Rebekkah Brunson is a living milestone. She is the WNBA’s all-time leader in:
- playoff minutes played
- playoff games played
- championships won
Over the course of her 15-year career, Brunson also earned five All-Star selections and claimed seven All-Defensive honors. (She also is a waffle expert and entrepreneur.)
The Sacramento Monarch and Minnesota Lynx legend thus is the best No. 10 draft pick in WNBA history.
Brunson’s DC beginnings
A native of Washington, DC, Brunson attended Georgetown University. By averaging 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds as a Hoya — including 19.1 points and 12.0 rebounds her senior season — she established herself as an intriguing WNBA prospect.
On Brunson’s WNBA future, her college coach Pat Knapp told USA Today in 2004, “She’s a niche talent. All the other stuff (shooting, ballhandling) will only get better. Her future is very bright.”
Knapp was both right and wrong.
Brunson did have a singular, standout talent — rebounding. She also would improve other aspects of her game. And she would fulfill her future promise.
But describing Brunson as a “niche talent” diminishes her. “Integral” better describes her. Brunson’s relentless rebounding, combined with her improving passing and shooting, would make her an integral piece to winning teams.
Brunson blossoms in Sacramento
However, Brunson’s integrality was a process. At first, she was an understudy.
When Brunson arrived in Sacramento in 2004, the great Yolanda Griffith still reigned. Supported by the likes of Ticha Pinicherio, Tangela Smith, Kara Lawson and Ruthie Bolton, the Monarchs had made it to 2003 Western Conference Finals. Expectations thus were high entering the 2004 season, leaving little room for a rookie to receive the time and space to develop. Nevertheless, the rookie Brunson would contribute 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game as the Monarchs again made a run to the Western Conference Finals.
The following season, Sacramento finally would get over the hump, reaching — and more importantly — winning the 2005 WNBA Finals. Although Brunson began her second season as a reserve, she would eventually become a starter, starting 16 regular-season games and all eight of the Monarchs’ playoff games. She turned in one of her most productive playoff performances in the title-clinching game, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds.
However, inconsistencies still bedeviled Brunson — a not unique challenge for a still-young player navigating the challenges of playing in the WNBA. Due to struggles with confidence, Brunson lost her starting job during the 2006 season. But Griffith maintained belief in her understudy, telling the Sacramento Bee late in the 2006 season, “She’s going to be a superstar...When she becomes consistent under the basket, she will have an all-around game.”
Yet, Griffith also insisted that Brunson must do the work to reach her potential, asserting, “B [Brunson] has struggled and it took her realizing no matter how much talking I do or what the coaches say, she has to take it upon herself to work on different aspects of her game.”
Brunson more than responded. The following season she would make her first All-Star team, surpassing Griffith as Sacramento’s primary low-post threat with averages of 11.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. She also made her first All-Defensive team.
Ahead of the 2008 season, Griffith signed with the Seattle Storm, leaving Brunson as the undisputed interior presence for the Monarchs. “Bekky is ready to step up. It’s her time now. I trust in her ability. She’s ready to reach for that next level,” Griffith declared to the Sacramento Bee as she departed.
Unfortunately, Brunson’s time in Sacramento would be foreshortened, as the Monarchs folded after the 2009 WNBA season. Yet this misfortune would more than benefit the Minnesota Lynx, who selected Brunson with the second pick in the 2010 dispersal draft.
Brunson becomes the Lynx’s linchpin
In Minnesota, Brunson became part of an alchemy of excellence, one of a core four of Lynx who would lead the formerly floundering franchise to four WNBA titles.
Almost immediately upon her arrival, she established herself as the Lynx’s defensive anchor, a status affirmed by the All-Defensive honors she earned in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
As head coach Cheryl Reeve later would proclaim to the Star Tribune, “We’ll say, ‘OK, they have this player.’ But we have Brunson, so that’s not an issue.” Reeve elaborated, “We talk about a Band-Aid. Whether it’s her getting on the boards, taking the other team’s best player. Just all the little things she doesn’t always get credit for.”
While often overlooked in favor of teammates Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen — and, later, Sylvia Fowles — the league’s other coaches increasingly recognized that Brunson was absolutely essential, voting her an All-Star reserve in 2011 and 2013 — which, probably not so coincidentally, were championship-winning seasons for the Lynx.
The Lynx would capture another championship in 2015, with Brunson again cleaning the glass and controlling the paint for her more celebrated teammates.
During that 2015 run to the Finals, point guard Lindsay Whalen expressed appreciation for Brunson’s preternatural rebounding abilities, telling MinnPost.com:
She has just a will that I don’t know if many other players have, a tenacity to get after the ball. Rebounding is a lot about heart and desire, and her will. I haven’t been around too many players quite like her. It’s no coincidence we’ve been in the Finals so many times, because we’ve got a player like her that does everything, gets every huge rebound, and makes great plays. She’s one of the reasons why we’re in this position.
Intelligence, as much as athleticism, instinct and intensity, explained Brunson’s rebounding proficiency. She shared with MinnPost.com:
Absolutely, there’s trajectory involved. You can look at a shot and determine where it’s going to come off. But there are nine other people on the court looking at that same shot. So it’s really about going in there and getting it, having the will to be the first to the ball, being relentless in your attack and continuing to pursue.
It was this basketball intelligence that drove Brunson’s continual improvement.
Even in Lynx’s star-studded lineups, Minnesota needed Brunson to do more, with the coaching staff asking her to become a more diverse offensive threat. Beginning in the 2017 season, Brunson developed her 3-point shot in order to space the floor. Although an adjustment, she did not hesitate to embrace this adapted role. Early in the 2017 season, she told the Star Tribune:
When you’re a rebounder, your role is to stay close to the basket. I’m always willing to listen to Cheryl and the coaching staff on how I can be more helpful. Right now that’s where it is, spreading the floor. It’s a change, mentally. I’m used to being the one to set screens. I have to remind myself to take those shots.
Brunson was again rewarded for her more subtle contributions to the Lynx’s success, as she was named an All-Star replacement during the 2017 season. Later that season, Brunson would secure an even sweeter reward for her shifted role, as the Lynx took their fourth title.
Brunson’s milestone-making final season
The 2018 WNBA season was shaping up to be a historic one for Brunson. At age 36, she was in the best shape of her career, in part due to her transition to a vegan diet.
Her consistent commitment to the game was confirmed when she became the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder in a July 6 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks.
The rebound that made Rebekkah Brunson the WNBA's all-time leader pic.twitter.com/BHeXbIklze— espnW (@espnW) July 6, 2018
In that same game, Brunson also passed her former mentor Yolanda Griffith for the sixth-most double-doubles in WNBA history.
On her accomplishment, Brunson expressed to the Star Tribune:
This is a great feeling, individually. You know, this feels really good to kind of have your work pay off. I feel like I’m the type of player that I don’t necessarily get the shine, the spotlight, the attention, so it feels good to be recognized for something that you feel you contribute all the time.
Brunson also would receive additional All-Defensive and All-Star honors in 2018.
However, her season, and career, would end prematurely. While seemingly on course to become an ageless wonder, Brunson suffered a severe concussion. Symptoms lingered indefinitely, forcing her to miss the entire 2019 season.
This past February she formally announced her retirement, albeit only from playing.
Brunson is set to serve as an assistant coach for the Lynx, becoming a likely-integral piece on Cheryl Reeve’s all-female staff. While she does not currently have her sights set on a head coaching position, don’t be surprised if Brunson one day achieves multiple milestones on a WNBA sideline.
Don’t forget Katie Douglas
For all the excellence of Rebekkah Brunson’s WNBA career, another No. 10 pick — Katie Douglas — also compiled a more-than-impressive resume.
Not dissimilar to Brunson, Douglas is one of the WNBA’s most accomplished, yet most overlooked, players. As a No. 10 pick, she definitely deserves her due.
Douglas was a lefty who not only could fire from three, rise in the midrange and slice to the basket, but also could lock up opponent on the other end of the floor. Here’s a reminder of the top-line accomplishments she attained during her 15-year career with the Orlando Miracle, Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever:
- 1x WNBA Champion (2012)
- 1x All-WNBA First Team (2006)
- 3x All-WNBA Second Team (2007, 2009, 2010)
- 5x All-Defensive (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011)
- 6th-most career 3-pointers
- 8th-most career steals
No. 10 pick watchlist
While it will be hard to exceed the achievements of Brunson and Douglas, it is worth keeping an eye on Kia Nurse. The 10th selection in the 2018 WNBA draft made her first All-Star team in 2019. She also is poised to be a foundational piece for a young, rejuvenated New York Liberty team.