In early September, the Minnesota Lynx won its 27th game of the 2017 WNBA season, a 14-point thrashing of the Washington Mystics. The win secured the Lynx the top spot in the league’s playoffs—the sixth time the team had grabbed the number one seed in the past seven years—and put the squad in the best position to win its fourth WNBA title.
Fast-forward to the finals, and the Lynx, facing the Los Angeles Sparks (a familiar bete-noire, as the western conference squad defeated the Lynx in the finals last season on a last-second shot), evened the series to one game apiece with a 70-68 win. Since Cheryl Reeve became head coach before the 2010 season, the Lynx has been the most dominant force in women’s hoops, a team that could steam roll opponents even if it was an off game.
But the most interesting about the squad, led by Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, and a supremely dominant Sylvia Fowles (the WNBA’s MVP who grabbed 17 rebounds in Tuesday’s night win), is that no one seems to care.
Put the equivalent of the Lynx in any other professional league and that team would lead off SportsCenter nightly. Op-eds would be written praising the singular focus of the players and the coaching staff. White papers and highlight tapes crafted so that future generations of athletes can internalize and expand upon said greatness. But the Lynx exist in a bubble. While the team does receive some attention, it is nowhere near the level it should be, especially for a team that has reached the WNBA six of the past seven years and was one jump shot away from winning back-to-back titles in 2016.
The argument that no one cares about women’s sports is a lazy one. Everyone cares about winning. That the Lynx represent some of the sport’s most high-level athletes paired with one of the most successful coaches should be enough for people to pay attention, and while there has been an uptick—the WNBA has since significantly rebounded since 2015, when league attendance dropped to an all-time low, buttressed by outstanding rookie classes, scintillating postseason play, and the emergence of superstars like Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, and Nneka Ogwumike—the Lynx has built a dynasty that feels very much underappreciated within the context of sports (and beyond).
What could determine whether the Lynx do break through into the mainstream is the strength of its moral convictions. Many have argued the NBA is the wokest league, which just isn’t true. The WNBA has been ever present since the beginning of the stand for racial equality and an end to police brutality, and though the Lynx hasn’t left the court during the singing of the Star-Spangled banner (like the Sparks have during the final’s two games), the team is still on the forefront of protesting the country’s racial divisions. That, coupled with the team’s brilliance on a game-by-game basis, could be the impetus for attracting attention (and possibly even a larger fan base).
I wrote for FiveThirtyEight about why the Lynx has been so dominant, and what I found is that the team is not only driven by analytics, but Reeve’s squad employs the smartest stathead in the WNBA:
But for all of Minnesota’s obvious weaponry, it has a secret one as well: Paul Swanson — the reclusive, in-house statistician for the Lynx and Timberwolves who is integrated seamlessly into the Lynx coaching staff. “Swanny has this unique ability to provide us with stats I wouldn’t think to ask for,” said Reeve, who carries around pieces of paper full of what the coaching staff calls “Swanny Stats.” “There isn’t another team in the WNBA that has the resources to employ someone like him.”