A Tribute to Sylvia Fowles

As Fowles enters retirement, it’s time to look back on her sparkling legacy—both on and off the court. 

By Laura Fay

In the sports world, “legends” are a notoriously fickle concept. There will never be a consensus over a definitive GOAT, no matter how many championships or individual accolades one has to their name. Still, no matter which measure you use, Sylvia Fowles fits the bill. 

With her Minnesota Lynx’s elimination from playoff contention, Fowles’ storied basketball career ends short of a playoff run and a hunt for one last fairytale ring. Not that she’s lacking those, of course. 

UNCASVILLE, CT – AUGUST 14: Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles (34) looks on during a WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun on August 14, 2022, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

A two-time WNBA champion, Fowles’s list of notable accomplishments spans half a page on the WNBA website. She’s won everything there is to win—rings, MVP, All-WNBA and All-Star honors, Defensive Player of the Year four times over. This year, she became the career leader in rebounding. As a last hurrah, the league threw in Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award honors for good measure. You have to scroll to the bottom of the page to see her four Olympic gold medals. 

Suffice it to say, Sylvia Fowles’s legacy is well written on the court. But that isn’t half of it. 

Fowles’s legacy is in the people she touched. She’s collected an eclectic array of nicknames across her fifteen-year career—Sweet Syl and Mama Syl being the leading contenders—and all her teammates know why. 

“I didn’t really truly understand the nickname Sweet Syl until I got here, because I never saw Sweet Syl when I was in a different jersey,” Minnesota forward Natalie Achonwa said during Lynx media availability

When playing together, Fowles’ nurturing nature becomes all too apparent. Her teammates gravitate around her, particularly the young members of a rebuilding Minnesota team in 2022. While the Lynx’s on-court fortunes were mixed, they could always rely on Fowles for a steady hand both in the locker room and off the glass. 

It’s unrelenting support her Lynx teammates want to pay both ways. With the team in the playoff hunt, Napheesa Collier returned from maternity leave just 74 days after giving birth to daughter Mila to play with Fowles one last time. 

“Syl’s done so much for the team, for the league, and for me, and I just want to play with her one last time because I love her so much and I love being around her,” Collier said to ESPN on her decision to return to the court. 

Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier celebrate a win in Collier’s first game back from maternity leave. (Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

True to form, Fowles tried to stop her teammate from pushing herself too hard. 

“She told me not to,” Collier said. “She obviously understands it’s really hard, and Syl’s super humble. She never wants anyone to do anything for her. So she’s like, ‘You just take care of you and that baby.'”

Still, even after five months away, Fowles and Collier’s on-court connection was as strong as ever. Operating under a minutes restriction, Collier averaged 7.3 points in her four games played, bringing the Lynx just one win away from a playoff berth. Though they ultimately fell short, Fowles was stellar to the final siren. She ended her career with two-straight double-doubles—a fitting send-off for the league’s all-time double-double leader. 

The applause and send-off gifts Fowles received throughout the season were just as fitting. 

“I actually wanted no part of the finale at all. When we started talking about me coming back, I tried to express and stress to my agent and Cheryl [Reeve, head coach of the Lynx] how I just wanted this thing to be smooth without the attention. And they was not going for it,” Fowles said to media members in February.  

That was apparent on August 12th, Fowles’s last home game in Minnesota. As the crowd applauded her, a parade of Lynx legends and Fowles’s friends and family took the mic, eulogizing the decade of dominance spent on the court and years of friendship off of it. 

Sylvia Fowles checks out of her last game, versus Connecticut, on August 14th. (Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx)

“Even though everything you embodied was greatness, you still wanted to watch the video, you still wanted to get better, you still wanted to support your teammates,” Rebekkah Brunson, Fowles’s former Lynx teammate, said. “Yeah, basketball is wonderful, but the person that you are, the person that you are consistently is what makes you an amazing, amazing person.”

Fowles stood to speak last, wiping tears as she looked over a packed Target Center chanting her name. 

“It’s been a joy,” she said, voice cracking. “I never thought that I would be here in this moment with the impact that I made across this league to many people — players, fans, people. This was never a goal of mine […] To the media, to the fans, thank you for embracing me with open arms. By no means this has been easy. I just want you guys to know that I love and I appreciate you. Minnesota, this will always be home”.

Now, Fowles embarks on a new journey. An aspiring mortician (yes, you read that right), she prepared services and earned her embalming credits in between practices and during off-seasons for years. It is a strange yet extremely fitting career path for someone with such a steady hand and perfectionist drive. 

Fowles’s heart and empathetic nature will never be forgotten by anyone who met her. Her smile, the way she uplifted her teammates and rallied them around her. The way that, before her last ever home game, she gave all her teammates hand-knitted gifts

Also remembered will be her consistency and resilience. Her strength on and off the court, written into record books and into a proclamation declaring August 12th Sylvia Fowles Day in Minnesota. Those achievements speak for themselves and will stand as a pillar of excellence for those yet to come. 

“I want my legacy to be dominance,” Fowles said to Holly Rowe after her final match. It will be.

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