IMAGINE IF A current NBA team claimed three championships over a five-year stretch, placed four of its members on the U.S. Olympic team and had a winning percentage of .788. Such a squad would be celebrated from Seattle to Sarasota. ESPN and Turner Sports would be politicking to air as many games nationally as they could, and the four Olympians would be SI cover subjects.
Alas, that is not the case for the Minnesota Lynx. Since the start of the 2011 season Minnesota has gone a league-best 139--44 in the regular season, reached four Finals and won titles in '11, '13 and '15. Four of their five starters this year—shooting guard Seimone Augustus (right), center Sylvia Fowles, forward Maya Moore and point guard Lindsay Whalen—will play for the U.S. in Rio.
But the Lynx—and the WNBA as a whole—remain outside mainstream sports culture. On May 31, when Minnesota played the New York Liberty in the nation's media capital, none of the three New York City--based daily newspapers (the Daily News, New York Post and The New York Times) covered the game. Nor did any of the local TV stations.
"That's just how society is," said Augustus of the limited publicity. "But we are breaking barriers. Yeah, it kind of sucks we don't get as much recognition. You see [Warriors forward] Draymond Green with the comments that he made about [learning more from] watching the WNBA. People don't respect what is going on with our games, but the NBA players do."
"It's a microcosm of society and where we place women's sports," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, whose 152--64 record has yielded the highest winning percentage (.704) for any coach in WNBA history (minimum of 100 games). "This group deserves to be celebrated for its sustained excellence."
That sustained excellence is equal parts fortune (using the No. 1 picks they got in exchange for having the league's worst record to draft can't-miss stars Augustus in 2006 and Moore in '11), prudence (trading for Fowles and Whalen, and selecting forward Rebekkah Brunson in the 2009 dispersal draft) and scouting (acquiring supporting players who could start on other teams, such as center Janel McCarville). "Once we added Maya, we all knew our games had to change," Augustus says. "I sacrificed a lot of points, but it didn't matter. That's what makes this team great. No one cares who gets credit."
One player who deserves extra credit is Fowles. Acquired in the middle of last season from Chicago as part of a three-team trade with Atlanta, the 6'6" Fowles is a three-time WNBA All-Star who has already established herself as the franchise's first dominant center. Her size has opened the floor for shooters on offense and has made the Lynx tougher to score on defensively. At week's end Minnesota was leading the league in field goal shooting (49.5%) while allowing just 74.2 points per game, second best in the WNBA.
It has all added up to a 12--0 start to the 34-game season, which is not only the best in league history but also gives the Lynx a decent chance to pass the 2014 Phoenix Mercury's all-time record of 29 wins in a season.
"The group this year wants to be the best Lynx team ever fielded," Reeve says. "They know that I am going to challenge them, and the fact that they let me challenge them makes them great."
Reeve knows the team's window may already be starting to close. Minnesota has the WNBA's oldest roster (including four of the 14 oldest players), with an average of 29.8 years. Its time won't last forever, so it is a team worth savoring.
Minnesota has won three of the past five WNBA titles, has four Olympians and is off to the best start in league history.