Here in Minnesota the name Lindsay Whalen is synonymous with basketball. The state’s hoops “Mount Rushmore” would include George Mikan, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett and Whalen. She’s earned the distinction because of her excellence on the court, winning four WNBA titles and two Olympic gold medals, but also because she has represented the midwestern values inherent in being a Minnesotan. Humility, hard work and the familiar “Minnesota Nice” led to Whalen being cherished and celebrated by those in the North Star state.
The Hutchinson, MN native broke onto the scene in 2004 when she led the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Women’s Basketball team to their first Final Four appearance. Her competitive, fiery nature along with the ability to get into the paint, bounce off bigger bodies and still finish at the rim captured the attention of the entire state. The average attendance for women’s basketball at the U of M would rise from just over 1,000 to nearly 10,000 during her four years in Dinkytown.
After being drafted fourth overall in the 2004 draft by the Connecticut Sun, the Lynx traded for Whalen and brought her home. The move, along with the hiring of Cheryl Reeve would set up the most dominant stretch of basketball the WNBA has ever seen with the Lynx winning four titles over the course of seven years.
During Monday’s press conference Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve highlighted the storybook nature of Whalen’s career.
“Lindsay had a chance to come back to her home state and win four championships. And along the way become the head coach of the University of Minnesota. I don’t know that you could write a better story, a better script. It couldn’t have happened to a better person and I feel so blessed to have been on the sideline and had such a great seat throughout all of that.”
Whalen’s accolades and achievements speak for themselves. All the winning, points and assists are impressive and well-chronicled. But those around her lead off with a different set of attributes when discussing what makes Whalen great. Her leadership, friendship and ability to connect with her team mates are what make Whalen truly special.
“I’m just how lucky to be here at this time” Reeve said with tears running down her face. “Just how well it worked out for her career. Just how special of a relationship. That sort of relationship is once in a lifetime.”
Whalen will finish out the season with the Lynx before turning her full attention to her new job as head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team. She will retire as the winningest player in WNBA history, and as one of the best point guards the league has ever seen.
It’s been an amazing career.