Entering final WNBA season, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles can't avoid the praise and recognition she deserves
Cheryl Reeve said Fowles will still be firmly in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year discussion, as she is every year.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Sylvia Fowles isn’t approaching anything about this season as “her last.” Yes, this is her final WNBA season, but the all-world center is treating it all as business as usual.
Her preparation for this season was the same, and she feels she again put herself in a position to succeed with her offseason work. Fowles participated in every practice in training camp — no maintenance for the 36-year-old.
Everything is currently status quo. Until it’s not.
“I guess I’ll figure all that out once I get to the last game to be like ‘This is my last game,’ ” Fowles said. “Other than that, I don’t think about that.”
Her focus lies where it always has — on the team, on a championship pursuit, on everything but herself.
Minnesota Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve thought last season might be Fowles’ swan song. But in exit meetings at the end of the 2021 season, Reeve kicked everyone else out of the room, leaving just herself and the center.
“I said to her, ‘You don’t look like a player who’s ready to ride off into the sunset or that’s done with basketball,’ ” Reeve said. “And she said, ‘I’m not.’ ”
Still, Reeve understands there are other facets to life than basketball. Fowles wants to have a child and has other professional goals as well. So there was no pressure applied to Fowles. If she wanted to hang it up, Reeve and Co. would have been happy for her. But when the new year rolled around, Fowles knew her decision: She was coming back for one last run.
“I was certainly pleased, not for the obvious reasons. But I think when you have a player like Syl, we say she’s 36, but look at her. There’s still so much more. I’m selfish when it comes to that. I want great players to keep playing,” Reeve said. “I’m fine with (Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird) being 46 and still playing if they can do it, because I love that. There’s such a passion for the game. Syl has more to give.”
Give, not take. The latter isn’t Fowles’ style. She returned this season for the challenge. Yes, to see what she can still do physically. Can she push herself through the ringer one final time? But it extends beyond that, to her teammates.
“Making sure that I’m teaching. I think that’s one thing that I lacked was me being vocal, and being vocal was a challenge for me,” Fowles said. “So I’m challenging myself to make sure I speak up as much as possible and teach as much as I can here in my last year.”
To set her teammates and this organization up for success even after she’s gone. That’s the unselfish person who has established herself as an icon in this league for as much as who she is versus what she’s done.
“She’s just one of the most amazing people. So nurturing and loving,” teammate Napheesa Collier said. “They call her momma Syl for a reason.”
Collier is expecting her first child soon. She wants badly to be able to return by season’s end to suit up next to Fowles, because of how much the center means to her. Fowles already has referred Collier to her Pilates instructor who specializes in postpartum recovery.
“She was kind of the first person that took me under her wing when I came to the Lynx,” Collier said. “Even though this is her last year, I know that she is going to be a permanent fixture in my life, no matter if we’re not playing together anymore. She’s someone I know that I can go to for anything, so I love me some Momma Syl.”
Another teammate, Damiris Dantas, still recalls living in Brazil and watching tape of Fowles playing. She’d think about how much she wanted to play with the center, and the experience has lived up to the expectations.
“She’s so good, not only on the court, but outside the court, good teammate, who for me, it’s special to be here and play together with my big mom, Syl,” Dantas said.
There’s always a championship expectation in Minnesota, as forward Natalie Achonwa noted. But this year the urgency to contend at a high level might be at an all-time high. Because Fowles’ teammates want that for the center. She deserves it. Reeve said Fowles will still be firmly in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year discussion, as she is every year.
“We know what Syl is going to bring. I think with the team, collectively, making sure we play together to make this a good year for her. Like coach said, this is Syl’s ride, we’re just going on it with her. And that’s basically how it is,” Odyssey Sims said. “We want to make sure every game, every practice, whatever she says, we go with it. It’s her last year. … She’s a legend. This year is going to be great. Really, really great.”
Achonwa is happy Fowles is going to receive the flowers she deserves both at Target Center, and the various other stops around the league this summer.
“Because she deserves it,” Achonwa said.
Even if she might not want it. For once, Fowles will be the center … of attention. And while that might make her uncomfortable, it’s exactly where she’s meant to be.
“She doesn’t want any of it. I told her, ‘Too bad.’ You have to, because Syl deserves everything coming her way in this final season,” Reeve said.
It started at the open of training camp, when Fowles came knocking on Reeve’s door. When she popped in, the coach greeted her with a “Happy last first day.”
“This is going to be like pretty much all the time, ‘This is going to be your last time doing this.’ I’m sure when we get to a certain point, she’s going to say, ‘Just stop it. Let me just enjoy it,’” Reeve said. “And that’s what we want Syl to do is just enjoy the heck out of it. I think other cities we go to will honor and (pay) tribute to Syl’s career. She’ll deserve all of it. I hope that we all go crazy at every turn, because she deserves every bit of that.
“I think that Syl is the type that she wants to do for others. That’s her love language, doing for others. Not people doing for her. So those moments are hard for her, but as I said, too bad, we’re going to do it anyway.”