Professional Basketball

WNBA Season Ends With Parade, Celebration in Minneapolis

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MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Lynx celebrated their fourth WNBA championship by holding a parade and rally in Minneapolis on Thursday evening. Unlike the previous three, this time it was at night with the parade route along University Avenue on the campus of the University of Minnesota instead of during the day in downtown Minneapolis.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen smiles for a fan during the Minnesota Lynx 2017 championship parade in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Don Ackerman/Lynx Prowlers

Nonetheless, a crowd estimated at 5,000 was on hand to witness the rally at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena, where the team played all of their postseason games because of renovation at Target Center, their home court in downtown Minneapolis, and the beginning of hockey season at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul where the team relocated during the regular season.

The parade route was lined with fans of all ages wearing blue and green, the team’s colors, just as the sun was setting.

Two motorcycles from the Minneapolis Police Department led the way with their lights flashing, with two MPD sport utility vehicles trailing behind. As the crowd yelled, “Let’s Go Lynx,” a group of support people from the Lynx front office marched behind the police vehicles with the banner that read, “2017 WNBA Champions.”

Behind them came the Hutchinson High School marching band playing the Minnesota Rouser, the official cheer of the University of Minnesota. Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen attended both Hutchinson High School and the University of Minnesota prior to her professional career, giving added significance to the band’s presence.

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve was the first of the players and coaches to arrive in the back of convertibles. Once her car was in sight, the crowd began chanting, “Whose House? Our House!,” the team’s arena cheer since the 2015 season.

Then came the assistant coaches, Shelley Patterson, James Wade and Walt Hopkins, throwing candy to the children in the crowd. This was followed by the team’s medical staff and men’s practice team, integral to keeping the team healthy and on its game during the season, and Jason Hudoba, the arena host. A drum line performed as intermission before the players arrived.

Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore sets the fourth WNBA championship trophy on the table with the others during the Minnesota Lynx 2017 championship celebration at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena on Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Don Ackerman/Lynx Prowlers

The crowd roared with delight as the convertibles came through with two players in each car. When the final car arrived, a black convertible carrying forward Maya Moore, center Sylvia Fowles, and all four of the championship trophies, the crowd was nearly as loud outside of Williams Arena as it was the night before with shouts of “M-V-P” in honor of Fowles, who took home the regular season and Finals MVP awards. Flashes from camera phones provided additional lamination through the darkened overcast skies.

It took about 20 minutes for the crowd to make their way indoors to the arena for the celebration, emceed by Lynx radio announcer John Fokke.

After the team was introduced to the crowd for the last time this season, Fokke admitted to the crowd that when he woke up this morning, his voice was a little scratchy and then asked how many in attendance had the same problem.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges each addressed the team and spectators and read off the proclamations from their respective cities.

Fokke then introduced Reeve, who received a long, sustained standing ovation.

After wiping away tears, Reeve said, “Every day is such a blessing. But obviously things didn’t end well the way we wanted them to in 2016. But after Game 3, we kind of picked ourselves up and decided who we wanted to be in this series. We were on a mission to go undefeated in October. We closed it out in one of the most amazing environments that I’ve ever been a part of in a championship series.” This was Reeve’s 10th WNBA Finals series of her career as either and assistant coach or head coach in a league that is only 21 years old. Reeve also took the time to thank team owner Glen Taylor, the team’s support staff and “the best fans in the WNBA” for sticking with them in a season when they played in two different arenas away from their normal home court.

Fokke introduced Whalen who said about last night’s environment, “It was great. Really great. A crowd of over 14 thousand including people up in the rafters in [section] 223. It was fun too. It was really good.” The crowd chuckled at Whalen’s simplistic response.

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles waves to a fan while forward Maya Moore gives an interview with a television reporter during Thursday night’s parade in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of Don Ackerman/Lynx Prowlers

Guard Seimone Augustus, forwards Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore, also addressed the crowd. The audience saved their biggest applause for Fowles, who thanked Reeve for helping her develop into a better player.

Then came the highlight video, set to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” the team dance to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache (Jump On It),” both long standing Lynx traditions, and the crowd and the team joined together to sing Queen’s “We are the Champions” as the confetti poured down onto the players on the court.

Just like that, it was over. Parade, celebration and the 2017 season was concluded. The offseason began in an instant.

As the crowd filed out of the arena, players and coaches stuck around for a little while taking in the atmosphere one last time – one last gaze at the empty seats to remember the energy, crowd noise, media hype, cheers, and how tough it is to win a championship.

Some of the Lynx players will go overseas soon to keep their skills fresh and make the larger money than available in the WNBA. Other players will go home to their offseason rituals and to recover from the bumps, bruises and strains that come with the rigors of a championship season.

The coaching staff will begin working on their plans for the 2018 season and the adjustments necessary to compete at a high level. No doubt the coaching staffs and players from the other 11 teams will be doing the same thing.

In six months, we’ll go through the WNBA Draft, training camp, the next campaign for a championship and the 2017 season will soon be just another memory. For the Lynx, it will be a

“Drive for Five,” campaign to set new ground as the only team to win five WNBA championships. For the rest of the league, it will be a challenge to stop them.

NOTE:

The 2017 WNBA Finals on ESPN, in which the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 3-2 to win the WNBA Championship, is the highest-rated since 2003. The five-game series averaged a 0.5 metered market rating, up 24 percent compared to 2016, based on metered market ratings from Nielsen.

Wednesday’s Game 5 on ESPN was the highest-rated WNBA Finals game since 2003, delivering a 0.8 metered market rating, doubling last year’s Game 5 rating (0.4). The telecast peaked with a 1.1 rating from 10:45 – 11 p.m. ET.

Game 5 on ESPN generated a 7.9 rating in the Minneapolis market. The remaining top five markets include Hartford (2.4), New Orleans (1.4), Louisville (1.4) and Birmingham (1.2). The telecast averaged a 0.9 in the Los Angeles market.

 

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