July 7, 2022 

Why Minnesota appreciates Rebekkah Brunson so much

Rebekkah Brunson's Impact is clear on and off the court

In the realm of sports—well, any realm, but mainly sports—the idea of being “underrated” or “overrated” is too frequently bandied about. They’re freshmanic concepts unleashed by the masses to boil down a complex topic—an individual’s career, a franchise’s performance in the regular season compared to the playoffs, etc.—into its most surface-level and thus emotional components.

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“Are you kidding me? Player X is extremely overrated!” or “Player Y is so underrated. They don’t get near enough respect as they should.” We’ve all heard and participated in these conversations before. But, more often than not, these talking points serve simply to satisfy the strawman. Player X is often not “overrated” rather the individual making the argument is relying on confirmation bias. Same for the one arguing in favor of Player Y.

“Ratedness” primarily exists to begin a conversation—though the productivity of such a conversation is often minimal, at best—and infrequently anything more. But on a rare occasion, the ratedness conversation is warranted.

In its purest form, ratedness is simply a stand-in for appreciation. “Are you kidding me? Player X is extremely appreciated (to the point it’s annoying or blasé)!”; “Player Y is so underappreciated.” Many athletes go underappreciated for their impact on and off the court, but perhaps no athlete in WNBA history is more so than Rebekkah Brunson.

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Brunson’s No. 32 jersey was raised to the Target Center rafters on Sunday evening following the Minnesota Lynx swiftly, yet without mercy, crushed the Las Vegas Aces, 102-71. She joins former teammates Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus alongside the late Malik Sealy as the only numbers to be retired in Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves franchise history.

The ceremony preceding the unveiling of Brunson’s jersey provided time for family members, former teammates and coaches to express their thanks and appreciation for one of basketball’s most underappreciated talents.

No one has won more championships in WNBA history than Brunson’s five. No one has grabbed more offensive rebounds in WNBA history than Brunson’s 1,166. No one has more people willing to sing their praises at the drop of a hat than Brunson’s seemingly infinite.

Rebekkah Brunson created a name for herself by approaching her role primarily as a high-volume rebounder and defender with atypical energy and dedication to her craft. Of course, not everyone is open to the idea of being the team’s fourth or fifth option offensively and bulldog on the other end of the court. But not only was Brunson open to it, but she also embraced it whole-heartedly and attacked each rebound, each defensive possession, like it might be her last.

The fruit of Brunson’s labor was five All-Star appearances and finishing towards the top of the WNBA’s career leaderboards in a variety of stats, including offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds (2,190; 7th), total rebounds (3,356; 3rd), defensive win shares (24.6; 5th), win shares (48.6; 19th), games (453; 13th), minutes (11,408; 23rd), 2-point field goal attempts and makes (3,303; 22nd and 1,556; 25, respectively), free throw attempts (1,310; 25th), blocks (286; 25) and steals (458, 27th).

The qualities that helped her carve out a successful career—her laidback demeanor, brutal honesty and intense love of competition—have also given rise to a successful coaching career. Both Cheryl Reeve and athletes like Aerial Powers have independently heaped praise upon the shoulders of “BB”—as she is affectionately known by her peers. 

Brunson is the aloe vera that counteracts Reeve’s, at times, ultraviolet intensity. But, to extend the forced metaphor, she can also be the cool water that brings out the most during Reeve’s warm summer days. She provides insights and viewpoints from different perspectives that help bring out the success of her team and her coaching contemporaries.

In short, Brunson’s attitude and demeanor on the sidelines are no different than what she assumed on the court or off. She may not be the best or most talented, but she will work hard, strive to excel in her role and do what is best for her team.

“I’ve always been a player that wanted to go out and play well for my team and win for my team,” Brunson said. Perhaps no 21 words have better encapsulated the ethos of an individual than these. 

But those 21 words extend beyond the game of basketball, a truly trivial activity in the grand scheme of the world. Brunson also embodied her words following the murder of Philando Castile at the hands of the St. Anthony Police during the summer of 2016. She helped lead the charge for athletes and others with platforms to speak out against police brutality against members of the Black community. Her immediate thanks? A fine at the best of the WNBA and NBA. (The fine was later revoked following backlash.) 

In the meantime, the political voices of athletes speaking out against injustices have never been louder, their platforms never higher. Brunson has yet to be genuinely acknowledged for the impact her actions have had and will continue to have in the future.

Rebekkah Brunson may never wind up in the Hall of Fame. Her name may never appear on “The WNBA’s Top 25 players of All-Time” lists. But she had an invaluable impact on the Minnesota Lynx franchise and the game of women’s basketball as a whole. And Brunson’s influence lives on in the meeting point between sports and the civil rights landscape.

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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