Jonathan Miano/Staff Photographer Naperville Sun 20090729 Chicago— Naperville native Candace Parker defends the Chicago Sky’s Sylvia Fowles at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago Wednesday.
Jonathan Miano, STNG Sun Publications/Sun Times
Before Sky coach/GM James Wade joined Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx staff as an assistant ahead of the 2017 season, he watched hours of film on Sylvia Fowles.
When Reeve hired Wade, she told him his role would be to work directly with Fowles. Wade went through every one of Fowles’ games from the previous season to prepare.
“It took me two months to watch everything in detail,” Wade said. “At the end of those two months, we talked, and I said, ‘Let’s win MVP, Finals MVP. Let’s win it all.’ ’’
Fowles did win it all in 2017.
She was named league MVP, won her second Finals MVP award and led the Lynx to their second title in three years and fourth overall, beating Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks.
Fowles is a four-time defensive player of the year, a seven-time All-Star, a two-time WNBA champion, the league’s all-time leading rebounder and a member of the 25th-anniversary team. At the end of the 2022 season, Fowles will retire, and the game will say goodbye to one of the best centers in women’s basketball history.
Since the Sky drafted Fowles with the second pick of the 2008 WNBA Draft — Parker went first overall to the Sparks — the traditional center position has become somewhat obsolete.
Today’s game is saturated with forwards who play positions three through five, stretch the floor and can shoot from anywhere.
When Fowles retires, the league won’t just be saying goodbye to her but to a style of play that has become unique to her and is slowly disappearing.
“A lot of [bigs] don’t [play like Fowles] because they can’t,” Wade said. “They don’t like all that banging.”
A single attribute can’t define Fowles, but there are a few she’s known for. She puts work in like she’s a 22-year-old rookie, Wade said. She’s also known for greeting everyone with a hug.
“Sweet Syl” is the nickname that gets thrown around by teammates and coaches who know her best.
On Saturday, the Sky face Fowles and the Lynx in Minneapolis in their first road game. The game will shine a spotlight on two careers that have evolved on a similar trajectory.
Parker, too, is a two-time WNBA champion and a member of the league’s anniversary team as well as a two-time league MVP, a five-time All-Star and the 2020 defensive player of the year. She’s seventh all time in rebounds. Fowles is 10th on the league’s all-time scoring list, 16 points ahead of Parker.
Their greatness is unique to them, but their journey in the game has been shared, going back to college.
For three years, facing LSU and Fowles was the game Parker circled on the calendar. Parker and Fowles met in the 2008 NCAA Final Four, the lowest-scoring game in Final Four history at the time, with the Volunteers advancing on a last-second put-back from Alexis Hornbuckle. That game, Parker said, was one of the most memorable matchups in her career against Fowles. Since then, Parker and Fowles have met on the court for some of the WNBA’s most iconic battles.
“We went 1 and 2 in our draft and are still playing 15 years later,” Parker said. “We’re forever going to be tied together and measured against one another. Syl did her job to raise the level of the WNBA. That’s all you can ask for.”