Sunday night was always going to belong to Lindsay Whalen. From the moment Whalen led the Lynx onto the Target Center floor to when she was subbed out late in the fourth quarter, the Minnesota crowd was on its feet cheering for No. 13.
The entire team wore ‘Lindsay Whalen 13’ warmups and the whole night was spent celebrating Whalen’s last regular season game in the WNBA.
Whalen played one of her best games of the season in her final outing, finishing with 10 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals. Each time she scored, Target Center erupted like she had hit a game-winner. A buzzer-beater wasn’t necessary though—behind Whalen’s efforts, the Lynx won 88-83, sending their long-time leader off with a victory. It was a fitting tribute for the WNBA’s all-time winningest player.
To put a cherry on top of a phenomenal night, Whalen’s four steals gave her 501 for her career, making her just the 14th player in league history to reach that milestone.
After the game, Whalen was honored in a celebration at center court. Mystics coach Mike Thibault (Whalen’s first WNBA head coach), Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, Lynx teammate Rebekkah Brunson and Glen Taylor’s wife Becky Mulvihill all spoke.
When Whalen was drafted by the Connecticut Sun instead of the Lynx, it made a lot of Minnesota fans very upset—Thibault opened his remarks by acknowledging that fact. But he said that he has no regrets about the decision he made to bring Whalen to Connecticut.
“She made our team a family in Connecticut just like she’s done here in MN, I hope you cut me a little bit of slack because I traded her back,” Thibault said.
While Lynx fans might have wanted Whalen to play her entire WNBA career in Minnesota, Whalen learned some important lessons in Connecticut—lessons that helped mold her into a winner.
Whalen is retiring with 323 wins to her name, more than any other player in WNBA history. Whalen’s winning says a lot about her as an individual player, but it says even more about what she is able to get out of her teammates.
Lynx radio announcer John Focke, who emceed the event, shared a stat that speaks perfectly to the way Whalen earns her victories. When Whalen has seven or more assists, the Lynx are 60-3.
“A lot of people are sad today,” said Thibault. “I’m not sad. Hell no. She’s done playing against us.”
There are others, however, who aren’t quite ready to see Whalen go. Whalen build incredible bonds with her coaches and teammates that reflect deeply on her character and ability to connect with so many kinds of people. It wasn’t all about the winning, the assists and the words of encouragement on the court, it was about the bus rides, the meals, the long road trips and the late nights spent hashing things out in the locker room.
“The most important things are the journey—all the things we do in the locker room, all the things we do when we’re not on the court,” said Brunson. “I was just talking to Syl and she said she’s not ready yet, so do you wanna take it [your retirement] back?”
Unfortunately, Whalen didn’t decide to cancel her retirement, but she did take the stage to thank everyone (and I mean everyone) has helped her on her journey. Whalen alternated between moments of levity (“Who missed the shot for my seventh assist tonight?”) to serious thanks to her coaches, teammates and family. Whalen spoke for nearly 20 minutes, giving the Lynx faithful plenty of time to laugh at her jokes and cheer for her accomplishments one last time.
Of course, one thank you particularly stood out.
Over the course of her remarkable career, Whalen has built an incredibly strong bond with her head coach, Reeve. When Reeve spoke, she did an admirable job of holding back tears as she lauded Whalen’s accomplishments on and off the court. She stressed Whalen’s impact not just on the Lynx but the entire state of Minnesota and emphasized that Whalen’s basketball journey is far from over.
“In an end is usually a new beginning,” Reeve said. “For Lindsay she has a great opportunity to go from being called old for the last five years to being one of the youngest coaches.”
It’s true. Whalen will go from being a veteran in one arena to being a rookie in another. As the head coach of the University of Minnesota, Whalen will trade in her jersey for a clipboard, and though she won’t be suiting up at Target Center, her fans will certainly follow her to the U.
Whalen is a proven winner and she wants nothing less at the U of M. She may be new to head coaching, but fans can expect Whalen to go after her next chapter as she did this one—with passion, commitment, heart and no small dose of humor.