Celebrating Lindsay Whalen: Coaches, Players Look Back on a Legendary Career

Written By Mitchell Hansen (ZoneCoverage.com)

If you spend some time around Lindsay Whalen, you quickly learn the type of jokester she can be around her coaches, teammates and just people in general.

On Sunday night, that was on full display in front of 13,000 of her admirers and fans at Target Center, as the Lynx held a post-game celebration honoring the all-time great following Minnesota’s win over Washington.

Following a vintage Whalen performance moments before the ceremony, where Whalen tallied 10 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals, the Hutchinson native made her way to the podium after listening to some of her teammates and coaches go before her.

“So who missed the shot for my seventh assist tonight?” Whalen asked, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“I’ve been playing this game for 15 years and I finally got a t-shirt. I couldn’t have been sent out on a higher note,” she continued to joke. “Thank you, Nike. I hope to continue our relationship with Nike for many, many years.”

That’s just who Whalen is.

Throughout all the greatness, throughout all the success and throughout all the fame, she’s still the same jokester many talk about and many recall.

At mid-court with current and former coaches, fellow players and family members, various people closest to Whalen shared stories and jokes on Sunday night and offered up their gratitude for Whalen and what she has brought to the game of basketball in Minnesota, the WNBA and beyond.

The Trade

In a fitting way during her final regular-season home game and on a night where the celebration wasn’t so much due to the win but of Whalen herself, the opposing coach that was standing on the other side of the court was a familiar one to the Lynx point guard.

The head coach of Washington, Mike Thibault, knows Whalen well. Thibault drafted Whalen fourth overall in the 2004 WNBA Draft out of the University of Minnesota and spent six seasons with Whalen in Connecticut.

“I know 15 years ago I made a lot of you (Lynx fans) mad,” Thibault said during the post-game ceremony. “In fact, it was so bad I went to the (NCAA) Final Four the following year and I had two of your fans come up to me and yell at me for two minutes like ‘Why did you do that?’ There was an obvious reason why I did that, she was the best player we could have brought to Connecticut to turn around our franchise. I don’t regret that day one time.”

After growing up in Connecticut and learning the ropes under Thibault early on in her career, a trade that changed the course of the Lynx franchise occurred in 2010, when Connecticut dealt Whalen back to Minnesota via trade.

“She made our team in Connecticut a family like she’s done here in Minnesota. I hope you cut me a little bit of slack that I traded her back,” Thibault joked. “I don’t think there’s a player I’ve been around who has enjoyed the journey more than Lindsay Whalen. … That’s the true essence of a team person who puts the whole picture above anything else. That’s Lindsay Whalen.”

Although it was her hometown team she dreamed about playing for, Whalen was heading to a new team in the Lynx for the first time of her professional career. A team that also just hired a new, first-time head coach by the name of Cheryl Reeve.

Looking back, eight years and four championships later, it’s safe to say that trade worked out for all parties involved. Especially in Minnesota with the duo of Whalen and Reeve at the head of it all.

“In 2010, our first season. I remember I was in Michigan and was making the move to Minneapolis. I remember exactly where I was when I got the call from General Manager Roger Griffith telling me that we had an opportunity to trade for Lindsay Whalen,” Reeve recalled during her speech. “I was in this garage, in this storage unit getting my stuff together and I’m getting my phone and going ‘Yeah Roger, what do you think about Whalen? Yep, let’s do it. Go.’

“And that was the best thing that could happen to this first-time head coach.”

The Leader

There were a lot of sacrifices and changes that needed to be made when the dynasty in Minnesota began during the 2010 season.

From Seimone Augustus getting acclimated to some new teammates while realizing she didn’t have to go drop 30 points a night like she had to in years prior, to Whalen living under the pressure of trying to help turn her hometown team around for the better while encountering a new squad, to Reeve trying to lead a then-struggling franchise as a first-time WNBA head coach. The Lynx knew it was going to take some work.

What erupted out of all of those sacrifices being made and challenges being endured was a new leader, not only of the team but the franchise as a whole. Someone who embraced the struggles of making the Lynx a contending team for years to come and changed the culture of basketball in Minnesota.

That’s right, that was – and has continued to be – Whalen.

“Behind every successful team, there’s leadership. Many of you know, we talk a lot about our leadership team. It’s been a very special environment here. … The memories that (the starting five) will carry, they will last a lifetime. This is forever,” Reeve said. “The playing thing stops, but this is forever. The other four will tell you that Lindsay Whalen is at the head of that leadership team. We go as you go. Lindsay Whalen, embrace that. Do you know how much pressure that is? And she embraced that.

“I would love to take a second for everyone in (the Target Center) to stand up and thank Lindsay Whalen for all that she’s done for the state of Minnesota.”

The Legacy

What Whalen has accomplished, not just in Minnesota but in her entire WNBA career, will allow her name and legacy to live on for many years to come.

The endless accolades, the rings, gold medals and most wins among any WNBA player to ever play the game speaks volumes in itself.

But one common message between all the jokes and laughter –on Sunday night in the ceremony celebrating Whalen was the way she conducts herself off the court and the legacy she will leave for being an even better person than she is a player.

“The most important thing that we talk about is the journey and going through it with you. All the things we do in the locker room. All the things we do when we’re not on the court. … You’ll be sorely missed,” Rebekkah Brunson said. “We spent a lot of time together, we’ve eaten a lot of meals together, we’ve had a lot of beverages together – coffee beverages. … We’re definitely going to miss your presence and will miss having you around, but we just want to make sure that you understand how grateful we are, how thankful we are to everything that you’ve been to us as an organization and I’m sure everything you’ve been to this city.

“Just know that we will be following you in everything that you do. Good luck, and thank you.”

Although her time with the Lynx is nearing an end, Whalen will continue to be involved in basketball in her home state, leading the Golden Gophers women’s basketball program. And there’s a good chance she will continue to be successful while being the leader and motivator Lynx fans have grown to enjoy since 2010.

“I’m so excited for Lindsay. They say that all good things come to an end, and it’s all in how you look at it. In an end, there’s usually a new beginning,” Reeve said. “For Lindsay, she has a great opportunity to go from being called old for the last five years to now being one of the youngest coaches. I Lindsay just want to say thank you for all that you have been, there’s so much. It’s the end of her playing career, but the memories will last a lifetime.

“Thank you, Lindsay, for all of those memories.”

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