Joyous Minneapolis parade sends WNBA champion Lynx into off-season

MINNEAPOLIS This wasn't Taj McWilliams-Franklin's first WNBA championship. But a week short of 41, she'd never experienced anything like Tuesday. "I've never been in a parade before," said the Lynx center, who won a WNBA title in 2008 with the De...

Lynx players Augustus, Whalen surrounded during parade
Minnesota Lynx's Seimone Augustus, left, and Lindsay Whalen are surrounded by fans as the two players carried the WNBA-championship trophy Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, in Minneapolis. The team was honored with a downtown parade and a rally at Target Center, with an estimated 15,000 people lined up along the route and about 5,000 fans inside the arena to cheer and hear from the players. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Jim Gehrz)


This wasn't Taj McWilliams-Franklin's first WNBA championship.

But a week short of 41, she'd never experienced anything like Tuesday.

"I've never been in a parade before," said the Lynx center, who won a WNBA title in 2008 with the Detroit Shock. "When we got to the start, I saw a smattering of people, and I was concerned no one was going to be there. But when we got onto the main route (onto Nicollet Mall), I was just flabbergasted and speechless with how many people there were. They were there for us. That is so overwhelming and stunning. There is so much love and support here.

"It feels good to lift Minnesota out of the (pro sports) doldrums."


After compiling a league-best 27-7 record in the regular season, the Lynx capped a historic season Friday night in Atlanta, finishing a 7-1 postseason run with a three-game WNBA Finals sweep for the first championship in franchise history. It also was the first major pro sports championship in Minnesota since 1991, when the Twins won the World Series.

Thousands of fans lined the streets of downtown Minneapolis to salute the WNBA champions during their victory parade. The celebration then moved into Target Center, where a smaller crowd occupied about a third of the 9,181 lower-bowl seats and an additional 1,000 or more fans watched from one end of the upper deck and into the second deck.

Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith and coach Cheryl Reeve were in the first motorcade of convertibles. Reeve had

been part of two title teams as an assistant coach, both with Detroit, one in 2006 and the other with McWilliams-Franklin in 2008.

"We had some nice celebrations in Detroit, but this tops them all," Reeve said. "What Minnesota people and fans have done for us is really incredible and indescribable. The players worked so hard as professionals -- and how we conducted ourselves, I think they made the area proud. To get this kind of respect and attention back from the fans is really overwhelming. It's a special day for everyone."

The last convertible of players included Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus.

Whalen, a Hutchinson, Minn., native, led the University of Minnesota to the 2004 Final Four before starting her WNBA career with Connecticut. Augustus, the WNBA Finals most valuable player, had been stuck on losing Lynx teams after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2006 until this season.

Augustus, who carefully cradled the crystal WNBA championship trophy during the parade, and Whalen, who tossed candy to the fans, received the greatest reception along the route toward Target Center. Their vehicle moved slowly as they signed autographs and high-fived fans.


"I'm serious, I had to practice throwing candy," Whalen said. "I had to work on my shoulder to get ready. I was able to get some spin on those throws, just like my layups. I am so good at throwing that candy now. It was crazy, man. It was really cool."

Said Augustus: "I've experienced a lot of things in my life, but this is one of the most incredible."

Along the parade route, Pete Benaires of Minneapolis, a Lynx season-ticket holder since 2004, raced from corner to corner to take pictures.

"I could see (a title run) like this coming," said Benaires, also a Gophers women's basketball booster. "It's wonderful to see this, and I hope the excitement level and success carries over to the University of Minnesota women's team. They're going to be good this season."

Inside Target Center, fans listened to celebratory music, watched a highlights video and a video tribute from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton made a presentation proclaiming Tuesday as "Minnesota Lynx Day in Minnesota."

Seated on the arena floor were 224 fans who have been season-ticket holders since the team's inaugural season in 1999.

"I think I was caller No. 5 (on the first day)," said Mary Beth Barry, a physical education teacher at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. "I am above the moon right now."

This is a franchise that had made the playoffs only twice previously, in 2003 and 2004, losing in the first round both times. The Lynx were a combined 77-127 after that. Then came 2011.


"For a while there, you could never envision something like this because the team was so bad," Barry said. "Things started happening a couple of years ago that signaled things were going to change. Experiencing this is something I can share with my kids at school. My boys will grab a basketball and pretend they're Seimone Augustus driving through the lane.

"I'm a Title IX baby. To see it all come to fruition is an absolute thrill for me. This is just a start. They have a chance to become a dynasty. The quality of basketball is at a level we never could have imagined when we first started."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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