The Minnesota Lynx may have fallen to the Seattle Storm on Friday night, 96-69, but the loss didn't dampen the celebration that swelled inside Minneapolis' Target Center in honor of future Hall-of-Famer Sylvia Fowles as she played her last regular-season home game.
The 36-year-old Fowles, who helped the Lynx win two WNBA titles during her eight seasons with the franchise, received a standing ovation when she exited the game with two minutes remaining. The eight-time All-Star scored 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in 26 minutes, going 3-for-3 at the line and recording her 100th career double-double in a Minnesota jersey.
"Coming into this season, I didn't want none of this attention but as the season went along, I realized how much love and how much appreciation these fans have for me across this league and I never want to take this for granted," Fowles told ESPN after the game. "So, thank you guys for everything that you have done throughout my career. It's been an amazing ride and I appreciate you all."
Seattle (22-13) secured the win - and a 4-0 sweep of the season series - behind 23 points and nine rebounds from Tina Charles and 21 points from Jewell Loyd, who set a franchise record with her 73rd three-pointer of the season. The previous record was 72, set by none other than soon-to-be-retired 13-time All-Star Sue Bird in 2016. With the win, the Storm also locked up the No. 4 seed in the WNBA playoffs, where they'll host the No. 5-seeded Washington Mystics next week in a first-round, best-of-three series.
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"As a fan of Syl and knowing how amazing she is, you don't want to ruin her night, but it wasn't ruined at all," said Storm coach Noelle Quinn, who's in her second year as head coach. "So much love in the stadium for her and win or lose, you know, it was it was going to be her night and a great night."
The Lynx put Fowles front and center during a post-game ceremony honoring the 15-year WNBA veteran, who was a four-time All-American at LSU before being picked No. 2 overall in the 2008 draft by the Chicago Sky. The Lynx acquired Fowles via a trade in 2015, and she retires as the league's career leader in field-goal percentage, total rebounds, defensive rebounds and double-doubles.
"(Sylvia is) one of the greatest players to ever play - the greatest center of ever play," said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve prior to Friday's tipoff. "People need to know about her, people need to know about her dominance on the court, which a lot of people don't know. And then obviously, what she's brought to so many people: the gifts, the gift of love, the gift of friendship, the gift of generosity. I mean, there's just countless stories."
Several of those stories were shared during Friday night's festivities, during which Minnesota's Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan declared Aug. 12 as "Sylvia Fowles Day" in Minnesota and featured tributes from Reeve, Timberwolves co-owner Glen Taylor, USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, current teammate Napheesa Collier, and former teammates Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, who's also a Lynx assistant coach.
"From a selfish standpoint, I would play with Syl for the rest of my career," said 25-year-old Collier, who gave birth to her first child, a daughter, less than 12 weeks ago and returned from maternity leave early in order to play with Fowles in her last few games. "I wish you'd play 10 more years. I'd stay here for you. … You are truly one of one, a living legend. The way that you represent yourself, this community, this team your country, is with dignity, grace and class."
Fowles is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, with four WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards among her numerous accolades. She was named league MVP in 2017, and she also earned WNBA Finals MVP honors in 2015 and 2017, helping the Lynx earn two of four titles in a seven-year span.
"It's been a joy," said an emotional Fowles following the tributes, which included a rousing chant of "Who's house? Syl's house!" led by an animated Bird. "I never thought that I would be here in this moment with the impact that I made across this league, to many people, players, fans, family. … This league is competitive and it's hard, so when you get to that point where you know you have to wind down, it tends to be a roller coaster."
"Thank (you to) my teammates for pushing me throughout the years," added the Miami native, who plans to move back to Florida to start her next chapter as a mortician. "Allowing me to be myself, allowing me to take no days off and keeping me motivated. Without you guys I am not who I am. And I want you guys to know that. To the media to the fans, thank you guys for embracing me with open arms."
The Storm will close out their season on Sunday at top-seeded Las Vegas, while Minnesota (14-21) plays at Connecticut, aiming to secure the final playoff spot.
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Sylvia Fowles enjoys heartfelt retirement celebration despite Lynx loss to Storm originally appeared on NBCSports.com