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On Cultivating a Young Fan

I'm a Minnesota sports fan, especially basketball. I'm also a dad, specifically to a daughter. This means we root for the Minnesota Lynx in our house.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So here is a confession. I have been a bit of a fair weather fan of the Minnesota Lynx this summer. Literally. Summers in Minnesota are a whirlwind because of our collective desperation to capitalize on the limited commodity that is great summer weather. Every summer I vow to take my now seven year old daughter to more Lynx games and every year, it seems, the summer comes and goes without fulfilling this promise. This year was no exception. In fact, until the Finals, we had not attended any games this season.

Now we have been to a few these past years and my daughter, astute as she is, has figured out that I love basketball and that the Lynx are a good team comprised of women. Despite our lack of regular attendance it is something we talk about, and we are fans. She even attended a game with her summer program this summer and, bless her stars, somehow caught a t-shirt that was flung into the stands. She had a good time, got a prize, and knew I was jealous. These are the kinds of things that matter.

Regular readers of this site will be well familiar with the success of the Minnesota Lynx these last few seasons under the tutelage of Coach Reeve and her bevy of likable superstars, so there is no reason for me to go into the particulars that propelled this season's team into the WNBA finals. Let's just suffice it to say that I noticed and thought it would be a good idea to attend a playoff game with my family. Added to this was a well timed call from a kindly Wolves/Lynx ticket rep named Alexis, and suddenly I found myself in possession of three tickets for game one of the WNBA finals.

I have documented my own rise to obsessive sports fan in the past so here I will attempt to give a brief game by game account of my daughters evolution as a fan. I'm fortunate at this point that she is at the age where just sharing experiences with her parents is enough to put it in the plus column but I also vividly recall the heart break in her voice when she asked me why the Timberwolves lost after a particularly heart breaking loss to the Phoenix Suns towards the end of last season. Sports can bring a lot of joy and excitement but it can also bring voluntary sadness, as we Minnesota fans know all too well, so let's take a closer look at how the apple of my eye reacted to the intense experience of having her favorite team playing in a championship series.

Lets Go Lynx!

Lets Go Lynx!

Game One

As I already mentioned, a random call from a kind ticket rep, combined with the convenient 2pm Sunday afternoon start, inspired to me to actually purchase tickets for myself, my wife, and my daughter to attend game one of the 2015 WNBA finals. Initially I might have even imagined that this would be an isolated event but, as it happened, it propelled our family into having a relationship with the entire series. So these things sometimes go.

Local readers may recall that the Sunday that played host to game one of this series was a chilly but beautiful day so, knowing that there are not many such days left, we decided to make an adventure of it and travel to the game by bicycle. This was the right decision as it not only afforded us the opportunity for some fresh air and exercise, but also allowed us to stop at Nighthawks on the way there and Kyatchi on the way back. Pretty great way to spend a day Sunday regardless of outcome.

We arrived at Target Center in Downtown Minneapolis to find an arena full, but not filled, with the usual knowledgeable fans. We also found that all of the seats had a white towel, which is exactly the kind of thing seven year olds appreciate at sporting events. The game itself was intense and it quickly became apparent that the Lynx had their hands full with the hot shooting, more physical Indiana Fever. During the first half I pointed out to my daughter that Maya Moore was an especially good player and, just as I did this, Maya made one of her patented excellent plays resulting in a made jump shot. Daughter took note and wisely decided that number 23 was indeed her favorite player. Clearly Maya is a good choice for favorite, but this was made even better by the fact that my stated favorite, Lindsay Whalen, wears number 13 and my wife's favorite, Seimone Augustus, wears number 33. 13, 23, 33; all in a row. Also the kind of thing seven year olds appreciate.

In the end the Fever were too much for the Lynx but the loud towel waving crowd, whose family friendliness is well worth pointing out, combined with a close exciting game, and having said a rare yes to a Mountain Dew, was enough to overcome the disappointing outcome. The Average family rode home happy and in agreement that the Lynx were a good team but that the Fever were just too good that particular day. A great time was had by all.

Game Two

Our attendance at game two came about even more by accident than our attendance at game one. I had "purchased" free tickets to the Timberwolves preseason scrimmage on that following Monday and, mostly as a gesture to give my wife a few hours home alone, dragged my daughter along with me. The atmosphere at this event was radically different that we had witnessed the day before, and, had it not been for my purchase of a chocolate malt cup, it might have been an utter failure in the eyes of my daughter. Still, she is a pretty agreeable child and we cut out early enough to make it home close to her usual bedtime. Pretty simple night of father/daughter fun, right?

Anyway, shortly after our return home I received an email from the Lynx telling me that my use of the new Flash Seats App for the Wolves scrimmage had entitled me to two free tickets to Tuesday night's game two of the WNBA Finals. Did I really want to drag my daughter to the Target Center for the third day in a row? I think you know that I did.

We took advantage of the short drive downtown which enabled us to leave after homework and dinner. We knew we would be in for a late night and I had promised a smoothie as the evening's after dinner snack, having learned the previous two days that the willingness to say yes to a treat request can help make for a pleasant evening all around.

Our seats for game two were surprisingly excellent for free tickets, and once again we were greeted at our seats by the presence of white towels. The crowd was it's usual rambunctious self as we settled in for another hard fought game between the aging Lynx and the hot shooting bruisers from Indiana. I was pretty into the basketball and was proud to see that my daughter mostly was too. There were a few moments in which her interest began to wane but it was nothing the PA playing "everybody clap your hands" couldn't solve. I also have to admit that I was especially proud when she turned and let me know that she did not care for Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." Did I mentioned that she is a smart girl?

As you are no doubt aware, the game was close but the Lynx did manage to pull away towards the end. Daughter had the line of the night when she stated, no doubt aware of the late hour relative to her usual school night routine, that it was "Bedtime for the Fever!" Pretty good right? Anyway, we walked out with an excited crowd and a good time had by all, and I knew that, at that point, our family was all in on the 2015 WNBA finals. My daughter was either going to taste the sweetness of victory or bitterness of defeat for her favorite team. It was fun but I have to admit a part of me was nervous as I knew I personally had felt the sting of sports fandom gone wrong at a young age and what parent doesn't want to protect their child from heartache given the chance. Oh well, I've decided that sports are worth the risk for me so why not for her. We arrived home,  filled my wife in on the details of the game, and went to bed happy. Go sports and go Lynx!

Game Three

Game three came on a Friday night that my daughter spent most of at her grandparents while my wife and I went out for a nice relaxing dinner without her. You understand. After dinner we found ourselves on the couch watching the Lynx game while we waited for the kid to return home so she could go to bed. She got home midway through the third quarter and, because we are not monsters, we allowed her to stay up for the end of the game. I was pretty impressed with her ability to pay attention to the game considering that television fandom is an entirely different animal from the stadium experience. Like I said, daughter paid pretty close attention to the game, but she also kept a partial eye on the iPad and her game of Minecraft. Not that I can judge her considering that strong possibility that I myself may have tweeted a time or two while we watched. Regardless, it was a close game and all eyes in the family, even the dog's, were on the television when this happened:

Unbelievable! Simply amazing! Every sports accolade you come up with is applicable. If you don't think this is among the most amazing shots in basketball history you are overthinking the fact that girls were involved. Buzzer beater, on the road, of a tied game, in a tied finals series. Incredible!

Obviously that was a fun ending and somehow, after a long drawn out series of high fives, we managed to get our daughter into bed and off to sleep. What a basketball game and what a memory to share with my girl. Her fandom was evolving.

Game Four

There isn't much I can say about game four. I had a hunch going in that the Fever were going to come out searching for revenge but a couple of early fouls on Lynx center Sylvia Fowles put the Lynx in a difficult spot and soon this game felt more or less like it was just going thorough the motions. As for my daughter, we did tell her she could stay up late to watch the game but after a long fun-busy weekend, and repeated reminders that she was staying up to watch the game, not play on the iPad, she opted to go to bed around halftime. Probably for the best. Game four wasn't really much to remember from a Lynx fan perspective , which wasn't all the surprising. The Fever are, after all, a talented basketball team. Oh well, at least the disappointing outcome did set up a potentially epic game five back in Minneapolis. A game that you know damn well we already had three tickets too.

Game Five

Game five fell on a Wednesday night which meant we had to plan around the usual grind of the work/school/space/time continuum. After giving consideration to going downtown early and having dinner at one of the many fine restaurants in downtown Minneapolis, we decided to save a few dollars and calories and just head down after a regular dinner at home. The Lynx had let us know that it was going to be a "white out" meaning that all in attendance were expected to wear white shirts. My daughter already owned the perfect shirt (pictured above) but I personally consider white clothing "single use" due to my life long tendency to spill mustard on everything. No worries, I had purchased plain white t-shirts for my wife and I at the Super Target earlier in the week as I bought a quick lunch from their deli. Life is pretty sweet sometimes.

Anyway, after a quick dinner that included both home roasted tomatillo salsa and a minor grill fire we were ready and on our way downtown. None of us had ever been to any kind of  game at this level with a championship on the line so we were all pretty excited. We had made a point of leaving a little early but alas it was not enough as heavy city traffic and long lines at the gate kept us from missing the opening tip-off. This fact led to an interesting side story: just as we were about to arrive at our seats I saw the woman in the row directly in front of ours grab the Lynx towel from the seat that ended up belonging to my daughter. She didn't even seem embarrassed when I immediately asked her to give it back - which she promptly did. The best part was that soon after this she was forced to move when the holder of the seat she was in showed up. She wasn't even sitting in her correct seat. Some people! It's unclear if she gave up the towel from that seat to this new fan but he didn't seem worried about it and we were glad to have him in our section instead of her. Jeepers, at least wait until halftime.

The game was close once we finally settled in, and the first half was sloppy on both sides, but it was encouraging to see the Lynx playing defense and going strong after rebounds - but I'll leave the hardcore basketball analysis of this game to other writers as I was largely interested in the overall fan experience and how much fun my daughter was having and folks, I have to tell you, she was having a lot of it.

The crowd was predictably into it and the "white out" effect, along with the white waving towels, made for a pretty stunning visual. We survived a dropped ice cream (by purchasing a replacement) and our daughter treated those around us to some pretty robust cheering throughout. The halftime act was pretty low key but the second half was a Minnesota dance party as the Lynx inexplicably pulled away. It was great to see the veterans contribute down the stretch, and it was great to see the Minnesota team dominate the paint, but more than anything it was great to see my seven year old daughter laugh, cheer, and dance for well over an hour with no other thought in the world other than the Minnesota Lynx. We even stuck around to watch the confetti fall and the trophy presentations, which I have to say was pretty cool to see as I had never experienced anything like this as a fan before - the closest being a late season Twins game a few years back in which they clinched a playoff birth.

I know that others in the stands had invested more time, money, and energy in to Lynx basketball than I have over the course of the season, I've already confessed that these were the first games we had been to all year, and I know that there were many other parents in the crowd sharing their love of sports with their kids, but I have to admit it felt pretty cool to be a part of this championship, even at the fan level, and that it felt even better knowing that my daughter felt part of it too. In fact, I'd say attending these games was one of the better decisions my wife and I have made in a while. Oh, wait, I did say that.

Maybe this will propel us to go to more games next summer. I can say now that I hope it does. But maybe life, and summer, and other opportunities, will get in the way. The Timberwolves season is about to begin and I know that I will be turning my attention towards them in the coming months. I will drag my wife and daughter to a few of these games of course, and there is no doubt that we will have fun. But it won't be the same. I know that. There will be no championship banner at the end of the season, at least not this season, and my seven year old won't have the same opportunity she does with the Lynx to look down on the court and see the reflection of a possible (OK, improbable) future version of herself. Thank you WNBA, thank you Indiana Fever, and thank you Minnesota Lynx. That was a ton of fun and I'm pretty sure I can speak for my whole family when I say we appreciated being a part of it.

Speaking of powerful women kicking ass, here's a song: