July 29, 2020 

Sylvia Fowles passes Rebekkah Brunson to become WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder

A career of selflessness and relentless play defines the Lynx center

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Lynx center Sylvia Fowles became the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder on Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of the Lynx’s Public Relations team.

Few young hoopers take up basketball to become rebounding greats. They’re more often than not drawn to basketball by the game’s best scorers whom they try to emulate, often disregarding the player making the second-chance shot possible.

Highlight reels are much more likely to center around jaw-dropping fadeaway shots and buzzer-beaters than they are players fighting for rebounds while their bodies are bumped and bruised.

But the unequal recognition of scoring and rebounding hasn’t kept Lynx center Sylvia Fowles away from the boards. Nothing has.

On Tuesday, Fowles became the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder after passing former teammate and current assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson’s former league-leading total of 3,356 career rebounds.

Fowles’ 11 rebounds in Minnesota’s Tuesday night loss to the Seattle Storm brings her to 3,361 career rebounds, giving the 13-year veteran a career average of just under 10 rebounds per game (9.8).

It’s extremely difficult to grasp the significance of recording 3,361 career rebounds — especially if you’re relying on Fowles to boast about her achievement.

Heading into Tuesday’s game, Fowles was just seven rebounds shy of topping Brunson’s record. Given her career average and her impressive 18 rebounds against Connecticut in her team’s season-opener, the rebounding crown was sure to be passed on Tuesday.

But when asked about her upcoming record, Fowles shifted the focus to Brunson.

“I think BB is extremely happy I’m breaking her record, so I try not to give her a hard time,” Fowles said. “But at the same time, I try to be respectable of what she’s done for this league. So it’s going to be an honor.”

Brunson also shared similar sentiments after presenting Fowles with the game ball at halftime of Tuesday’s game.

“I couldn’t want anyone else to pass the throne to,” said Brunson in a video the Lynx’s Twitter account published after Fowles broke Brunson’s record. “I think you’re an amazing person, first and foremost, an amazing athlete, and obviously an amazing rebounder, so congrats on everything that you’ve been able to do and accomplish.

“Here you go. Enjoy.”

The two players’ deflection of their recognition isn’t the only thing they have in common.

Fowles and Brunson became teammates in 2015 after Fowles was traded to Minnesota by Chicago, where she spent the first seven seasons of her career, but Fowles shared after Tuesday’s game that the two rebounding stars knew each other before joining forces.

Fowles didn’t go into detail on how she and Brunson originally connected, but one could assume their similar skills and values may have played a part.

In 2017, the Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood reported that Fowles was haunted by Nneka Ogwumike’s put-back basket that decided the Los Angeles Sparks’ Game 5, 2016 Finals win over the Lynx. You know the one.

Unwilling to miss out on another title, Fowles recorded 17 points and 20 rebounds when the two teams met for another Game 5 in 2017.

“I wanted to come in and show my presence,” said Fowles in Youngblood’s article. “And if that was rebounding, then rebounding it was.”

Brunson showed matching relentlessness in the same 2017 Finals run. After recording two points, three rebounds and a minus-22 plus-minus rating in Game 1, Brunson responded by deflecting the ball from Chelsea Gray in the final seconds of Game 2 to seal the game for Minnesota.

“The relentlessness that they both play with defensively, rebounding has just been invaluable to our franchise,” Reeve said. “Rebekkah Brunson made a career out of it. This is a player who was drafted in the latter part of the first round that just literally hung her head on rebounding. And then now, someone like Sylvia Fowles is going to pass her. I mean, it’s just incredible to think of, because I just know how incredible Rebekkah Brunson was at rebounding.

“Rebounds tell the story, typically. That defines who Syl is.”

Fowles’ and Brunson’s willingness to do the dirty work has not only earned them championships and places in history, but it also serves as a constant reinforcement of what the Lynx strive to be about: selflessness.

Written by Katie Davidson

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