When she was growing up, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve never imagined that young female basketball players would receive the opportunity to play professionally. At that time, the WNBA was nothing but a fantasy.
A lot has changed since then. The WNBA is now a dream for many players and there is no doubt the Lynx have made a huge impact on that, as they will celebrate their 15-year anniversary this upcoming season.
Have there been bumps along the way? Absolutely. But right now, the Lynx are one of the best teams in the WNBA, winning the 2011 WNBA championship while appearing in the Finals last season.
"It's pretty significant to have 15 years of a WNBA team in the league. If you watch high school basketball in the state, what you see is an evolution of the game," Reeve said. "The number of players who have gone on to play D-I in this state, I think the WNBA is a byproduct of that. Being here for 15 years, these kids only know life with our league, when growing up they have the chance to emulate female role models in their backyard. 'I can shoot to be that, I have aspirations to play professionally.' When I was growing up I didn't have that."
Prior to 1998, professional women's basketball did not exist in the state of Minnesota. Then came the announcement on April 22, 1998, declaring the WNBA would add two expansion teamsincluding the Lynx.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor first served as the operating owner beginning in 1999 and became the majority owner in October 2002 after a change in WNBA ownership structure. Taylor has been an advocate for the WNBA ever since and if it wasn't for his willingness to take a risk with the team, the Lynx likely wouldn't exist.
"It's a great thing and it's all because of Glen and his commitment to the WNBA," Reeve said.
"I'm excited to see that this team has been her for 15 years and that we are thriving now," added shooting guard Seimone Augustus. "We are just very excited and thankful to Mr. Taylor for believing in women and sports."
Taylor will be the first to admit, it might not have been a decision many businessmen would make, but he felt that he had to do it.
"I think one of the things is just that I have lived here in Minnesota and have been so fortunate in my career to where I could own the Timberwolves and then bring the Lynx here," Taylor said during an interview with LynxBasketball.com last summer. "And I think just the responsibility is going to be tough, it wasn't going to be profitable, but somebody had to get behind it. And I've just been fortunate to have good businesses in Minnesota, so many great employees, so you want to do what you can... I'm just really proud and pleased with the growth of the Lynx organization."
The commitment has certainly paid off. After missing the playoffs during their first four seasons, the Lynx finished with back-to-back 18-win seasons. That marked the first time in team history in which the Lynx had a winning record.
Minnesota sat out of the playoffs for six straight seasons after that, but in 2010 everything changed.
The Lynx hired Reeve, previously a championship-winning assistant with the Detroit Shock. The team, who already had drafted Augustus No. 1 overall in 2006, traded for former University of Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen. Whalen, a Hutchinson native, instantly became a fan favorite and had been the face of women's basketball in the state of Minnesota ever since leading the Golden Gophers to a Final Four appearance in 2004.
One year later, the Lynx drafted Maya Moore out of the University of Connecticut and it was apparent she was the missing piece. That season, Whalen, Augustus, Moore and Rebekkah Brunson were all named to the All-Star team. It was the most All-Stars the Lynx have had during one season.
Going into the 2011 WNBA playoffs, Minnesota earned a No. 1 seed in the West, and defeated San Antonio, Phoenix and Atlanta on their way to win the WNBA Finals.
It was a championship that electrified the Minnesota fanbase, not just for women basketball fans, but sports fans in general.
The #LosLynx diehard fans have never been stronger.
To say the Lynx have a strong fan base wouldn't be giving the fans justice. Last season, the Lynx averaged 9,683 fans per home game and during their series with the Atlanta Dream in 2011; the Lynx attracted more than 15,000 fans twice in a space of four days.
Newly acquired center Janel McCarville wasn't there for that stretch, but she is aware of the impact the Lynx have had on women's basketball in the state of Minnesota.
"It's great," said the former Gophers standout. "The fan base here is so strong from the Gophers on up to the WBNA."
The fan support hasn't cooled off, and once again, the fans have very high expectations for the Lynx this season and rightfully so. The Lynx are ready to match those expectations during their 15th season and they think it would be appropriate to have another banner hanging down from the rafters in the process.
"Any year is a great year to celebrate a championship," said assistant coach Shelley Patterson. "It's funny that you say 15 years because I came into the league in 1999 as well and wow, that's a long time. Last year would have been a great year to repeat. It's not a goal to win just because it's the 15th anniversary, but if that's the way it happens, it would be great for us and our organization."
The first 15 years went by fast. Here's to the next 15.
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