After this, her 15th season, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles will call it a career. Friday was the beginning of Syl’s Final Ride, as the team is calling it — a season-long celebration of one of the best to ever play in a Lynx uniform.
“We really want to take this entire season to celebrate Syl and the amazing person that she is,” said Carley Knox, Minnesota’s president of business operations.
Fowles won the W.N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2017 and was a two-time finals M.V.P. She’s the league’s career leader in rebounds, field-goal percentage and double-doubles, and she leads the Lynx in five career statistical categories. In addition, she is one of just six players to win four Olympic gold medals for U.S.A. Basketball.
Unsung hero, silent superstar and underappreciated generational talent are all ways one might describe Fowles. That’s the way she likes it.
A third challenge, and the underlying theme for the Minnesota Lynx this season, will be to start and finish strong. The Lynx ended last season with a 22-10 record and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs as the third seed. They fell to the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky, 89-76, in a second-round single-elimination game. The Sky went on to win the championship. The Lynx, one of only three franchises to win four championships, have not reached the finals since 2017.
As Fowles pursues her third championship, she is keenly aware that many people celebrating her this season have been stingy with praise throughout her career. She was drafted No. 2 overall by Chicago in 2008 and played there until she was traded to Minnesota in 2015. The Lynx won championships with her in 2015 and 2017.
“You got fans who’s been around from the beginning, who appreciate what I do. But you also have people who understand what I do, know that I’m different and still won’t give me the credit,” Fowles said. “So to me, I’m just like, why now that I’m saying this is my last year, why do I need the attention now? It’s not like I ever got the credit anyway.”
Fowles made the all-rookie team with Chicago in 2008 and was selected for the first of her 10 all-defensive team appearances. She’s been named to seven All-Star teams and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award four times, most recently last season at age 35.
“She’s been elite ever since she came out of L.S.U.,” Las Vegas Aces Coach Becky Hammon said before a preseason game against the Lynx. “She’s always on your scouting report. Whether you’re a player or a coach, she’s always top and center.”
Hammon competed against Fowles in the W.N.B.A. across seven seasons before her retirement in 2014.
Fowles helped the Sky reach the 2014 finals, which they lost to the Phoenix Mercury in three straight games. Those were her final games with Chicago.
She sat out the first two months of the 2015 season waiting for a trade. Potential deals with Minnesota fell through several times, and Fowles was mentally prepared to miss the entire season.
During this challenging time, she found solace in cycling. She was a year removed from hip surgery, and cycling was a way to stay in shape and decompress. The Lynx deal was finalized in late July, and Fowles played only 18 regular-season games in her first season in Minnesota.
Rebekkah Brunson, a former Lynx forward, remembered Fowles fitting into the Lynx culture seamlessly. “I mean, first of all, she’s dominant, so I think we probably catered our game to her,” Brunson said with a laugh.
“The culture that we try to breed is one of selflessness because, at the end of the day, yeah, you got to be a great player individually, but selflessness is going to allow you to be successful,” Brunson said.
It worked. The Lynx went to three W.N.B.A finals and won two championships in the four seasons before Fowles arrived. Minnesota finished the 2015 season 22-12 and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. The Lynx played another 10 postseason games en route to the third championship in franchise history.
Fowles scored 20 points in the decisive Game 5 of the finals to give the Lynx a 69-52 win over the Indiana Fever and won her first finals M.V.P. award. When Fowles won her second, in 2017, she donated a portion of her $15,000 M.V.P. bonus to a local organization that helped children of color and low-income youths have access to bikes. At the time, she described cycling as “a great way for me to release a lot of my stress.”
She has been involved in the cycling community since. That inspired the Syl’s Final Ride campaign, which is both a celebration of Fowles’s career and an effort to honor her commitment to improving access to cycling for others.
The Lynx began with a community ride for students at Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Minneapolis last month.
“We’re pretty aware of her passions, but we wanted to make sure we lead with what she cared about most and kind of have a legacy she wanted to leave in this final season for a W.N.B.A. career,” Knox, the Lynx executive, said.
The 2022 season is her final one on the court but not with Minnesota. Fowles studied mortuary science on and off during her playing career and will eventually return to school. In addition to biking, the arts and croquet, starting a family is also important to her.
All of these options and more are on the table. But, for now, Fowles is taking things one game — and one uncomfortable, but earned, celebration — at a time.
She has surrendered to a send-off with her loyal fans, especially the ones in Minnesota. “They get a chance to experience me authentically, wholly and with ease and with grace,” she said, “and so I’m always thankful for that acknowledgment of being able to be myself.”