The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 2, 2022
Sylvia Fowles talks to media, August 24, 2021.
You will not be surprised to hear that Cheryl Reeve has given Sylvia Fowles’ legacy a lot of thought. Wednesday morning, as Reeve and Fowles met the media to discuss the framework of what will be Fowles’ final season in the WNBA, Reeve summarized Fowles’ case for the best center ever this way.
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“In the truest terms of being a center, Syl has done everything,” Reeve said. “In terms of her dominance physically, I think it starts there with Syl — her competitive drive, her passion, her will to win — what that produces in the way of statistics.”
Ok Cheryl, twist my arm, make me go look at Syl’s Basketball-reference page again. Fowles mentioned that it was important to her to leave at the top of her game, and she certainly is — she was producing at a Hall of Fame level in her 20s, but she’s been indisputably better in her 30s. Somewhere in an attic there’s a portrait of Syl missing box out assignments and shooting 40 percent, I guess, because here on the court she’s as efficient as she ever was — 64 percent from the field in 2021 — and not only the league’s all-time leader in total rebounds, a counting stat, but third in the league in 2021 in total rebounding percentage, meaning she’s still collecting them at an elite level.
Fowles said it was her preference to go quietly into the night, but that’s not going to happen. There’s going to be a retirement ceremony, an outpouring of affection, and hopefully, a full accounting for who Sylvia Fowles is both as a player and a person here in 2022. You’ll hear Fowles mentioned in WNBA conversations, but I’m not sure there’s a proper hierarchy here. Diana Taurasi was just crowned the GOAT, officially, by the league, and I’m not here to denigrate her legacy.
But it is notable, to those stat nerds among us, that Fowles actually passed Taurasi in win shares all-time this season. Fowles is at 69.77 now, just ahead of Taurasi at 69.47. The only other players with more in the 25 years of WNBA basketball are Lauren Jackson, whose 73.03 is in reach, and Tamika Catchings, whose 93.66 might be the Cy Young 511 victories of WNBA stats.
Fowles’ announcement comes a week after we heard that Sue Bird will also be conducting a retirement tour, and there’s something beautiful, to me, in honoring two people who have defined their positions. We may live in a positionless world of Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne, but Bird has a claim on the best point guard spot as surely as Fowles does for best center, and a year ahead that celebrates both of them sounds as festive as I can imagine.
I would urge us all to avoid thinking about this as a zero-sum game, incidentally. Covering their last seasons should be a yes-and scenario, rather than seeing ever Bird story as a slight of Fowles, or vice versa. It’s important to remember that the limitations of women’s basketball coverage are best addressed not be a simple redistribution of who gets the existing coverage, but rather by embracing the opportunities to expand that lens.
And don’t be surprised if one, or both of the teams involved here are in the WNBA Finals. These goodbyes may sustain us all right through the final buzzer.
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