevin Garnett left. Local basketball needed a star, the kind of player that made you tune in just to see them.
The question for all great players coming out of college to hapless professional teams is singular in nature: How will they respond to losing night in and night out?
Despite winning WNBA Rookie of the Year and being named to the All Star Team, Seimone’s first two years with the Lynx remained awful. They were hopeless without her. She logged 33 of 40 minutes every game and played for five Head Coaches in her first four years. This is in addition to playing in Europe during the WNBA off-season, as most of the best players still do, where she played for top teams such as Dynamo Moscow and Istanbul’s Galatasaray. She may have (probably?) made more money playing in Russia than in the WNBA. The point is this: She played these 33-out-of-40-minutes year-round all over the globe. At long last, the Lynx had a “franchise player” to build around, one who was, more importantly, fun to watch.
In 2010, Cheryl Reeve was hired as Head Coach, and the Lynx traded to acquire the return of Lindsay Whalen, a distributor to pair with Seimone’s creativity.
It didn’t click right away. The Lynx again won the #1 draft pick. The 2011 class has produced eight All-Stars, but everyone agreed that Maya Moore was a transformative player.
Led by Coach Reeve, Augustus, Whalen and Moore, along with playoff stalwart Rebekkah Brunson and 2017 WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles, would go to six of the next seven WNBA Finals, winning four championships – a dynastic run in the 2010s. Seimone was the WNBA Finals MVP in 2011. Eight times an All Star.
When Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve reflects on what most impacted her career, her answer is without hesitation: female role models. Find out how the encouragement she gleaned from female coaches and players made all the difference.
To one of the greatest competitors this market has had the pleasure to see and then remember, I want to thank Seimone Augustus for everything she did for local basketball. She was here before everyone that we currently associate with the Lynx and one of the most transformative athletes for any franchise in local professional sports.
Alan Page, Rod Carew, Chuck Foreman, Bill Goldsworthy, Frank Viola, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Al MacAdam. Seimone Augustus ranks with my favorite players to wear a Minnesota uniform.
But Seimone is not dead! She’s not even retired. Worse than that, she signed with our main rival, the Los Angeles Sparks.
Nothing can take away the triumph and joy that Lynx fans have experienced in recent years. Seimone Augustus laid the foundation. She may thank us in this Instagram post – but we should really thank her.
In the world of women’s sports, Title IX proved to be a boon to female athletes – but in the wake of its passing in 1972, women coaches took a hit. Even now, a mere 40 percent of female athletes are coached by women, a number that has remained stagnant for decades. But thankfully, these eight local female coaches are making a difference.
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