September 17, 2020
Lynx shared belief in each other leads Cheryl Reeve to third COY honor
Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve becomes the third coach in league history to win the Coach of the Year Award three times
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Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve earned her third Coach of the Year Award on Thursday after coaching the 2020 Lynx to a 14-8 record and fourth seed in the playoffs. Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter account, @minnesotalynx
Cheryl Reeve’s ability to create winning cultures has been well-known for quite some time.
In 2011, she helped bring a formerly downtrodden franchise its first championship as a second-year head coach and received her first WNBA Coach of the Year Award.
Reeve led her then-three-time, championship-winning Lynx to a franchise-record 28 regular-season wins to claim her second Coach of the Year Award in 2016.
In her 11 years as the Lynx’s head coach, she’s recorded 245 regular-season and 40 playoff wins and has only lost 134 total games while leading her team to 10 straight playoff berths — a feat most other Minnesota sports franchises could only dream about.
And on Thursday, after guiding the Lynx to a 14-8 regular-season record and a fourth-place playoff seeding despite being without former MVP Sylvia Fowles for all but seven games, losing co-captain Karima Christmas-Kelly early in the season to an Achilles injury and integrating Odyssey Sims midway through the season after she recovered from giving birth, Reeve became the third coach to win three Coach of the Year Awards, joining Van Chancellor and Mike Thibault.
But Reeve and the Lynx’s winning culture is about so much more than historic winning percentages and Finals records. It’s the intangibles, the aspects that can’t be archived in record books, that led Reeve to earn her third Coach of the Year Award after seven weeks in the WNBA bubble.
You’ve read about the intangibles. You’ve seen photos hinting at the intangibles in Lynx social media posts. And frankly, you might be sick of hearing about the intangible “chemistry,” “resilience,” “heart” and “selflessness” that make up the Lynx culture. But those intangibles were needed maybe more than ever in 2020, and Reeve was ready to enforce them from Day 1 despite not knowing what a season in the bubble would consist of herself.
“On Day 1, even in our selection process of who was going to be a part of it, you have to be selfless. We talk about what ‘selfless’ means,” Reeve said. “If you ask the players, our first Zoom call was about culture. It wasn’t about Xs and Os, it was about culture, and it was long.”
Reeve told stories, shared PowerPoint presentations, and made sure her players knew staying true to the Lynx culture would be their highest priority of the season.
“That’s really important — you have to care about the team first,” Reeve said. “Anybody who doesn’t care about the team first isn’t going to do well.”
Especially in 2020.
“Being here in the bubble, you get to see how other teams work, and there are a lot of good coaches in this league,” Reeve said. “I think that’s probably what stands out the most. All of us had to deal with a variety of things. This was not an easy season, so it was just a tremendous honor. Players have to want to do what you ask, and we were just really fortunate to have a group here that was willing to do things the way that you have to be successful. They bought into it, and things worked out.”
Of course, coaching isn’t the only factor in garnering success. It’s a two-way street.
“One of the most important things to our overall success in the last decade is players allowing coaches to be themselves as well, allowing themselves to be coached,” Reeve said. “I can coach hard at times. I love ‘em up at times. Them allowing me that space to be able to do that.
“For me, that’s the most fulfilling thing is that my ability to earn the Coach of the Year honor is because of what they believed in that we shared with them. That’s incredibly fulfilling.”
But just like finding success in a bubble, believing in something greater than yourself is also a two-way street.
Players won’t buy into Reeve’s non-negotiables as easily if she doesn’t instill confidence in them.
“I think the biggest piece for me playing better this year is just the confidence,” said Rachel Banham when asked how she’s been able to show growth in 2020. “I think Cheryl’s really helped me just get that confidence with being able to take tough shots and letting me have the ball in my hands and having confidence with me having the ball in my hands. She lets me play through those mistakes and lets me take really any shot I want.
She’ll let me know if she doesn’t want me to, but she’s really cool about me taking whatever shot, and she’ll let me know if it’s not the best shot I could take. But she lets me stay on the court and lets me keep playing through those mistakes. Just gaining that confidence through her.”
Players won’t stay true to Reeve’s system if she doesn’t emphasize the importance of advocating for themselves.
“We have a group that doesn’t complain, and that’s a really good thing,” said Reeve during the first week of training camp. “However, I told them, ‘That doesn’t mean you stay silent.’ I want us if we have an issue that we handle it the right way. We’re not a team that’s going to be blurting things out on social media before we go and figure out if there’s a solution. But sometimes that can work against you in that they feel like they’re not going to say anything.”
And players won’t commit to Lynx values if their leader doesn’t recognize that they’re more than just basketball players.
“It’s amazing to see. (Reeve) the most educated about this,” said Napheesa Collier when asked about Reeve’s support for the Aug. 26 players’ strike and fight for racial justice. “She’s the most, like, passionate about this. The fact that she’s not just saying this because she feels like she has to, or … I can’t speak for other teams, but you see that a lot. People feel they have to speak on it. She actually has our back 100 percent, she’s actually passionate about making change, it’s awesome to see. It makes you want to have her back 100 percent, too, because she’s there for us.”