Rebekkah Brunson is the newest Minnesota Lynx, and her succinctness makes her a friend to all who know her. Brunson is now a Lynx assistant coaches and she never talks at you unless you stop listening. In a few thoughtful sentences, she’s out. There are no wasted words. There is no wasted effort.
Cheryl Reeve, Lynx Coach, recalls a morning in 2010 when the club had some of the championship pieces (Brunson and Seimone Augustus), but not its resilience. Reeve was coming off a loss in 13-21, and gathered her captains at an airport to ask for suggestions on how the club could be improved.
Reeve says that Brunson gave her a dose unvarnished truth when she turned to Brunson. It was something like “Coach, we are not good enough.” We are trying to do this, trying to do that, but we still don’t win.
Brunson was correct, of course. To win, they needed a veteran such as Taj McWilliams Franklin. They also needed Maya Moore who was the ultimate winner and arrived in the same year that the No. The draft’s No. 1 pick. Brunson saw what was missing before Reeve.
Reeve stated, “That was a real eye-opener.” “Sometimes it takes” to see that sometimes the other team has better players than yours. From that point on, I had always relied upon her.”
Brunson was always this way. Reeve and all others could trust Brunson’s play and demeanor. These traits serve her well as she helps young Lynx players navigate a league with more talent and physicality than her final years of long career (2004-18).
Brunson was the only WNBA player who won five championships – one in Sacramento, the next four with the Lynx – because she is willing to do the hard work that’s not on ESPN but still wins games. After retiring as the league’s career rebounding champion (Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, and others have passed her), Brunson still holds the record for the most career offensive rebounds (1.166).
“Hard work. Brunson stated that this was what separated me. Brunson said that it was all about how you approach the game and being selfless in your play. My teammates were always there for me, which allowed us to enjoy all the things that are right now (in the rafters).
Brunson was referring to the four championship banners – which are tied for most by any WNBA franchise and four more than Target Center’s better-known tenant over the past three-plus decades.
Reeve stated that Reeve considered her a vital part of the team’s will. She was determined to defend the best player on the team, win rebounds and get more possessions. You could count on her physical strength. Shoot-around, game didn’t matter what time it was. That was her will. It was internal. It was in her DNA. She was a natural leader and that is why she was able to succeed in every team she was part of.”
Brunson, who is listed at 6’2″, is actually an inch shorter than her height. Brunson wasn’t always able to grab 12 rebounds or keep the star forward of an opposing team below her average. You knew Brunson was always out there playing hard and making it difficult for anyone she attempted to defend or fight for a rebound. Lynx announcers introduced her to the public as “The Machine” on game nights.
It was perfect.
Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces Coach and WNBA legend who competed against Brunson over many years in New York City and San Antonio, said that “Relentless comes into mind.”
“She was an exceptional rebounder for her size. She was unique and obviously very athletic. Hammon said that she did a lot of things that didn’t show up on stat sheets. This is probably why her team won five championships. She knows how win and how to play. You’ll always be in the running for the championships when you have an elite rebounder such as her.
Brunson’s leadership was revealed to a wider audience in July 2016 when she and Moore addressed at a press conference after the deaths of Alton Silver, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers. Their T-shirts “Change Starts With Us – Justice and Accountability” and the conversations that they started opened up a new era in WNBA social awareness, which continues to this day.
Brunson’s No. 3 was scheduled for Sunday, July 3, a week before the ceremony. The Lynx changed the timing of the ceremony from pre-to postgame. This was in response to Augustus’s May 29 pregame ceremony, which seemed rushed. These things can be dangerous postgame, especially since the Lynx had one of the worst records in the league. What if a devastating loss ruined the mood? The possibility was certainly possible with Las Vegas, league leader, still in town following Friday’s win over the Lynx, 91-85.
Reeve claimed that Brunson is called “The Bishop” by the players because they listen to her speak. (I’m not sure how this might work with Brunson being taught at Georgetown University by Jesuits, but you get my point. The Lynx have been performing better recently, and one night they did a nearly Brunson-like job, routing the Aces (15-6), 102-71. Hammon had to pull her starters after three quarters.
The Lynx (7-15), held the Aces to 71 points. This is 19 less than their league average on 36.6 percent shooting. After promising Brunson a big match, the notoriously inconsistent Aerial powers scored 32 points. Powers replied, “Isn’t that crazy?” The Lynx set a club record for rebounding while crushing the Aces on glass, 53-25 overall and 5-1 offensive.
Brunson stated, “Obviously, you want the group to play hard and go out there to do so, right?” “So I’m like, `Yeah. This one is for me. This is all about me tonight, c’mon. What are you gonna do? Is it a matter of showing up or not? They went out and played so well. They were so sweet. It was amazing to reach 32 (Powers), so there must have been a reason.
Powers is known for bringing the crowd to their feet. She waved her arms and urged the crowd to cheer harder during a 14 point first quarter. After scoring five points in the Vegas loss, she flexed her muscles and high-fived a small child.
After the game, she sat down with all others and watched Brunson (her position coach) coolly rise from a Lynx-produced video. She then gave a three-minute speech, without notes, to thank four rows of her family, friends, coaches, and former teammates. Brunson and Bobbi Jo, Brunson’s wife, took turns holding Graham.
Powers stated that “Brunson” gets her point across but is so chilled about it.” She said, “Sometimes during the game, when it’s all hectic, (she) is like, ‘I know. She’s a great coach and you’ve got to do it.
Brunson, the player, was not interested in coaching. This is a common occurrence in all sports. Brunson’s decision to leave Fox Sports North as a Timberwolves TV analyst was a change of heart.
Hammon stated that while it may have surprised her, I don’t think so. She’s someone who cares deeply about people. “She is one of the most high-quality people you will ever meet. It’s not surprising that she is interested in investing in young women and giving back to the game.
All three retired Lynx – Brunson Augustus Whalen and Whalen – are now coaching. Fowles will be retiring after this season. Although she has long envisioned a career as a mortuary scientist, she indicated last week that she may be open to coaching.
“We’ll watch what happens to Syl. Brunson suggested that Syl be taken to the dark side.