This adventure appears in the July 30, 2018, affair of Sports Illustrated. For added abundant storytelling and all-embracing analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94 off the awning price. Click actuality for more.
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The best Minnesota affair in the history of Minnesota is Lindsay Whalen arch the Mississippi River below the battleground GRAIN BELT beer assurance that greets drivers on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, and saying, in a flat-voweled Minnesota emphasis that rhymes roof with hoof, “Maybe I’ll accept a Grain Belt tonight.” It’s her 36th birthday, and she’s cutting her Golden Gophers jacket.
In Minnesota, Grain Belt beer, the Mississippi River and the Golden Gophers cycle on, as does Whalen, who crosses the arch every day en avenue from convenance with the Minnesota Lynx—the four-time WNBA champions, for whom she plays point guard—to the University of Minnesota, area she is the women’s basketball coach, all because Whalen cannot or will not say no.
When Whalen—the winningest amateur in alliance history, on its greatest dynasty—thought about backward in March, Lynx drillmaster Cheryl Reeve asked her to break on. Afterwards four hours of conversation, Whalen told Reeve yes, she’d accumulate playing. Two weeks afterwards Gophers drillmaster Marlene Stollings larboard for Texas Tech and Whalen discussed that job action with her husband, Ben Greve, who says, “Our chat was, ‘How do you say no to that?’”
Does Whalen anytime say no to anything? “Because of the way we were raised, I appetite to be nice,” says Whalen, the earlier of bristles accouchement reared in Hutchinson, an hour west of the Twin Cities. “I’m not acceptable at adage no. I charge to get better.” And yet, aback this anchorman asked Whalen if he could tag forth on her Journey to No, she bootless the absolute aboriginal test, texting in reply: “Yes, of course!”
This is activity to booty some time.
The disciplinarian who delivered her banquet aftermost night asked Whalen, who was cutting battery sandals and sweatpants, to arise alfresco and affectation for a selfie by his car. She didn’t say yes, exactly, but she didn’t say no, either, talking him bottomward to a active photo from a assemblage on her desk. “The guy was appealing amped up,” says Whalen. Indeed, Greve came home from assignment to acquisition the disciplinarian “standing in our garage, attractive like he capital to adhere out.” Greve has gotten acclimated to this in 11 years of alliance to Minnesota’s best acclaimed woman, a admired affiliate of 10,000 families she has never met.
“She’s Minnesota’s admired daughter,” says Reeve. “Everyone knows Lindsay, and anybody knows what she’s done for basketball in the accompaniment of Minnesota. Bodies who never watched basketball afore became admirers aback she played at Minnesota, and she has agitated that admirers through her pro career.”
As a amateur at the U, Whalen was a funny, self-deprecating, assist-machine of a point guard. “DJ Whay, spinning rhymes and bottomward dimes,” as she deadpanned to one reporter, while additionally apprehensive aloud why she and her teammates—“a accumulation of girls”—had to run assimilate the cloister to “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
She led the Gophers to the NCAA clash her blooming year, the Sweet 16 her inferior year and the Final Four in 2004, affairs out 14,625-seat Williams Arena forth the way. On the hip-hop continuum of her career, DJ Whay became Weezy to her Lynx teammates, possibly in admiration to Lil Wayne, admitting she wonders if “it was because I was old and out of shape.”
She says this afterwards constant a postpractice active machine—“the paddlewheel”—from her Lynx teammates in account of her birthday, and a anniversary afore arch them with 17 credibility and nine assists in their season-opening, last-second accident to the Los Angeles Sparks, their archnemesis and opponents in the aftermost two WNBA finals. In that game, Whalen played lockdown D on Odyssey Sims afterwards the whistle, adverse the Sparks bouncer as she approved to airing to the L.A. bank for a abeyance and animation roars from the Target Centermost crowd.
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In these moments, it’s bright that Charles Barkley was her admired amateur growing up. Whalen’s Inner Chuck reveals itself in competition. Aback Mike Thibault accomplished the Connecticut Sun, for whom Whalen played during her aboriginal six seasons, he ran a account of abreast plays for her in their playoff alternation adjoin the Detroit Shock. The 5’ 9″ Whalen kept scoring off these isos, afresh gazing in agitation at Shock drillmaster Bill Laimbeer. “I couldn’t acquaint from my end if she was talking to Laimbeer,” says Thibault, now the drillmaster of the Washington Mystics. “But her blaze said, The way you’re arresting this, you’re disrespecting me as a player.”
Greve was on the golf aggregation aback he met Whalen in college, and he is now the backstab arresting best of the Minnesota Open. Two Septembers ago Greve was arena at Minneapolis Golf Club with a above Gophers abettor aback Whalen—who hadn’t swung a club all summer—joined them. On the 322-yard, par-4 14th, she collection the blooming and active a 20-foot hawkeye putt. (“Walking it in,” Greve says with a sigh.) On the abutting hole, a par-5, Whalen accomplished in two and two-putted for birdie. “You guys do this every weekend?” she said to her bedmate and his buddy. “It’s not that hard.”
“When my kids were in aerial school,” Thibault says of his daughter, Carly, and son, Eric, the closing now his abettor with the Mystics, “Lindsay would be at our abode arena Jenga with the aerial academy kids, giving them all sorts of lip about losing. She took that seriously.”
In Bold 4 of the 2017 finals, in L.A., Sims sprinted in for a layup but Whalen agape her down, animation a flagrant-one abhorrent that set the Lynx afire and additionally afire a 33–12 run that angry the game—and the series—around.
“I’ve apparent that ancillary of her,” says UConn women’s drillmaster Geno Auriemma, who guided Whalen to Olympic gold medals in London and Rio, area she backed up Sue Bird, addition animated assassin. “You accept to be accurate about the ones who assume the kindest and the sweetest. They’re the ones who’ll rip your throat out.”
The throat-ripping accompanying with the Minnesota Nice creates a cerebral dissonance. Modesty is a affection accepted by Minnesotans, who angled bottomward their 11,842 lakes for the 10,000 on their authorization plates. Whalen is a approaching Hall of Famer, but she metaphorically circuit bottomward so as not to arise boastful. This isn’t shtick, added an accomplishment to arise life-sized instead of beyond than life. “Lindsay is an abundantly affectionate person,” says Reeve. “She understands what she agency to people, she never wants to booty that for accepted and she’s consistently accommodating to accord of herself.”
It’s addition acumen why this accomplished angle of no is activity to booty some assignment and, accuracy be told, is absurd to accomplish on a ample scale, in allotment because the Lynx accept formed a ancestors band with admirers that Whalen wants to authorize with the Gophers. The players are accessible, switched-on to amusing issues and—the key to the accomplished enterprise—wildly successful.
Despite the Lynx’s 3–5 start, their calendar of Whalen, advanced Maya Moore, centermost Sylvia Fowles, bouncer Seimone Augustus and advanced Rebekkah Brunson has got it rolling again—they were 14–10 through July 21—and angle aloof four amateur abaft the Storm, who are gunning for their third title. There accept been 21 finals in WNBA history. Whalen has played in eight of them.
Whalen (left) talks with Minnesota Lynx arch coach Cheryl Reeve afore an WNBA bold in June 2018
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
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I consistently capital a job that would acquiesce me to biking the world,” Whalen says, “and I assumption I got one.” Arena winters in Russia, Turkey and the Czech Republic, she followed her admired and benighted Minnesota sports teams with the adherence of a KFAN caller, Weezy from Istanbul. “Sometimes it was aloof a amethyst haze,” says Greve, of aggravating to bolt a alive Vikings bold in the aboriginal canicule of Slingbox from Eastern Europe, area the brace would adjustment wings from a Prague collective alleged Pizza West and try to break alive until 3 a.m. By the time she watched Brett Favre bandy a baleful aces in the 2009 NFC appellation game, in the average of a Czech night—having lobbied her drillmaster to adjournment convenance until the afterward afternoon—Whalen could be forgiven for cerebration that she and her teammates would accept to be the ones to appropriate Minnesota’s aboriginal championship aback the 1991 Apple Series.
She played hockey until fifth grade, but became so acceptable at basketball so bound that her amateur at Hutchinson Aerial sometimes angled off afterwards the boys’ amateur because they drew bigger crowds. At home, she played out the men’s NCAA basketball brackets by herself on a Nerf bandage in the basement, and affected to be Vikings receiver Anthony Carter while arena bolt with her dad, Neil, who afresh retired from the 3M bulb in Hutchinson area Whalen’s mother, Kathy, still works as an authoritative assistant. She enjoyed elbowing her four adolescent siblings—Katie, Casey, Annie and Thomas—in roller hockey and agreeable them in ping-pong battles royal. “I’ve apologized to them abounding times,” she says, “for all the things I did to them growing up.”
That account of atrocities includes hosting her own 1990s-style daytime allocution show, modeled on those of Geraldo, Jerry Springer and—her claimed favorite—Sally Jessy Raphael. Lindsay was Sally Jessy, and her ancestors were the guests and aggregation for the videotaped proceedings, which consistently ended—like abounding of the absolute shows—in animation violence, all the Whalen combatants afraid pillows below their shirts and sumo wrestling.
Annie, now 25, grew so annoyed of actuality abject to every one of her big sister’s amateur as a kid that aback Lindsay was called Gophers drillmaster on April 12, she accustomed a boutonniere of flowers from her little sister with a agenda that apprehend simply: Yay. Added basketball.
Hours afterwards her anterior columnist conference, Whalen was declared to fly to Chicago for Casey’s abruptness 30th altogether party. But the new drillmaster was so annoyed that she absitively to delay until the abutting day, which brought 12.9 inches of snow and shut bottomward the Minneapolis–St. Paul airport. Grounded, she and Greve abject two accoutrements through the blast to adorn her new appointment at the U, and afresh she FaceTimed into the party, area Casey acclaimed that both he and his wife were afresh answer at their corresponding jobs. How nice, Casey said, that Lindsay had assuredly gotten a bang in title, too. These are the greatest accessible expressions of adulation and pride in the Gopher State, area gift T-shirts read: KEEP MINNESOTA PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE.
After Lynx convenance Whalen showers, ices, eats and changes into her Gophers gear. In the barn below the Mayo Clinic Center, she gets abaft the caster of her atramentous Mercedes SUV, aloof retrieved from the dealership, and a advantage of her new job. She apologizes for its awe-inspiring interior. “I’ve never apprenticed a Mercedes before,” she says, analytic for the accessory selector. She finds it area one usually turns on the blinkers.
Whalen pulls out of the barn in advanced of Aboriginal Avenue, the club fabricated acclaimed by Prince, who performed a three-hour concert for the Lynx at his Paisley Park admixture the night they won their third championship, in 2015. Hers is a 15-minute drive, starting in city Minneapolis, with its Bob Dylan mural and Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards) statue, all these Minnesota icons either dead, fabulous or continued absent from the state, save Whalen, who crosses the arch and drives up University Avenue pointing out her admired restaurants.
A agenda HAPPY BIRTHDAY banderole has been afraid in her office, and two boxes of accolade are placed on her desk. She’ll bless tonight with Greve and her administration at addition Minneapolis landmark, Murray’s—“Home of the Butter Knife Steak”—where added assemblage will alarm her “Coach,” alike admitting she has never run a practice. Nobody seems to mind. “I’m in the amusement phase,” she says. “I’m undefeated.” She knows and expects fan acknowledgment to change based on how the Gophers perform, but for now the backlog of amicableness appears bottomless.
“In some means it’s a bold move by [athletic director] Mark Coyle, because of the perceived abridgement of experience,” says Reeve. “But it’s actually the actual move, a no-brainer. What [the university] has gotten already, in a abbreviate time, is already account the amount of admission.”
“People allocution about the It factor, and that is consistently difficult to define,” Coyle said in introducing Whalen. “But anybody who has anytime spent time about Lindsay Whalen knows she has It.”
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Dawn Staley and Jennifer Rizzotti both played in the WNBA while coaching—with abundant success—at Temple and Hartford, respectively. “They say absolutely acceptable players don’t accomplish abundant coaches,” says Reeve, “because they’re instinctual, and that’s a admirable affair to watch. The attenuate aberration is aback you ask a player, ‘Do you apperceive how you did what you aloof did?’ Lindsay can acquaint you the how, the what, the why of what she does, so she’ll be able to advise that.”
Her appointment in the brand-new, $166 actor Athletes’ Village circuitous is a lob block from area she met Greve as a apprentice in a business stats chic that started at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, aback Whalen was consistently in sweats, accepting arise beeline from early-morning conditioning. “He kept sitting abutting to me,” she recalls. “That was a acceptable sign, because I’m still in my sweats appealing abundant every day.”
They were affiliated in 2007. Greve works continued hours as a accomplice at an allowance allowance while still arena aggressive golf, accepting aloof alternate from the USGA four-ball championship at Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, Fla. Alike in admirable settings aggressive golf can be grueling, but he’s acute abundant never to say so, “especially aback my wife has two jobs.” Three if you calculation active Henry, the couple’s aberrant goldendoodle, to his basset orthodontist appointments.
“I accept a continued agitation list,” Whalen agrees. “And it never gets any shorter.” Today, she was declared to get her U Card, acceptance her to thumbprint into her new office, which will be a relief, as she’s bound herself out three times already afterwards abrogation her keys on her desk. “I’ve never had appointment doors that bound abaft me automatically,” she says, and then, afterwards a abbreviate pause: “I’ve never had an appointment before.”
The central of that office, which overlooks the Gophers’ convenance court, resembles Citizen Kane’s warehouse, absolute the compensation of Whalen’s basketball travels. Three of her four WNBA rings are here, in their clover cases. So is the brawl commemorating her 295th win, ambience the WNBA almanac for alone victories; a photograph with Michelle Obama at the White House; four commemorative Wheaties boxes featuring the Lynx; and, on an end table abutting to the sofa, her gold medals from the 2012 and ’16 Olympics. These are the boodle of her heroics, and she hopes to acknowledgment all of them to their accumulator locker soon.
She’d like the bare bank abaft her board to affectation a ample mural of the sold-out Williams Arena from the night her Gophers played Penn Accompaniment in 2004, or the aperture tip of the ’04 Final Four bold in New Orleans, area Minnesota absent to Auriemma’s Huskies. “My ambition is to accept all this eventually be pictures of Gopher women’s basketball,” says Whalen.
When Reeve came to Minnesota, accepting won two WNBA titles in four years as a Shock assistant, her Lynx appointment was accessory with photos and mementoes of those Shock celebrations. Whalen now tells her own players what Reeve told her then: Advice us redecorate.
Part of this requires adage no. Aback Lynx teammates ask if they’ll be on the Gophers canyon list, she says, “No, buy division tickets.” Whalen wants to ample 14,625-seat Williams Arena afresh but knows it will booty time, which is in deficient supply. Thibault had banquet with her afterwards the Lynx played at Washington in May. “She said she’s accepting bigger at axis off the phone,” Thibault reports. Says Reeve, with confidence: “She’s activity to apprentice to agent some things.”
In that pursuit, Whalen has assassin administration Kelly Roysland, a Gophers abettor and the above drillmaster at Macalester College, as able-bodied as Carly Thibault-DuDonis, who peeks her arch into the appointment now, acquainted that a admired recruit will be appear today. (Mercedes Staples, a 5’ 10″ point bouncer from Salt Lake City who is ranked in the top 75 players in the nation, is the additional Mercedes to access Whalen’s activity in the accomplished 24 hours.) Thibault-DuDonis was an abettor on the Mississippi Accompaniment aggregation that played in the aftermost two NCAA appellation games, and the aerial academy babe with whom Whalen played cut-throat Jenga as a affiliate of the Sun, afresh accomplished by Carly’s father, Mike. Aback Whalen was drafted by Connecticut in ’04, Carly was an eighth-grader and one of the team’s ballgirls. Now, actuality are the two of them, in this huge new office, account at life’s turns.
Whalen is on a couch, in sweats, cerebration about the qualities that accept fabricated the Lynx abundant and how she can accompany them to the U. In added words: What does she appetite to backpack beyond the Hennepin Avenue Bridge?
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“You accept to focus on actuality a acceptable actuality aboriginal and adore architecture relationships,” she says. “Those are what it’s all about. Every time the Lynx accept won a championship, Drillmaster [Reeve] consistently says, attractive back, that our training affected was so acceptable that year. And it starts on Day One with the way we amusement anniversary other.”
Be a acceptable person. Amusement one addition well. Whalen will ask recruits if they’re accommodating to do those things, and try to assurance the ones who say yes. She picks up a box fabricated from sustainably sourced Brazilian hardwood, and opens it to acknowledge her Rio gold medal, which has—one can’t advice but notice—silver graffiti on its face. How? Aback Whalen was asked if she’d be accommodating to accompany the badge to an event, she told the organizers yes, and aback admirers there asked to authority it, she said yes again, at which time the badge was accidentally but irreversibly defaced by someone’s uncapped argent acrylic pen. She doesn’t assume to mind. Whalen leaves the box open: gold brindle with a afraid fan’s graffiti, badge of a best who feels apprenticed to share.
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