Finally, the title drought is over for Minnesota's major sports teams.
With a 73-67 win Friday in Atlanta, the Minnesota Lynx swept the Dream in three games in the WNBA Finals. Not only was it the first championship for the Lynx, but it was the first professional sports title for a Minnesota team since the Twins won the World Series in 1991 which, coincidentally, was also against Atlanta.
It's been a tough time to be a Minnesota sports fan. The Twins lost 99 games this season. The Vikings are off to a disappointing 0-4 start, while the University of Minnesota football team is 1-4. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves won just 17 games a year ago. Across the river in St. Paul, the Wild have made the Western Conference finals just once in their existence.
But Friday, the Lynx delivered what other Minnesota teams could not a title for the Twin Cities.
"I know there's some (people) that would say, 'Does this championship count in Minnesota sports history? Does a WNBA championship count?'" said Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen in a phone interview after Friday's win. "But I think it's just as valid as a Twins championship, as a Vikings championship, as a Minneapolis Lakers championship.
"This team, to me, deserves to quantify as an absolute great Minnesota sports team."
This year's Lynx squad had many pieces that made it a great team. From veteran point guard and Hutchinson, Minn., native Lindsay Whalen to 40-year-old Taj McWilliams-Franklin to rookie Maya Moore, Minnesota had a star-studded lineup and a strong supporting cast. In the end, however, someone had to be named WNBA Finals MVP, and that honor went to Seimone Augustus, who has spent her entire six-year career with the Lynx.
Augustus had a team-high 16 points in Friday's victory after scoring 36 in Game 2. As she accepted her MVP trophy, she was visibly emotional. After all, it's been a long road for her to get to this point.
"This is amazing," Augustus said in a phone interview. "We finally got over that hump of all those losing seasons that we had. Everything just came together the way it did."
Petersen recalled helping Augustus off the court in Phoenix in 2009 ago after Augustus tore her ACL. It was an injury that sidelined her for the rest of the season. Even last year, Petersen said Augustus wasn't 100 percent.
But the 27-year-old Augustus showed during the playoffs that she's a star in the WNBA and one of the most important pieces -- if not the most important -- on Minnesota's team.
"Seimone was and is the engine that drives our team because of her ability to score the basketball, but I don't think anybody gives enough credit to her defensive side of the basketball," Petersen said. "I just think after carrying Seimone off the floor in Phoenix three years ago and seeing her win a championship now, I couldn't be happier than I am for Seimone Augustus."
For Augustus, suffering through the losing seasons and the ACL injury made the championship that much sweeter.
"You appreciate this one even more having been through all those ups and downs and everything," she said. "Where we've come from to get to this point, it's just amazing."
Now, the champion Lynx return home to Minneapolis on Saturday. They're set to arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport around 4:30 p.m. CT. Fans are encouraged to welcome them home at the baggage claim area of Terminal 1, something they did when Minnesota defeated Phoenix on the road in the Western Conference finals.
"The fans have done a great job. Over the course of the season, we've gained more and more fans," Augustus said. "When we won the Western Conference finals, we had 60 to 75 fans at the airport waiting for us, so I can only imagine what it's going to be like (Saturday) when we come back. It's great because we have a lot of loyal fans that have been with us through all the struggling seasons."
Petersen, too, noticed an increase of support from fans as the season went on.
"There's the core 3,000 to 5,000 that are going to support the Lynx no matter what. But it's been growth of a team," Petersen said. "It's been the people that have come to see Seimone Augustus. It's people that come to a game and understood that yeah, there's no slam-dunking in the game, but in some ways it's a more beautiful game, a more pure game than it is in the NBA when it's so much isolation. It's sharing the basketball; it's fast-paced, tremendously gifted athletes going to work."
For the first time since the Twins paraded through the streets of Minneapolis, another Minnesota team will have a parade downtown. The Lynx's parade will begin Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. CT down Nicollet Mall, followed by a rally at Target Center at 12:15 p.m.
"It's going to be crazy," Augustus said of the parade. "Everyone's been talking about the fact that Minnesota hasn't won a title in 20 years. I expect it to be crazy."