Taj McWilliams-Franklin was a strong presence for the Lynx both on the court and in the locker room for the team’s first-ever championship in 2011. She is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings. Before the Wings faced the Lynx on Tuesday, she sat down to talk about her time with the Lynx, her relationship with Cheryl Reeve, and her transition to coaching.
Julian Andrews, Web Editorial Associate: If you remember back to 2011 when you joined the Lynx, what went into that decision and why did you want to join the Lynx?
Taj McWilliams-Franklin: [Laughs] I didn’t want to play in Minnesota, Cheryl Reeve convinced me. She called and talked to me and you know Lindsay [Whalen] and Rebekkah [Brunson] had already mentioned wanting to have me there, she really had to convince me. It was more about me trusting her vision, she’d been in Detroit, we’d won a championship and competed in the Finals and lost one and I really liked her as a coach and a role model. When she left Detroit and came, the period before she got hired here she said, ‘I’m not going to accept anything from myself except head coaching, I’m never going to be an assistant again. I liked that force of will when she told me that.
She became the head coach, I watched, I played in New York that year and she was still developing players and the team to what she wanted but she called and I was like, ‘I don’t know about Minnesota… I haven’t heard anything good through the years about it. They’ve been losing all these years and I’m at the end of my career…’ Just like Dwayne Wade and LeBron, everyone wants to win at the end of their careers. Gary Payton went to the Lakers! Karl Malone went to the Lakers! So I was like ‘Ahh, I don’t know…’ But I asked her what was her second choice and one of the things that sold me was that she said ‘I don’t have a second option. You are it.’ That made me understand that she believed in not only—cause my numbers aren’t spectacular, I’m not averaging 20,000 points a game 59 rebounds, I am a player that sets screens, I rebound, I help other players score, I don’t really care to score. If I’m open I’m going to shoot but I’m not forcing anything—so for her to have that type of trust in me and say ‘I’m willing to bring you here and I want you to do what you do,’ that really turned a tide for me. It had nothing to do with anything else. Who she is as a coach but also who she is as a woman and as a human being.
So we’re connected in that way always, even when I play on other teams. Job opportunities, I ask her about it, I like her opinion, I trust her, so I trusted and took a step of faith, and she took a step of faith in me, and it turned into something you guys are talking about now, how great it was. I think that’s something important to know. You can be a great player but you also have to have the right kind of coach to coach you, and Cheryl Reeve is obviously… We can say it now but it wasn’t about a championship at that point, it was just about establishing in the locker room the way we do business, and she said ‘You know how we do business. Be in the locker room, be a presence, and we’re going to do it like this.’
JA: It did work out, obviously you won a championship, can you talk about what that felt like, that playoff run?
TM: It was amazing for me, especially with her. The previous championship in Detroit, Bill Laimbeer was the coach, she was an assistant, so it was good, but it validated the hiring by Mr. Taylor but also your life’s work. If you work as a coach, you want to win championships. NCAA, World Championship, USA Basketball, whatever it is, and for her to win in her second year as a coach it was for me a validation that this was the right move, this was the right step. Even if we hadn’t won, just the way she went about business every day was important.
Getting to know Seimone Augustus better, I knew her because I basically know everyone in the league, getting to play with Lindsay Whalen who I played with in Connecticut, getting to play with Rebekkah Brunson who I’d played against so many years overseas and in the league, that was special. Just being a part of the growth and maturation of Maya Moore made it even better. Our team, Monica Wright was there who I’m lifelong friends with, Candice Wiggins, who is just a special person to me, those kinds of friendships from one year, you don’t normally get when you play cause it’s such a short season.
JA: Can you talk about your journey to coaching a bit? Did you always see yourself as a coach?
TM: Well apparently everybody else told me that! I think being with Reeve also she trusted me with a lot of things. She let me sit in on coaching meetings with her, but I think more than anything I just feel like the gift I’ve been given, it’s only right that I share it. The understanding of the sport, the love of the sport, the understanding that it takes for our young women to be amazing. That’s a natural progression was for me to coach.
JA: How do you hope Minnesota fans remember you? How do you want to be remembered?
TM: Hard working. Happy, fun, all the things that I am. A woman of integrity, and approachable. That’s important to me because at the end of the day numbers disappear. Rebekkah Brunson has already broken the offensive record that I held, but what people remember is how you made them feel. From the people that took tickets I spoke to, people that helped clean up I thanked, I want that to be a memory instead of. ‘Oh she won a championship, that’s great, but she was a terrible person!’ that would hurt me, but rather, we won championships but more than that, Taj McWilliams-Franklin was an amazing person and giving and kind.
JA: Awesome. Thanks so much!
TM: My pleasure, Julian, thank you!