Lynx's success makes for happy days in Minnesota
Playing in a city a local radio jockey once called "Loserville USA," the Lynx — the reigning WNBA champions — are in the midst of a revival.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Storm @ Minnesota, 4 p.m.
MINNEAPOLIS — After a season-opening victory over Phoenix on May 20, Minnesota Lynx guards Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright joined nearly 10,000 fans dancing to the Sugar Hill Gang during a postgame party at the Target Center.
These are the good days.
Playing in a city a local radio host once called "Loserville USA," the Lynx — the reigning WNBA champions — are in the midst of a revival. Check that — in order to be revived, a team has to have once been an established success. Minnesota hasn't ever quite been on that level.
"They went through a long lull," said Katie Smith of the team with which she began her WNBA career in 1999. The veteran guard will be in the Storm (0-2) lineup for its game Sunday at the Lynx (3-0).
Minnesota, coached by Brian Agler its first three seasons, averaged 10,494 fans in its inaugural 1999 campaign. Attendance bottomed out at 6,442 in 2006, after Smith was traded to Detroit. And after failing to reach the postseason for six straight years, from 2005 to 2010, rumors swirled that the Lynx franchise would be relocated.
That, however, was not the intention of owner Glen Taylor. The billionaire owner of the NBA's Timberwolves and chairman of the NBA Board of Governors, Taylor became majority owner of the Lynx in 2002 in a change of operating structure to retain the team. He often sits inches from the Lynx bench with his family at games.
And he was in Atlanta when the Lynx swept the Dream for the 2011 WNBA championship, nearly in tears as he spoke of loving the community and team.
"His philosophy is sort of like the philosophy that our owners have — they bought the team based on their passion for the community," said Seattle coach Agler of Force 10 Hoops, the group of businesswomen that purchased the Storm in 2008. "In my tenure in Minnesota, it was the same way. Glen wanted a team, and he also felt it was going to be good for the community. That's why he went through a series of bad years, because he looked at the big picture."
Under the direction of Taylor, a native of Mankato, Minn., and Lynx CEO Roger Griffith, who resides in Eagan, Minn., the team's community focus has paid off in an increase in news coverage and attendance. The crowd of 12,611 for the 2012 opener was a record for opening day, and last year's overall average of 8,447 ranked fifth in the WNBA, helping Minnesota turn its third profit in 13 years.
"I don't think there's any question that it's the winning," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. "We're 13-21 the year before, and there's no way we see the increase. Roger has said all along that if we win, people will come."
The questions now are — are the fans hooked, and will a possible future owner sustain Taylor's altruistic mindset? Taylor, 71, told The Associated Press earlier in May he's seeking a minority owner in the organization to eventually take the reins. The talk, especially when he mentioned finding someone to "keep the Timberwolves in Minneapolis," sounded eerily like Seattle's saga in eventually losing the Sonics.
Yet the Storm stayed and thrived, winning a second WNBA title under independent ownership in 2010. The Lynx look to win another this season, returning all of their starters and playing a type of precision, hard-nose defensive game that'll make anyone get out their seat and dance.
"Minnesotans in general, we love that kind of play. We're people that work hard and we're unselfish," said Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen, a Minnesota native who played college ball for the Gophers. "It's been a great transition to see people coming out and supporting us, for sure."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.
|The Storm is still looking for their first win of the season, while defending champion Minnesota is off to a 3-0 start.|
|Note: Figures are rounded off|