Lynx's Whalen, Reeve share a 'once in a lifetime relationship
MINNEAPOLIS — Lindsay Whalen managed to withhold tears from her news conference last week in which the point guard announced her retirement from professional basketball, effective at the end of the Lynx's 2018 season.
Her coach wasn't quite so successful. Event emcee John Focke hadn't finished listing Whalen's laundry list of accomplishments and Cheryl Reeve was already sobbing.
"I thought I'd make it a bit longer," Reeve joked when she got in front of the mic. But the coach wasn't surprised in the slightest that she was the one to tear up.
Neither was Whalen.
"When I saw her walk in, I felt bad," Whalen said. "I don't like making people cry. But coach wears her heart on her sleeve, and her determination and just how she is as a person has made all of this possible. And you see today, the emotion, that's how she is, that's how she coaches. She pushes us. She's made me an Olympian and a champion. That emotion today, that's how she is, and that's why we're the team we are and that's why we're so good is we all want to do everything we can possibly do to win for her because you see how much she cares."
About winning, about the Lynx, about Whalen. Reeve was named the Lynx head coach in December 2009. Minnesota traded for Whalen a month later — "an absolute no-brainer," Reeve said. The coach and point guard have been tied together ever since.
The start wasn't great — the Lynx went 13-21 in 2010. Whalen described that season as part of the "little dip" in her career. Then she looked over at Reeve.
"But you believed in me and you believed in what I could do," Whalen said to her coach. "You, along with (team owner) Glen (Taylor) and (former general manager) Roger (Griffith), I can't thank you guys enough."
Whalen jokes the Lynx were "just bad enough" to grab Maya Moore with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 WNBA draft after winning the draft lottery. Since then? Six WNBA Finals appearances and four titles in seven years ... you know the story by now.
"I mean, I hope it's worked out," Whalen said. "I feel like it has. I feel like it's gone fairly well."
Understatement of the decade.
"I can't thank you for this amazing ride that we've been on," Whalen said to Reeve. "You couldn't have scripted it any better."
A lot of people have contributed to this Lynx dynasty. Moore has been an MVP, so has Sylvia Fowles. Rebekkah Brunson is the top rebounder in WNBA history, and Seimone Augustus is a perennial all-star who has been here from the start. But everything always seems to come back to Whalen and Reeve. Like a coach and quarterback in football, the relationship between basketball coach and point guard has to be good. It's been so much better than that in Minnesota.
For eight years, Reeve and Whalen have been in constant communication, from pregame meetings at half court to in-game chats to countless other conversations taking place at any time, day or night. It was talks with Reeve last offseason that convinced Whalen to come back for one more season.
The bond appears to be unbreakable. The fit is undeniable. That was evident at the Monday, Aug. 13, retirement news conference. Reeve brought the emotion, and Whalen brought the one-liners, another example of the perfect blend that has served the Lynx so well for so long.
And if you put them on the court together in the biggest of moments, those two are the only ones who seem capable of matching the other's intensity.
"I think you see our personalities and how well we've worked together throughout these years, it's been on display all these years," Whalen said.
Back in January 2010, on the day the Lynx officially acquired Whalen, Reeve's thoughts on getting her point guard were simple: "Give her the ball and let's have some fun."
They've done just that. But the run is finally coming to an end. It's possible Sunday's regular-season finale will mark the last time Reeve and Whalen share the Target Center floor. It's the end of an era, but not the end of a friendship.
Reeve cannot wait to walk into Williams Arena and watch a Lindsay Whalen-coached Gophers women's basketball team play for the first time. Reeve plans on being there for Whalen throughout the new Gophers coach's journey, the hard times and the good. She knows Whalen will go through trials and tribulations, but is excited for her point guard to experience the magical moments and relationships the coaching profession offers.
For Reeve, Whalen has provided plenty of the latter.
"I know she feels lucky about things, but for me, it's once in a lifetime," Reeve said. "That sort of relationship (we have) is once in a lifetime."