Lynx, fans gather to celebrate one last time at Target Center

MINNEAPOLIS — Long after fans filed out of the Target Center and crews began tearing down the giant video screen and catwalk inside Monday, most of the Lynx’s players, coaches and staff remained.

They weren’t quite ready to close this chapter.

That glistening silver trophy shifted from player to player once more. Team staffers and players posed together for pictures. One of Minnesota’s male scout team players passed around a white rally towel for athletes and organizational leaders to sign.

Each interaction came with a warm embrace as intimate and meaningful as the ones shared on the sidelines during the waning moments of Game 3 last Thursday.

That victory over the Atlanta Dream in Duluth, Ga., sparked the repeat celebration Lynx fans and players craved for two years. Monday’s championship parade and pep rally brought both sides together in culminating it, as fans crowded the streets of downtown Minneapolis once again to greet the Twin Cities’ top professional sports franchise at the moment.

“It makes all the hard work worthwhile,” point guard and team captain Lindsay Whalen said.

It wasn’t the sunny, pleasant Columbus Day atmosphere that brought suit-sporting office types out in droves to celebrate the franchise’s first WNBA crown in 2011. But this one attracted the diehards — the families with daughters who idolize Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore, the middle-aged folks who have held season tickets for all 15 years of the organization’s existence, the millennials who recently jumped on a bandwagon that coach Cheryl Reeve says is always open.

These are the lifeblood, Reeve said, of a team that’s won 99 games and a pair of titles the past two years, almost inarguably the best three-season stretch in league history.

“We like to use the word ‘ownership,'” Reeve said. “That’s something I like to foster with our players, with our captains, allowing them decision-making abilities and participation so they have ownership, and we feel the same way with our fans. We want them to feel just as much a part of it.”

A thin layer of them lined Seventh Street on a balmy, 50-degree late morning. Nicollet Avenue was populated about three deep on each side as Whalen once again tossed out candy from a jack-o-lantern-shaped bucket, this time with fellow University of Minnesota alumna Janel McCarville at her side atop a pink, 1960s-style Cadillac convertible.

Moore and Seimone Augustus’ similar transport served as the caboose while they took turns holding the WNBA Finals trophy high.

All riding in retro style, they all rolled into the Target Center and took part in a big-stage celebration before 5,000 fans. Following what amounted to a 20-minute dance party, Whalen bellowed her Shaquille O’Neal-inspired “Can You Dig It” shout to the crowd as she did two years ago, superstar two-guard Seimone Augustus rapped over her team’s clapping and beat-boxing, and Reeve begged fans to give her at least a two-month hiatus before bringing up the word “repeat.”

The weight of defending a championship wore on Minnesota last season, Reeve said. She feels they’ll be better prepared to carry that mantle this time around.

“I do think we’re better-equipped to handle it any time you do something for a second time,” the coach said. “I think we’re gonna embrace that idea.”

Let them wrap their arms around what’s already been achieved first, she requested.

Assistant coach Jim Petersen agreed. His St. Louis Park High School teams fell in the Minnesota state tournament three different times, and his Houston Rocket days in the 1980s brought nothing better than an NBA Finals defeat against Boston.

He told his players to absorb and enjoy it all wholeheartedly Monday, even if these festivities are quickly becoming status quo.

“Never take it for granted,” Petersen said. “Soak it all in. These moments don’t happen very often.”

Or don’t they?

At one point during the post-parade celebration, the word “dynasty” flashed on the court-width big screen along with a Merriam-Webster definition: “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a long period of time.”

Reeve and Petersen say to hold off on such talk, at least until they can catch their breath and begin making preparations for the offseason. But with Whalen and Augustus signing contract extensions and the rest of Minnesota’s core set to return intact, they’re well on their way, Moore said.

“We have 80 percent of the definition covered,” she said. “Great team, great family, great dominance. It’s just a matter of can we do it over and over and over again?”

But Monday wasn’t about looking ahead it. It was geared toward simply appreciating the relationships among an extraordinarily-tight group of hardworking women with as many different personality types as skill sets.

The bonds were on display as they exchanged final goodbyes before heading off to their respective overseas pro clubs — there is virtually no offseason in professional women’s basketball .

“It makes it fun,” said Whalen, sporting her 2011 championship ring. “It makes the future look really good for us, not only as players but just to know we all get to come back here and try to do this again next season.”

First, they’ll take a week or two off then branch out across the planet in search of more hardware. Augustus, Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Devereaux Peters are headed to Russia. Moore will return to China for another year. Monica Wright will spend her winter in South Korea.

They’ll miss each other, Moore said.

“It’s going to be a long offseason, so we had to get in all of our extra love here at the end of the season,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting back. I wish we could have another season right now.”

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