August 13, 2022 

‘Syl gave us everything’: Inside the Minnesota Lynx’s celebration of Sylvia Fowles

The regal postgame ceremony was a fitting tribute given Fowles' on-court accolades and off-court interests

MINNEAPOLIS – One of the most difficult things to do in life is earnestly say goodbye. It’s why funerals are often emotionally draining, and it’s also why many cultures have developed ornate and opulent ceremonies to celebrate and remember people. The ancient Egyptians wrapped their royalty in clothes and entombed them in elaborate pyramids packed with gold, trinkets and spices to help them not only arrive in the afterlife but also thrive there. The Norse Vikings set fallen warriors on a boat and lit it aflame, sending them off to sea and on to Valhalla.

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These kinds of ceremonies remain sacred to this day. So it’s serendipitous that Minnesota Lynx fans were able to witness a metaphorical funeral of sorts — no, a celebration of life — on Friday night, when Sylvia Fowles played what may be her final game in front of the home crowd. It was a fitting night for an athlete who grew up creating imaginary funerals with her stuffed animals and dreaming of becoming a mortician. Death is simply a natural part of life. Retirement is a natural part of a career, even one as storied as Fowles’.

Although the game ended in a 96-69 loss to the Seattle Storm, chants of “Whose house? Syl’s house!” rang out and fans stood and applauded as Fowles embraced Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve after checking out of the game for the final time for what seemed like simultaneously an eternity and an instant. 

“I never thought that I would be here in this moment, with the impact that I made across this league,” a reflective and sincere Fowles said during the postgame ceremony celebrating her illustrious career. “This was never a goal of mine. I think basketball just was a way to [release] my inner energy … But along the way, I’ve had stars aligned for me because I had a lot of people who kept me in my place and held me to high standards … By no means has this [decision] been easy. I just want you guys to know that I love and appreciate you, Minnesota. This will forever be home.”

The WNBA has never seen and will likely never see again another Sylvia Fowles. She embodied grace and strength both on and off the court, by winning championships and accumulating the game’s highest accolades and with her tireless commitment to the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.

It’s difficult to encapsulate fully the impact Fowles has had on the game of basketball and those around her. It would be a genuine surprise to learn that a negative word had ever been spoken about the individual known as Sweet Syl, Mama Syl and Sylvester Flowers. 

“I told Mrs. Fowles, I can’t imagine what that feels like, your body of work on that young person and what she became, [to be] one of the greatest of all time in her profession and just adored by so many. I can’t imagine what that felt like as a parent,” Reeve said after the game. “I have a great deal of pride that I got to share in seven and a half seasons of her illustrious career. We poured a lot into each other. Syl gave us everything she had, through the tough times [and] the great times. You could just count on Syl.”

“I’m just filled with pride that she allowed us the opportunity to give her the final ride and this opportunity tonight to show — it was very overwhelming for Syl. She just always was like, ‘I’m just doing my job.’ And I think when you get to the end and you look up and you look out, ‘Holy shit. Wow. Like, I really did it right.’ I think it was very overwhelming for her.”

Fowles will go down as not only the most dominant center the WNBA has ever seen and the greatest player in Minnesota Lynx history, but also possibly the best ever to do it in the women’s game. An eight-time All-Star. A former MVP. Gold medalist. Defensive stalwart. Champion. Few careers have been more decorated than Fowles’.

Former teammates Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen, both of whose jerseys hang in the Target Center rafters, spoke briefly during the waning moments of the postgame celebration. Whalen succinctly summarized Fowles’ career:

“We can’t wait for you to join us in the rafters.”

Fowles’ jersey will one day hang both in the Target Center and in the corridors of the Naismith Hall of Fame. 

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The Lynx’s season is not over. They can still make the playoffs with a win over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday in addition to a loss by either the New York Liberty or the Phoenix Mercury. But for one night, none of that mattered. Nothing mattered besides the career and life of Sylvia Fowles.

The Minnesota Lynx and WNBA sent her into her post-basketball afterlife with a truly beautiful Viking funeral.

Written by Lucas Seehafer

Lucas Seehafer is a general reporter for The Next. He is also a physical therapist and professor at the undergraduate level. His work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, FanSided, and various other websites.

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