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Lexie Brown finally gets her ring while shining for the Sparks

The first-year Spark is finding an individual opportunity that eluded her in Chicago.

Phoenix Mercury v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Lexie Brown is in the best stretch of her professional career.

In her first WNBA season with the Los Angeles Sparks, Brown is averaging career-highs in two-point (49.2) and three-point (44.2) shooting percentage while also posting career-lows in turnovers (1.4) and fouls (2.0) per 36 minutes. With a third of the regular season still to play, she’s already started the most games (15) of her WNBA career, and that number figures to go up considering her importance to the Sparks. During the 2022 season, Los Angeles is 11.9 points per 100 possessions better with Brown on the court, the best on-off differential of any Spark.

The only thing Brown had been missing (other than an invite to the All-Star 3-point shootout) was her 2021 championship ring.

L.A. played in Chicago on opening night, but the Sky postponed their title ceremony until later in the season when more of their players — including 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper — had arrived from overseas. That meant Brown didn’t have the physical fruits of her labor for a couple extra months.

That changed on Thursday, before Chicago’s final regular-season game against the Sparks. Brown had an inkling that the ring was coming, considering the schedule, but that didn’t make the moment when James Wade presented it to her any less special.

“That was a nice moment to share with him,” Brown said. “Super exciting and it’s really pretty.”

“I was happy for her to have it and see the joy on her face and it’s something that she really deserves,” Wade said. “She really helped us so much last year and it feels good to see her, I don’t like preparing for her, but it feels good to see her playing really well and giving them what she has and everybody gets to see, you know, her worth and her value. So I’m really happy about that too.”

The latest matchup against the Sky was an interesting inflection point for Brown and her former team. The first-year Spark is thriving individually, but her team currently sits just outside of playoff position. Meanwhile, Chicago hasn’t missed a beat since winning last year’s title, holding the top spot in the WNBA standings and putting on fourth-quarter clinics with the team’s newfound championship mettle.

But even though Brown is happy for her former teammates and misses that environment — as she told Swish Appeal postgame, “I mean, look at that team. That’s a really fun team to play for.” — it’s fruitless to imagine her situation any differently.

There was no future for Brown with the Sky. Her cap number as a fifth-year veteran didn’t fit in to Chicago’s financial plans, and her skillset wasn’t exactly what the Sky needed. It made sense for a player like Rebekah Gardner, a bully ball getting into the paint, to land in Chicago, and for Brown to end up in Los Angeles.

Brown understands how much timing matters in this league. She played with Gardner in Israel and constantly asked Gardner why she hadn’t played in the WNBA yet. Playing long overseas seasons made her unavailable for training camps — out of sight, out of mind for WNBA front offices. But being a rookie this year ended up helping; making the lowest veteran minimum salary is part of why Gardner was attractive to the Sky.

That overseas timing issue was part of the reason Brown decided to leave France early during her 2021-22 WNBA offseason. Despite being a 2021 champion, she had a feeling that she didn’t have “that many people on the Lexie Brown train”. She couldn’t afford to miss the start of the WNBA season — she had to be there from the beginning to prove herself.

“It was just something that I felt inside of me like, I just feel I had to just pick myself,” Brown said back in May. “I didn’t think that playing overseas was gonna benefit me.... I just didn’t feel that confidence to be able to just not show up to camp and just be able to slide in. So I made a decision to prioritize the WNBA.”

Basketball: Athletes Unlimited-Team Russell at Team Carrington
Lexie Brown said playing in Athletes Unlimited was “life-changing” and will be playing there until she can’t play anymore.
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

That journey led Brown to Athletes Unlimited, where she thrived. She was the fourth-highest scorer and a team captain three of the five weeks during the season. Making the decision to play AU could not have turned out better; she loved the experience, was well-rested for the start of WNBA training camp, and her play convinced the Sparks to acquire her in a sign-and-trade for Li Yueru.

Once she got to Los Angeles, Brown was able to show the Sparks brass what she already knew — that she belonged in a WNBA rotation.

“I think AU not only allowed me but Lexie and all these other players that played in it to just be free and to play without any politics or any pressure from coaches or GMs, and it just allowed us to just fall in love with the game of basketball again,” fellow AU participant (and second-leading scorer in 2022) Natasha Cloud said. “Right now you’re seeing Lexie and just her confidence in herself, the work that she’s put in really pay off. And I’m really proud of Lexie, the situations that she’s been in on previous teams, a lot of other players, a lot of other people would have knocked them off their track. A lot of people would have quit and just kind of hung it up. But she knows that she’s deserving to be in this league. And I’m glad that she finally found a home in L.A.”

Now that she has found stability and comfort in Los Angeles, her fourth team in five years, Brown is seizing her window of opportunity. The people that questioned her defense, a “part of (her) game that people decided that didn’t exist” despite her 2018 ACC DPOY award, have to reckon with Brown forcing Sabrina Ionescu and Skylar Diggins-Smith into six turnovers apiece on back-to-back days. Those who asked if she had worked on her shot during the offseason are witnessing a 44 percent 3-point shooter, fourth among guards who attempt at least one three per game.

Maybe it’s better that Brown had to wait to get her ring. At the start of the season, when doubts still existed about her as a WNBA player, it may not have been as satisfying. But now, in the midst of her best professional season, that ring is an acknowledgement of how far Brown has come.

“(James) told me when he gave my ring that he’s proud of me and he was really happy for me, so to hear him say that felt good,” Brown said. “I mean, I know if he could have kept me there, I’m sure he would have, but I don’t think I would have seen the court that much. So like I said before, I’m very grateful that he was able to get me up out of there, you know, so I can have a real opportunity to play.”

That ring is also a reminder of the good things that happen when Brown is around. She’s a critical part of the Sparks playoff push, and she’s shining for her new team just like her newest piece of jewelry.