MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Lindsay Whalen retires from the WNBA at the end of this season, the gritty Minnesota Lynx point guard won’t have trouble figuring out what to do next.
She’s already started the next stage, after all, as the head coach at her alma mater.
Even before she was hired in the spring to take over the program she initially elevated at Minnesota, Whalen was already considering ending her playing career following a fourth championship with the Lynx. She agreed to return for one more year with her friends on the league’s longest-lasting dynasty, one more summer of inspiring all those basketball-loving girls around the state and beyond.
“There were different times this offseason when I kind of felt like, ‘What can I give? How much more can I give?'” Whalen said, adding: “Coach reminded me of all the amazing times you have with your teammates.”
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Whalen made her impending retirement official on Monday at a packed news conference. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve shed a few tears, but Whalen kept the mood light with a steady stream of her trademark dry-witted quips. In thanking her husband, Ben Greve, Whalen quickly noted his presence on the golf course instead of attending the event at the team’s practice facility. Greve is playing in the U.S. Amateur tournament in Pebble Beach, California. Whalen even picked the Aug. 13 date for the news conference to match her jersey number.
Growing up in Hutchinson, a small town about 60 miles west of Minneapolis, Whalen became a wizard on the hardwood with a quick step to the basket, a smooth jump shot and a steely gaze that always meant business on the court. She flourished in college, leading the Gophers to their only NCAA Final Four appearance in 2004, before being drafted by the Connecticut Sun. The Lynx delighted their fan base, made up of many of the same families who flocked to Williams Arena to watch Whalen years earlier, by acquiring her in a trade before the 2010 season.
By 2011, the Lynx had won their first of four WNBA titles.
“I don’t know that you could write a better story, a better script, and it couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Reeve said. “I feel so blessed to have been on the sideline and have had a great seat throughout all of that.”
With 322 victories and counting, including 54 in the playoffs, no player in league history has won more games than Whalen over her 15-year career. She has appeared in six All-Star games and won two Olympic gold medals. She ranks third on the WNBA’s career assists list, trailing only Sue Bird and Ticha Penicheiro. During the league’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2016, Whalen was named one of the top 20 players of all time.
“Everyone knows you, whether you realize it or not,” Reeve said, turning to Whalen at the podium. “Everyone wants to be a part of Lindsay Whalen.”
The Lynx are 200-80 in the regular season since Whalen arrived, having only missed the playoffs once. For her career, she has averaged 11.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds to go with a 46.1 field goal percentage.
“You never think it’s going to turn into this,” Whalen said, “but if you work hard enough and you’re around the right people it can.”
The Lynx (17-14) have clinched a spot in the playoffs, which begin Aug. 21, but they’ll have to win at least one single-elimination game and face a tough road to defend their championship. Backup point guard Danielle Robinson underwent left ankle surgery on Monday, putting one of their key players in doubt for the stretch run. There are three regular-season games remaining.
The 36-year-old Whalen has appeared in the league finals eight times. Her impact as an ambassador for the sport around the state and beyond, though, has been just as powerful. LeBron James even tweeted his congratulations on Monday.
“It’s about, yes, winning and winning championships and all those things, but it’s the people that you can impact and the people you can be around,” Whalen said. “Us being leaders in the community and role models, that’s what it’s about for the next generation and the next group.”
AP freelance writer Tyler Mason contributed to this report.