Views from the Stands: Lindsay Whalen’s Jersey Retirement


Writer reflects on a historic day for one of Minnesota’s favorite athletes.

MINNEAPOLIS – An athlete retiring from pro sports brings a wave of emotions to any fan.

To start, there’s sadness. No one wants to see their favorite athlete call it quits even after a long career. But then, there’s gratitude. There’s excitement, especially for the lucky athletes who get a special sentiment like their jersey number being retired.

Women’s basketball fans in the state of Minnesota know these feelings well. They’ve felt them all – and more – in recent months after hometown legend Lindsay Whalen announced her retirement from professional basketball.

The party unofficially came to an end Saturday afternoon when the Minnesota Lynx hoisted Whalen’s No. 13 jersey up to the rafters as the first number in franchise history to be retired.

“Her jersey is in the rafters because she’s a winner. The all-time winningest player in the WNBA,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said to media before the game. “A class act on and off the court, the trust, the elite nature, the way she conducted her business, that’s what led to the winning.”

People in Minnesota have loved Lindsay since her days playing high school basketball in the small town of Hutchinson, Minn., because of those traits and more, and that showed in a big way on Saturday. The attendance for the day was announced at 8,834, but it felt like double that from the second the Target Center doors opened to the final buzzer of the subsequent nationally-televised game against the Los Angeles Sparks. Fans were out in full force all day, many of them in Lynx and Gophers jerseys with big 13s on the front. Others wore shirts honoring Whalen in different ways, from her helping Minnesota win four WNBA titles in seven years to coaching at her alma mater to her since-retired online alter ego Gentry.

[Disclaimer: As a proud Lynx season ticket member, I was at the game, but I bought these tickets myself.]

The day, aptly nicknamed #WhayDay on social media, got off to a rocky start. The Target Center opened its doors at about 1:15 p.m., just 30 minutes before the pregame retirement ceremony was to begin at 1:45. It’s fair to say that many of the fans in attendance might have only gone to the game because of its’ special honoree, which made the opening crowds bigger than expected. Despite the drama at the doors, the excitement only grew as the stands began to fill inside the arena.

Throughout her career, specifically with the Lynx, Lindsay Whalen has never been one to draw attention to herself. As many have mentioned in recent months, she would much rather focus on others or what she can do for the team she’s on (or coaching). So it came as no surprise to me that Whalen walked onto the Target Center court before the ceremony without much fanfare – until the Lynx and Gopher faithful noticed, that is.

The team made a similar entrance onto the court in special matching warmup shirts worn by staff members as well. This is despite the fact that the 2019 Minnesota Lynx looks a lot different than even the roster from Whalen’s final season just a year ago.

“They didn’t play with her, but they knew of her,” Reeve said. “And they knew the way that she conducted her business, and that’s what stays with this team.

“We talk about culture that Lindsay helped us to establish. She’s firmly entrenched in this team and that the way that we do things is exactly the way Lindsay [did] things.”

After the team, staff, and Whalen’s family were situated on the court, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe walked to the center of the court and the ceremony began.


After mentioning the importance of the day’s Lynx-Sparks game being broadcast on ABC, Rowe started the event talking about Whalen and her uniqueness, which gained some laughs from the crowd. Rowe then introduced a pretty epic video made in Whalen’s honor, titled “Warrior.”

The Lynx faithful were drawn to the Jumbotron from the start of the video that ran more than nine minutes long. Fans cheered and laughed numerous times, including in the opening seconds when it was revealed that former teammate Maya Moore was narrating the video. She did not appear at the Target Center in person, but she joined many others in sending Whalen well wishes on Twitter.

From the hometown flagship school to “a foreign land”

People from all aspects of Whalen’s life were featured in the video, which started with her parents, Kathy and Neil, talking about their lives in Hutchinson. Some of the biggest cheers of the event came when they talked about Whalen’s recruitment process.

“Lindsay got four scholarships,” Neil said. “But she chose to stay home in Minnesota.”

“She truly wanted to be a Gopher,” Kathy added. “I mean, who wouldn’t?”

Even though many people assumed that Whalen taking the Gophers head coaching job last year meant that she was on her way out of the WNBA, it only made sense to the Minnesota faithful because of the impact she had in her college years.

She grew the Gophers women’s basketball program so much that the team moved from the Sports Pavilion to Williams Arena, commonly known as “The Barn.” There was also the miraculous Final Four run Whalen led during her senior season in 2004, which caught the eyes of many, including Lynx owner Glen Taylor.

“We were very interested in Lindsay to be drafted by us,” he said in the video.

So was she – and many others. But the Connecticut Sun got to Whalen first, choosing her with the fourth-overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft. What may be seen as a sour moment in Whalen’s career got some laughs from the Target Center crowd on Saturday courtesy of ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who told a story from the draft night in the video.

“I remember making the comment on air, she looks like somebody just shot her down because you can see that she’s disappointed…that Minnesota didn’t take her,” she said. The comment combined with a shot of Whalen’s emotionless face from draft night made me laugh. More laughs came when former Sun coach Mike Thibault joked about the Whalen family’s resistance to the draft pick by calling Connecticut “a foreign land.”

“He had to prove to me that she would be well taken care of,” Kathy Whalen said.

It’s fair to say that happened. Whalen led the Sun to the playoffs in five of the six years she played in Uncasville, including two trips to the WNBA Finals. As my High Post Hoops colleague Natalie Heavren reports, the Sun will also retire Whalen’s #13 during a ceremony of their own August 23. As several people said during the video, the support from the Minnesota faithful never dwindled during her time in Connecticut. Still, the Lynx front office tried (and tried) to get Whalen back home. Their perseverance paid off.

“The time was right (for Whalen) to come back here in 2010,” Reeve said. “You just knew something special was going to happen.

“The run of success is what people remember, but the beginning is what we remember the most.”

Hometown Legend

As many know, the Lynx’s run of dominance began soon after Whalen joined the team. But that first year was more important than any title run could ever be. Former teammate Rebekkah Brunson has understandably not attended Lynx games this season while recovering from concussion symptoms, so the appearance of her in the video and at the ceremony made the Target Center crowd break out into cheers.

“The first year was (about) figuring out who the Lynx were,” she said, referring to the 2010 season.

It didn’t take long for the Lynx faithful to grow as the aforementioned run of success began. And it didn’t take long for the Lynx team to find their identity after Whalen came home. The traits that she was known for as a Gopher stayed with her throughout her pro career, which made more fans check out the team. The mentions of the four WNBA titles and the two Olympic gold medals Whalen won did get applause from the crowd in place Saturday, but not as much as when those in the video mentioned her personality.

“Playing at the U(niversity of Minnesota), you always looked up and saw (Whalen) in the rafters,” former Gopher and current Sun player Rachel Banham said. “She just set such a high standard in Minnesota that I wanted to become that, too.”

A first-of-its-kind honor

After a brief countdown from the crowd following the end of the video, Whalen’s jersey was officially unveiled in the rafters.

She didn’t say much to the fans despite jokingly asking how much time she had to talk, but she didn’t have to. She thanked her teammates, coaches, and family before saying she liked how her jersey was next to the banner for the 2017 WNBA championship, which the Lynx won at her alma mater’s Williams Arena against the L.A. Sparks.

“It was the last and the hardest,” Whalen said to media at halftime. “It’s great.”

She also took time to thank the fans, some of whom have been with her since she was a small eighth grader on the Hutchinson H.S. varsity basketball team.

“I always tried to represent on the court as a player and do my best, so it was great today to see [the fans] here and supporting as always,” Whalen said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The rest of the day was fun, too. The Lynx continued to pay their respect to Whalen throughout Saturday’s game against the Sparks, airing video messages from people including former teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

As for that game, it turned out to be a contest that many fans expected – close and competitive from beginning to end. While the Sparks ended up winning the game, the people in the stands were with their hometown Lynx the entire way. Even though Lindsay Whalen is now a season-ticket holder herself and not on the court, she still holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and that was seen in a big way on Saturday.

“She has an unbelievable capacity to bring her teammates together, especially in the hardest of times,” former Lynx general manager Roger Griffith said near the end of the video.

It’s fair to say that Lindsay Whalen brings her home state together, too.

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