Champions Celebrate

15,000 fans gathered downtown to celebrate the team’s first championship.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen greets a fan Tuesday on 7th St  in Downtown Minneapolis.  An estimated crowd of 15,000 people gathered to cheer on the 2011 WNBA champions.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen greets a fan Tuesday on 7th St in Downtown Minneapolis. An estimated crowd of 15,000 people gathered to cheer on the 2011 WNBA champions.

by Betsy Helfand

Four days after sweeping the Atlanta Dream en route to their first WNBA title, the Minnesota Lynx were welcomed home by fans with a parade along Nicollet Mall and a rally at the Target Center.

An estimated 15,000 fans lined the streets along Nicollet Mall as the parade traveled from 12th Street and Nicollet Avenue to the Target Center, where roughly 5,000 fans packed in the stadium to celebrate with the team.

Fans were shown video clips from the season and Gov. Mark Dayton was on hand to declare the day âÄúMinnesota Lynx Day.âÄù
The Lynx had only qualified for the WNBA playoffs twice previously since their inception in 1999, which made the championship even more special for diehard fans.

âÄúThis is great. You know it all boils down to what believing is, and we believed in the Lynx and they finally made it,âÄù fan Jan Rudd said.
Rudd, 62, has held Lynx season tickets for 11 seasons.

The Lynx, who averaged 8,447 fans per game in 2011, welcomed the outpouring with open arms.

âÄúItâÄôs just unbelievable how you guys just love us so much and love the game,âÄù Rookie of the Year Maya Moore said, addressing the crowd.

Former Gophers great Lindsay Whalen echoed MooreâÄôs sentiments.

âÄúIt feels great. ItâÄôs been unbelievable,âÄù Whalen said. âÄúJust to do it with this group of people has just been something you really only dream of and then just how you guys have embraced us throughout this whole season and then these last couple of days is just really overwhelming.âÄù

For longtime Lynx fans, winning the WNBA championship has been a special experience. Rachel Grosskurth, 36, was one of hundreds who greeted the team at the airport when they returned from Atlanta.

âÄúWhen they got off the plane on Saturday, I actually cried, I was so excited,âÄù Grosskurth said. âÄúThey were so gracious and took pictures with everyone. Today again seeing them come down the street in the vehicles, I got the chills. It was really cool to see it.âÄù

Don Hegg, 60, attended the rally because âÄú[the Lynx] deserve seeing a lot of people seeing their championship celebration.âÄù

Hegg, who has been a Lynx fan for five years, noted that âÄúsometimes the professional sports teams donâÄôt give a good aura about them, but this team gave a good aura because they were a team.âÄù

Danita Banks, 56, said sheâÄôs been a Lynx fan since the teamâÄôs inception.

âÄúThis means the world to me because it gives back to the community âÄî it allows young ladies and young men to know that they can pursue their goal and have a stage like this and have a parade and just have fun,âÄù Banks said.

For 12-year-old Justyna Butler, a basketball player in Bloomington who aspires to play in the WNBA one day, the Lynx win was âÄúinspiring.âÄù She said it showed her that she âÄúneeds to work harder to get to where they are.âÄù

Still, for all the fan support the Lynx have recently received, several fans said they hope that with the championship title, more people will recognize what the team has accomplished.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt get enough press when these women first went to the All-Star Game,âÄù Banks said. âÄúAnd now theyâÄôve won a championship and the way they won, and their home record, they needed to be on the front page of the sports page every day âĦ and they also need to be on the television and the radio first, not third, not fourth, not an afterthought.

âÄúThey deserve more than what theyâÄôve received.âÄù

Said Grosskurth: âÄúI think itâÄôs a huge eye-opener to the state of Minnesota that womenâÄôs sports donâÄôt get enough attention. I guess I was a little frustrated that it didnâÄôt get enough attention as it should of in regards to their win.

âÄúToward the end of the season when we would get nine to 11 to 15 thousand people was quite a difference when there were just a few thousand people here, so I think next year will be a very different year for these ladies.âÄù