A farewell to Sylvia Fowles, a retirement with wide-reaching WNBA implications

·9-min read

There's a beautiful simplicity to Sylvia Fowles. An old-school approach, both in basketball and out. A beaming smile and immediate warm embrace. But only after she drops another double-double with a natural ease.

There's no better way to put it. It will be weird to watch the WNBA without Mama Syl.

Syl's Final (regular season) Ride will cross the finish line on Sunday when the Minnesota Lynx finish the regular season against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (ABC, 1 p.m. ET). Fowles will first be honored in her second home of Minneapolis when the Lynx host the Seattle Storm on Friday night (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

And it looks like it will be an emotional affair. The postgame ceremony will be aired and feature remarks from, among others, current teammate Napheesa Collier, former Lynx teammate Lindsay Whalen, Lynx assistant and former Fowles' teammate Rebekkah Brunson and head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve. And the 6-foot-6 Fowles, too, of course.

“There is no one like Sylvia Fowles, no one,” Reeve said in a team release on Thursday, a hint of what's to come. “All the records, all the accolades, the bar she has set is unprecedented."

That's only right for one of the greatest and most decorated players in the league's 26-year history. Fowles, a 15-year veteran, won two championships with the Lynx and earned Finals MVP honors in both of them. She will forever be remembered as a core piece of a dynasty, joining the likes of Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper with the Houston Comets.

Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks in the second half of the game at Target Center on September 2, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Lynx defeated the Sparks 66-57. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles will play in her final regular season games this weekend. (David Berding/Getty Images)

"She does her thing. Syl is Syl," Sun forward and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones said during All-Star weekend. "I don't think anything rattles Syl or gets Syl out of who Syl is. For me, she was that center that I looked forward to playing against, and she's just been so dominant. She's been Syl her entire career."

She's the 2017 league MVP and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year with the honors covering 10 years (2011, '13, '16, '21). Her name is all over the career record lists: rebounds and rebounds per game (first), field goal percentage (1), double-doubles (1), 2-point field goals (3), blocks (3), blocks per game (5), player efficiency rating (8) and points (10). On the international stage, she's won four Olympic gold medals with Team USA.

Fowles' exit might even more notable on the league than that of Sue Bird's if only because she is one of the last true centers who played with her back to the basket and dominated paint points. This season, she's averaged 12.1 in the paint, leading Nneka Ogwumike (11) and A'ja Wilson (9.8) at a distant third. She has led the league in paint points five times and only in her first two seasons did she fall below fifth.

The former LSU star might also be one of the last to largely shy away from marketing herself, even though her life and passions are fascinating and deserving. Fowles, 36, posted her first Instagram photo in 2019, writing "missing her" on a photo of her niece. (Though her own plight in never being placed as the face of the league is an obvious reason for younger players to utilize the Instagram algorithm to their advantages.)

Her Twitter feed is mostly retweets of posts involving her or her teammates made by the Lynx, LSU and Miami Suns, where she supports a "Team Fowles" girls basketball club. There are no subtweets or callouts. She is one of the most nurturing and kind people, as described by her peers over the years.

"We don't call her Mama Syl for no reason," Aces forward and '20 MVP A'ja Wilson said.

It will always be one of the league's largest misses in not promoting the dominant down-low face of its most popular modern dynasty. Not only for talent and accolades, but interest that permeates the culture. She began classwork toward a mortuary sciences degree in 2015. That's in some ways old news, because even Collier was surprised with the rest of us that Fowles has a "professional" knitting career. (I would 100% buy something from her potential Etsy store, especially with those personalized Syl tags!)

Whether it all ends Sunday or sometime within the next month, it was one of the most special rides the league has ever seen. And if it's lucky, there will be a few more special ones to come.

"I'm looking forward to doing things with the WNBA when I'm done," Fowles said at All-Star weekend. "Y'all aren't going to get rid of me that fast."

WNBA talkin' bout chaos

The Minnesota Lynx are really about to sneak into the playoffs.

Everything went right on Wednesday night — that is, if you like chaos and/or you're a Liberty or Lynx fan. Both clubs won (vs. Wings and Mercury, respectively) to draw four teams into a tie for seventh place. All four teams have two games apiece remaining.

WNBA standings through Thursday's games. (Screenshot/WNBA)
WNBA standings through Thursday's games. (Screenshot/WNBA)

The tiebreaker for four teams is the combined head-to-head record against the other teams in the tie. That places the Lynx ahead at 8-2 with two wins against Atlanta, two against New York and four against Phoenix. The Dream (4-4), Liberty (3-5) and Mercury (3-7) fall behind.

Here are each team's games remaining (all involved play Friday and Sunday) and how they've fared against those teams. Clinching scenarios and probabilities via Her Hoop Stats and Five Thirty Eight.

Minnesota Lynx: vs. Storm, at Sun

The Lynx won four of their last five and have Collier back in the lineup. Though she said she's not where she wants to be 11 weeks after giving birth to her first child, having her available is better than not. But they have the toughest closing schedule with two contests against top-4 teams.

The Storm have won all three games so far and are still playing for home-court advantage in that 4-5 seed battle with the Washington Mystics. The stars aren't taking time off on Friday.

Minnesota has also lost all three to Connecticut, which could also still be playing for seeding come the first game of the day on Sunday.

Tiebreakers (if necessary): Dream (2-1), Liberty (2-1), Mercury (4-0)

Atlanta Dream: vs. Liberty, at Liberty

The teams split their mini series in late June with each winning on the road. The Dream outscored the Liberty, 13-2, in overtime for their win at Barclays.

Atlanta has been streaky since July when they lost three, won two and lost four more. They opened August with wins against the Fever (+10) and Sparks (+2), but dropped needed games against the Lynx (-10) and Aces (-7).

Tiebreakers: Lynx (1-2), Liberty (1-1), Mercury (2-1)

New York Liberty: at Dream, vs. Dream

The Liberty have barely had everyone healthy for games this season and are still in a pickle down the stretch. Betnijah Laney returned from a meniscus injury only last week and has 22 points in three games. Natasha Howard missed the first game against Dallas after injuring her right ankle, though she returned for Wednesday night's win.

It has been largely the Sabrina Ionescu show as she seemingly wills her team to the postseason again while Marine Johannes shines off the bench. They've won four of six since July 31, but every team is at the bottom of the table.

Tiebreakers: Lynx (1-2), Dream (1-1), Mercury (1-2)

Phoenix Mercury: vs. Wings, at Sky

The Mercury have lost four of five as a season made for a 30-for-30 feature begins its final stanza. Diana Taurasi is out for the rest of the season with a quad strain. Skylar Diggins-Smith will miss the last two games for "personal reasons."

They are 1-2 against the Wings and lost both against the league-leading Sky this season.

Tiebreakers: Lynx (0-4), Dream (1-2), Liberty (2-1)

Play of the week

It's time for the Chelsea Gray corner of this notebook.

What you may have missed

WNBA on TV schedule

All times ET. Games on Facebook and NBA TV also available on WNBA League Pass. Here are the current standings and updated scoreboard can be found here.

Friday: Mystics at Fever (7 p.m., Facebook), Liberty at Dream (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Storm at Lynx (9 p.m., ESPN2), Wings at Mercury (10 p.m., NBA TV)

Sunday: Lynx at Sun (1 p.m., ABC), Dream at Liberty (2 p.m., ESPN3), Fever at Mystics (3 p.m., ESPN3), Storm at Aces (3 p.m., ABC), Sky at Mercury (5 p.m., Amazon Prime Video), Wings at Sparks (7 p.m., WNBA League Pass).