“My thing coming into this season, like I just wanted to play,” Sylvia Fowles said when asked about potentially in the very near future facing the reality of not going out with a championship or even a playoff appearance.
“I didn’t think about myself coming in here and sending myself out on a good note. My biggest thing was how can I teach my teammates how to deal with Cheryl, how can they cope, how can they be good teammates to each other. ... Personally, I wasn’t thinking about playing in the playoffs or making it to the championship. My thing is how can I be a great teammate and pass on the knowledge that I’ve learned over the last couple years throughout this league.”
Now, this is of course the same Sylvia Fowles who has probably been the leading voice in the locker room in saying that her Minnesota Lynx’s performance at times this season has been unacceptable. The same Sylvia Fowles who wants to win the championship every year and who has grown accustomed to championship-or-bust thinking, especially in the Minnesota half of her career. In fact, Fowles’ answer to the question spoke more towards the Lynx’s early-season struggles and not the very real possibility that they will make the playoffs and then make some noise once they’re in since Napheesa Collier is back.
Fowles’ answer only means that she will go out with class if it is in defeat and that if she does win, it will be because she wanted it for her team, not for her own fairytale ending. It’s exactly the mindset you’d expect from her, given her caring personality and reputation for playing the game the right way throughout her entire career.
As she has prepared to play her final regular-season game at Target Center Friday night on ESPN2 — one of two highly-anticipated and must-see regular-season farewells that will have taken place this summer — Fowles has been able to reflect on the respect she has received, especially from her peers, for that reputation. But the former MVP, two-time Finals MVP, four-time Defensive Player of the Year and all-time rebounds leader has also found herself answering questions about a lack of recognition from the world at large for her accomplishments.
“Me personally, I haven’t done anything besides just continuing to play the way I’m capable of playing,” she said. “I try to not speak on it because sometimes I feel like that’s more frustrating than anything, trying to get your point across when you’ve done so much and been so dominant throughout your career. But at the end of the day, I take it in stride and I just continue to work because I feel like at some point my hard work is gon’ go noticed.”
Fowles added more, speaking about the WNBA itself and its role in the lack of recognition she has gotten.
“I think we can market certain players better, if not all the players better. ... I feel like they still have a core group that they choose to market and I don’t understand why. If you have a league of 144 players, why not market everybody?”
Diehard women’s basketball media outlets and diehard women’s basketball fans have not breezed past Syl’s final ride. We know she deserves just as much attention as retiring 19-year legend Sue Bird. After all, Bird was named the eighth-best player of all-time by ESPN in 2021 and Fowles was virtually on par at No. 10. With Bird we are talking about the greatest point guard of all-time. With Fowles we are talking about one of the two greatest centers of all-time, the other being Los Angeles Sparks legend Lisa Leslie.
When Fowles walks off the court for the final time, basketball will be losing someone who has given everything to the game. As you would expect, Fowles is in turn grateful for the game of basketball.
“Basketball gave me the opportunity to travel. To make money doing something that I love doing. And it’s also given me a sense of like who I am as well. It’s not easy being an elite athlete and having to deal with different people and get different things thrown at you. So it makes you grow up real fast and realize who you are.”
Fowles is going to be a mortician after she retires, which again speaks to her caring personality. She takes her other profession very seriously and has a clear vision of what she wants to do post-playing.
“When I’m done ... I want no parts of basketball,” she said. “I haven’t thought about anything ownership-wise. And I say that because you sacrifice so much for so long dealing with basketball — I just want to have time to be somewhat normal. And normal is not dealing with basketball. Unless my kids happen to play one day.”
For now, all eyes will be on Fowles Friday night. Hopefully the moment does justice to her incredible career. Whether the outside world will succeed in that department remains to be seen. But inside Target Center, you know the Lynx fans will bring all their energy and give Fowles the same fabulous farewell that Bird received from Seattle Storm fans at Climate Pledge Arena.
“It has not gotten comfortable,” Fowles said of the attention she’s received on her farewell tour. “As a matter of fact, it’s gotten worse. ... But I will say, through the midst of it all, I do appreciate the love and the support that I’ve been getting in every city. It’s definitely fulfilling knowing that you have true fans behind you that’s been there from day one and that acknowledge the things that you’ve done throughout this league. So that makes you feel good, yes.
“I think I just have mixed emotions about this being my last regular-season (game) at home. Of course I want to have fun and focus on like trying to get a playoff spot. But at the same time too you want to be respectful of like the people that's coming out to support and who’s been supporters and who just love, like, me and my game. So of course it’s gonna be emotional. But for the most part, I’m just looking to have a good time and let my emotions flow. So whatever I feel, I’m just gonna let it flow out.”
In true Syl fashion, she would prefer to get a game-winning block than make a game winning shot.