How many WNBA players have coached in the NBA?
Becky Hammon became the first in 2014.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Everything in life comes to an end, eventually.
Perhaps no one knows that better than a mortician.
And a mortician also knows that we can’t always control when or how that ending occurs.
Sylvia Fowles, WNBA legend and funeral director, chose when her career ended. She decided that this was her perfect moment to exit the game, something she’s never wavered on. But how it ended — that was imperfect.
Her final contest included misses that caused her to scream in frustration, early fouls that sent her to the bench, and a comeback that came up short and eliminated the Lynx from playoff contention.
But an anticlimactic end doesn’t take away from the beauty of her career.
In a perfect world, someone as impactful as Fowles has been to the WNBA would go out with a playoff run, maybe even a title. The Lynx, however, had their worst season since 2010, going 14-22 and bringing the franchise’s league-leading 11-game playoff streak to an end.
The season was rocky, but Fowles was stoic, putting up consistent numbers — she averaged 14.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game — while maintaining a consistent attitude to match.
“Syl is awfully special,” coach Cheryl Reeve said following the season-ending 90-83 loss at Connecticut on Sunday. “I might have been really resentful through most of the season if I was Sylvia Fowles. I might have been really pissy. Syl has a hell of a lot more love in her body than most of us.”
The 15-year WNBA veteran poured that love into her teammates, coaches, fans, and even opposing players this season. She spent countless hours knitting personalized hats for her Lynx teammates, selecting plants for her coaches and putting together gift baskets for the trainers and staff.
Prior to her final game against the Sun, she stole moments out of warm-ups to give her goodbyes to opposing players.
Jonquel Jones approached Fowles, and the two engaged in conversation, full of smiles and laughs. When they embraced, one hug wasn’t good enough, and Jones pulled her back in for a second.
Then, Fowles made her way to Bria Hartley, who after injuring her ACL earlier this season was sporting crutches and a hefty brace. Fowles put her hands on the injured knee, rubbing it gently as if to invoke healing powers.
Fowles’ final game provided a glimpse of the person she’s been throughout her career, an identity Reeve knows well. Since Fowles joined the Lynx seven years ago, she and Reeve have won two WNBA championships together in 2015 and 2017.
When the coach subbed her star player out at the end of the game, the two embraced on the sidelines. It lasted for 10 seconds, heavy with emotion, as though they were both trying to capture eight seasons of memories in one hug.
“There will never be another Sylvia Fowles,” Reeve said, wiping tears from her eyes. “And it’s not just the 4,000-plus rebounds, which is awfully impressive. But it’s the way she did it. It’s the love she has for people, for the organization, and the love for me. Life is going to suck without her, big time. She’ll still be in my life, no doubt about it, but we won’t get to share in the battles, or the side eye that she gives me, or the suck the teeth that she gives me. I’m going to miss that.”
It’s easy to get caught up in Fowles the person, but Sunday was also a reminder of the center’s unparalleled basketball legacy.
In her final game, she became the only player in WNBA history to record 4,000 regular-season rebounds. She also ended her career as the leading rebounder for both of the organizations she played for — the Lynx and the Sky. Fowles is a two-time WNBA champion, securing Finals MVP honors on both occasions, an eight-time All-Star, and the WNBA’s career leader in field goal percentage (59.7). At LSU, she became the program’s all-time leading rebounder (1,570), and also topped the record list for blocked shots (321) and free throws made (494).
And on Sunday, Fowles recorded her 193rd double-double, despite a disjointed game in which she sat on the bench for extended periods due to foul trouble.
While Fowles has become known for her gentle spirit and generosity, she expressed frustration following her final performance, showing the competitive fire that propelled her to greatness.
thanks for the memories, 34. 💙 pic.twitter.com/1GWdvz3bU8— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 14, 2022
Despite leading the league in double-doubles this season and finishing her final game with 12 rebounds, 10 points, two steals and a block, Fowles still thought she should have done more. She still wanted to be better for her team.
“I was a little annoyed with myself because I had a s—ty three quarters,” she said. “I felt like I did my teammates a disservice.”
That single sentence is a cocktail of emotions. The love, the competitiveness, the sadness, the legacy all wrapped into one.
“I think that is something I will do later,” Fowles said of processing those feelings. “Most of my emotion right now is just to be grateful.”
And though Fowles has kept out of the spotlight for most of her career, the 36-year-old was glad she stepped into it this season.
“I appreciate the love that I got from the fans this year,” she said. “Put things into a different perspective for me. I never got that over my first 14 years of playing, so to see that all come together in my last year, I’m very grateful for that as well.”
But no matter how much love Sylvia Fowles received from the league and its fans, it still doesn’t compare to the amount of love she’s given over the years.
Like Reeve said, “Syl has a hell of a lot more love in her body than most of us.”
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.
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