MINNEAPOLIS – The year after Minnesota Lynx After winning their fourth WNBA championship, local riders crawled downtown just off South 7th Street and Hennepin Avenue to see Maya Moore’s outstretched arms on a Jordan Brand billboard at the Target Center.
Moore, the 2014 WNBA MVP, was a superstar and the face of the legendary Lynx teams, who won four titles in seven seasons from 2011 to 2017. However, in Minneapolis barbershops, sports bars, church corridors, and living rooms, they talk about “Mon.”
Seimone Augustus’ former teammates and coaches call her the catalyst of the Lynx dynasty, the player who showed up for big moments but also played with a selflessness that spawned a roster of talent.
“She’s the original Lynx,” said former Lynx star Lindsay Whalen, now the head coach of the Minnesota women’s college basketball team. “People can say what they want about me. But we don’t gain anything from it [championships] if it weren’t for Seimone. She was the one who started it. “
And that’s why the city she loves will say thank you when Augustus returns on Saturday, this time as assistant coach to the Los Angeles sparks. It is Augustus’ first trip to Minneapolis since last year’s surprise departure when she was in February 2020 joined the spark as a free agent for her 15th and final WNBA season after failing negotiations with the franchise that helped transform her.
A pre-game ceremony between Los Angeles and Minnesota on Saturday will recognize all that Augustus – the abrupt announced her resignation May 13 on the eve of the WNBA season – reached on the Lynx. She is one of the league’s best-decorated players, No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year 2006, the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP and an eight-time All-Star. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a child prodigy with the killer crossover and the gentle jump shot, also won three Olympic gold medals with the US women’s national team, led her hometown of LSU Tigers to three consecutive Final Four appearances and was twice a national player of the Year in college.
But a celebration of Augustus’ accomplishments would be incomplete without a nod to her first five seasons in Minnesota when she played for four different head coaches and the team never finished above .500. Nevertheless, Augustus remained loyal to the Lynx even in a difficult chapter and laid the foundation for the success that followed.
“I mean, Minnesota knows they have a piece of my heart,” Augustus said at an emotional retirement press conference in May. “I gave them everything I could give for 14 years and I felt like the fans were always great in return. And they still are.”
A young star for a city that needed you
To understand Augustus’ influence on the Lynx, it is important to understand the Minnesota sporting climate at the start of the team in the WNBA. Two years before the Lynx won their first championship in 2011, Minnesota Timberwolves – who at the time were in the middle of a 14-year playoff drought – had decided against drafting twice Stephen Curry.
The Minnesota Wild got stuck in a four-year hiatus from the postseason game and the Minnesota twins, it was clear, would never get past the Yankees. Finally, that Minnesota Vikings had just swung and missed a second magical season with Brett Favre that never materialized, and sacked coach Brad Childress.
Then, in 2011, the Lynx designed Moore, a UConn star and one of the most accomplished college players in the game’s history. And the Lynx, which finished 13-21 in 2010 – Augustus suffered a cruciate ligament rupture in June 2009 and then was handicapped by medical issues that limited them to 25 games in 10 – suddenly seemed able to fight for a title.
A legend will come home on Saturday. 💸 pic.twitter.com/xcPMo1TXDN
– Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 10, 2021
But for that they needed Augustus. The excitement surrounding Moore may have shaken other players. It encouraged Augustus to be the key to bonding the team.
“She’s the Pied Piper,” said Lynx trainer and general manager Cheryl Reeve. “Everyone wants to be near Seimone. And wherever she was, people were laughing, so she had the role of teammate that the humor was central as she rolled with them. She could compete with the best. That was her sweet spot. … I think for me as a trainer it was an art form to bring ease into a tense situation at times. And I needed her. “
But the jokes stopped on the square. The Lynx were shaped by an intensity that few teams could achieve in practice. Augustus set the tone in these sessions and helped her gain the admiration and respect of a talented crew.
“This is a team with Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Rebekka Brunson and me,” said Whalen, who was arguably one of the best starters in WNBA history. “If it’s a two-point game, if we’re behind and we need a bucket, we go to Seimone. We go to Seimone and somehow she’s gonna get it somehow and make a game. And that’s why we were so successful, because we were confident that she would do a piece. “
That collective chemistry led the Lynx to the 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 WNBA championships, the largest run in Minnesota’s sports history since the Minneapolis Lakers dominated professional basketball with George Mikan in the 1950s.
An “inconspicuous” phenomenon
Augustus always seemed destined to be great. When she was a freshman in high school, she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women – a monumental moment for a prep star – with a story titled, “Is She the Next Michael Jordan?” “It was almost like the ball was made for your hand,” said Alvin Stewart, Augustus coach at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge.
Stewart coached the boys and girls teams at the Capitol. During the 2001-02 season, Brandon Bass, who played in the NBA for more than a decade, was a star on his team and was ranked No. 10 in the country in the prestigious 2003 boy recruitment class, led by LeBron James, according to ESPN. But Augustus & Co. were the hottest ticket in town, so the boys ‘team played in front of the girls’ team who were the headliners.
The people wanted to see Augustus play. Stewart said officials sometimes get caught up in the hype too.
“She went up and blocked a shot and the referee would whistle,” said Stewart. “I’ll, uh, ‘You didn’t report a foul.’ He said, ‘No, I was just excited, Coach, and I whistled.’ She didn’t foul anyone, he just got upset and accidentally whistled. “
– Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) June 9, 2021
At this point, she had been on LSU’s radar for years. Former LSU head coach Sue Gunter, who died in 2005, told then-assistant Pokey Chatman to leave training early to watch the local prodigy who, while speaking softly, played with a boldness beyond her years .
“I stumble because the stands for a middle school game were full in the middle of the day and I remember seeing this kid who had this nasty crossover in middle school and I thought, ‘Wow!'” said Chatman, Augustus’ head coach at LSU’s Final Four runs in 2005 and 2006. “She’s in middle school and we have to wait four more years? She could get a scholarship and be productive and effective now.”
At the LSU, Augustus continued to shine on the pitch without losing her down-to-earth personality.
Her teammates giggled when she posed as her coach. She had developed a running joke about former LSU assistant Bob Starkey, who slept in his office and dreamed of basketball. That always made the whole room laugh. But her behavior sometimes confused her too – until it was time to play.
“She’s so humble because she doesn’t walk around with that huge ego,” said Scholanda (Hoston) Dorrell, Augustus’ teammate at LSU and a former WNBA player. “It’s almost as casual, really relaxed [vibe]. It’s like, ‘Are you here today?’ And then she comes out and lights you up for 30 like it’s nothing. “
A real farewell
Augustus always reacted to the moment. This trait changed the trajectory of the Lynx franchise.
“I think the emotions [on Saturday] is going to be a bit more overwhelming than anyone else because she was drafted to Minnesota, “said Rebekka Brunson, a Lynx assistant who played with Augustus on these Lynx championship teams.” So much has happened [here]that she’s a rookie and just trying to figure it out, being on a franchise that really isn’t winning right now, playing in front of limited fans and arenas that really weren’t full. And then watching the team transform, it had to be a special trip for them. “
Reeve said she probably won’t say much to Augustus before Saturday’s game because they want to kick each other’s asses. But she admitted that she will always wonder if Augustus’ time with the franchise could have ended differently.
“When you look back, you probably wish it didn’t happen,” said Reeve of Augustus, who left Minnesota. “With this group, I certainly always had the intention that each of them could write their own ending, their own story. But it should be a lynx.”
And that makes Saturday something special. It’s a fitting farewell for a star who gave the city something to brag about.
The lynx were a dominant force, studded with real stars. Whalen was the Minnesota legend who returned to raise the local WNBA team. Brunson was the wise and relentless veteran who gave the lynx the toughness it needed. Moore was the superstar with a Jordan Brand deal and a number of rare abilities to justify all the attention.
However, for those who followed the team during those fertile years, Mone was the heart of this franchise.
“I can’t wait to get back to the target center to let them in and allow myself this one big scream,” Augustus said last month. “So bring your handkerchief.