WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Minnesota Lynx got a shot in the arm Tuesday, taking time out from their preparations to defend their 2011 WNBA championship to visit the White House where President Barak Obama congratulated them on last season's title.
Lynx general manager Roger Griffith, head coach Cheryl Reeve and players from the 2011 Lynx squad, nearly all of whom have returned for the 2012 campaign, met with the president in the ceremonial East Room of the White House, where they were honored before a packed crowd of attendees. The president, a basketball fan who enjoys working out on the court, recognized many of the players and their coach, calling out Reeve, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, 2011 Finals MVP Seimone Augustus, veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Maya Moore by name, and seemed to enjoy kidding around with them.
The president began his remarks by commending the team for having "brought glory back to the Twin Cities" and bringing a professional sports title back to their fans in Minnesota. He acknowledged the team's impressive turnaround, going from 13-21 in 2010 to a league championship the following year. The president said that the franchise had found "the recipe to go from worst to first" by drafting Moore, 2011's No. 1 overall pick, adding veterans like Brunson and Whalen, and placing Reeve at the helm of the team.
The Lynx had an historic 2011 season, setting a franchise record with 27 wins and outscoring opponents by an average of 7.9 points per game, matching the fifth largest single-season point differential in WNBA history. Minnesota went 7-1 in the postseason, including sweeping the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA Finals to win the first championship in franchise history. Lynx guard and Olympian Seimone Augustus was named the 2011 WNBA Finals MVP for her play against Atlanta in the Finals series, in which she averaged 24.7 points per game, including scoring a single-game franchise postseason-high 36 points in Game 2.
"By the end of the season, Maya was Rookie of the Year, Lindsay led the league in assists, Cheryl was Coach of the Year," the president recalled. "The team had the best record in the league. They made their home games the hottest ticket in town. Then, just in case anyone doubted their dominance, they marched through the playoffs, losing only one game and sweeping their final two series. That is one heck of a turnaround."
Against what the president called a "very tough Atlanta Dream" squad in the championship series, "the Lynx came back from three consecutive first-half deficits and took home the championship trophy," President Obama continued. "They won it on the shooting of Seimone Augustus, who averaged nearly 25 points a game, and after leading the scoring charge in the final game, was named -- not surprisingly -- Finals MVP. And they won it on the heart and grit of Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Mama Taj played the final game on a sprained knee and still managed to secure the paint and pull down four rebounds."
The president also noted that the Lynx had prepared for the championship series by bringing in a practice squad of men who had played in college to simulate the Dream.
"And those were some brave guys, because," said the president to laughter from the crowd, "I wouldn’t want to take any of these ladies on. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Maya and she lit everybody up. It is not fun when she’s raining down jumpers on you."
Moore, who as the president noted, has visited the White House previously to be honored for her collegiate championships at the University of Connecticut, and may make another appearance there for a ceremony recognizing the U.S. 2012 Olympic team, has indeed scrimmaged with the president.
"She is becoming a regular here," the president observed. "I mean, this is like the fourth time she’s shown up at the White House. She just somehow likes to attract hardware."
Obama also commended the team for their dedication to community service off the court. There’s "no question that these are some outstanding basketball players, but they also find the time to raise money for breast cancer research, help local students with their reading. I hear they clean up pretty well for their Cat Walk for a Cure fashion show. So this team does it all and they do it in style," he stated.
Obama also predicted future White House visits by the Lynx, who, he observed, appear to be poised for a repeat.
"I appreciate the Lynx taking time to stop by today, because they’re in the middle of their season right now. And they’ve picked up right where they left off –- on top of the Western Conference by a wide margin. Coach just told me that they’ve now secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs. With three games to go, best record in the league. They’re leading the league in points, rebounds, assists. So you get the idea -- they’re pretty good. And I have a feeling that we might end up seeing them back here before too long."
The president then put the team's accomplishment in both a personal and a societal context:
"I was saying to these folks as I was backstage, as the husband of a tall, good-looking woman -- (laughter) -- and as the father of two tall, fabulous girls, it is just wonderful to have these young ladies as role models. There’s something about women’s athletics: We know for a fact that when girls are involved in athletics, they do better across the board. They’re more confident. They do better in school. They have less social problems.
"We know all the statistics, but what’s also true is that our women athletes just present themselves so well and are such great ambassadors for the game. And as I was pointing out, you don’t see them on SportsCenter doing stupid stuff. (Laughter.) They play the game the right way. They compete fiercely, but they’re good -- great -- sportswomen. And so they’re just wonderful examples for my daughters and my niece, and for so many parents I think we all feel really, really great about what the WNBA has accomplished, but what this team in particular has accomplished."
Following a brief response from Reeve, Augustus, the team's captain, presented the president with a personalized Lynx jersey with "Obama" on the back on behalf of the team. After the president shook hands with each of the players, coaches and staff members, as well some members of the audience, the group adjourned to a reception that was closed to the press.
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