Lynx offer glimpse into winners’ psyche

MINNEAPOLIS — Seimone Augustus remembers winning a championship last October in Atlanta.

She remembers, but it’s blurry. She and her teammates talk about it sometimes still, here in the midst of their next title chase, but the details sometimes elude them. They’re too focused on the here and now, on Chicago and then Indiana and then Indiana again. They’re thinking about Los Angeles next week, then Phoenix and finally San Antonio.

The Lynx know what comes next. They know it like their lives depend on it, and they know how much they want what lies at the end.

These are some of the most competitive women in the world. They’ve won NCAA championships and WNBA titles. They have gold medals and resumes teeming with individual honors. They have European championships. There are too many accolades to dwell on and no way to compare them. And to process all that, to file away past success and build on it, they have the best kind of short-term memories.

“As an athlete, you’re conditioned to have a short-term memory, and it’s always onto the next thing,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t necessarily think that they’re not sitting in London going, ‘Hmm, WNBA championship, gold medal?’ There’s none of that. They’re very task-oriented. And because our league is the way it is, you leave here, now you go try to win a Euroleague championship. They stay in the moment.”

No one explained it better than the Lynx’s three Olympians, Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. With their jetlag lingering and the Olympics not even a week in the past, the three fielded questions at a press conference in Minneapolis in August. They were asked about ranking the experience. Could it be better than their WNBA title of a year before? Worse? Does it make the possibility of a title this year less exciting?

No. No. No. With a few glances between the three, a conclusion emerged. It’s different. All of this is different, and each of these experiences is its own high. Each has its ramifications and lingering effects. Each fades quickly into the whirlwinds that are their careers, and these women cling only to what they need to be successful.

Because yes, it’s a short-term memory, but not in the sense that they simply forget. Not Moore, at least. Maya Moore does not forget, not when she must perfect, perfect, perfect. Not when she demands the things she demands from herself.

“It’s a combination of taking your mistakes and recognizing them,” Moore said. “You can’t be someone who gets better if you don’t recognize your mistakes. But (you can’t let) them make you less confident.”

The woman who’s won two NCAA championships, a WNBA Rookie of the Year Award, a WNBA championship, a Euroleague title and a gold medal can forget the glory. She can forget the near perfection, but only because she wants more. The past is irrelevant except when she can improve upon it.

“It’s one of those things where you look up and you get the opportunity to play for an Olympic gold or getting into the WNBA Finals, and that method’s been working for me so far,” Moore said. “So I’m going to continue to use it.”

But this goes beyond forgetting the highs and remembering the mistakes. It’s freer than that and more natural. These women have played at the highest level, with the best and against the best. They’ve learned what it takes to win under those circumstances, and despite the forgetting and the self-admonishment, they’ve found a way to make that kind of play define them.

The Olympics are different, of course, than a WNBA championship. Of that the Olympians can all agree. But that doesn’t mean they’re isolated, that there’s a wall between them and the Lynx’s other successes. The Olympics are most beneficial at this point because they carry over.

“I think it definitely builds momentum and confidence,” Moore said. “Just playing basketball, the way we were playing over there, it was very free. It was just kind of pass, cut, make reads, play off of each other, run hard in transition . . . Just the feel for each other, Seimone, Lindsay and I, just continued as we were over there, so all that we brought back.”

Reeve couldn’t be more grateful for that. Where other teams might have worried about the interruption of the Olympic break or the separation when teammates went overseas, Reeve recognized its benefits. To have three players — those three players, especially — competing at the highest level wasn’t going to tire them out. These women are accustomed to that. A gold medal wasn’t going to jade them. If anything, it would make them hungrier and reinforce their work ethics.

Negotiating this success is a mental exercise, no doubt. But it’s a natural one to which players don’t necessarily need to devote energy. They’re programmed to beat themselves up over mistakes and learn from them. They unwittingly let the memories of wins fade when there are bigger concerns here, now, tomorrow, next month. They’re not spending time thinking, ‘Oh, how can I move on from this experience? How can I learn from it?’ That kind of thought doesn’t occur to them, or if it ever did, it hasn’t for a long time. That’s why they play at such a high level, because winning and moving on from it are programmed into their psyches.

So don’t ask about rankings. Don’t impose some false sense of ordering and prioritizing to it. Why bother, when whatever these women are doing — forgetting, remembering, blurring, moving on — is working at such a high level?

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