For the second night in a row, the Lynx and their fans rocked the Barn on Thursday — this time celebrating their national championship.
On Wednesday, the Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 85-76 to win Game 5 of the WNBA Finals at Williams Arena before a screaming, ecstatic crowd of 14,632 fans. The victory — the team’s fourth championship in seven seasons — was especially electric, and especially sweet, because last year the Sparks won Game 5 in those last few moments at Target Center.
“We came back for revenge,” said Oleatha Curtis, who waited on University Avenue as the team starred in a jubilant parade that began at 12th Avenue SE. and ended inside the Barn. In the rally that followed, players and coaches thanked their fans for their continuing faith.
Jennifer Jonas and her daughters were among the sea of fans clad in blue and green. “We just love our Lynx,” Jonas said.
Her 12-year-old daughter Aaliyah chimed in, “I would have brought my Lynx shoes [blue and green sneakers], but it was cold.”
The players “inspire me so much,” Aaliyah said. “I’m an athlete person and they’re my basketball lookups. I look up to Maya [Moore] or Lindsay [Whalen] the most.”
Nearby stood Billie Ritter of Rockford, Minn., who said Wednesday night’s game, especially its frenzied last few minutes, was “crazy” and that afterward, “I couldn’t sleep.”
Ritter said her heart was broken last year when the Lynx lost the championship at home and that she was afraid it might happen again.
“But the Barn was rockin’,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Fans cheered wildly as the players passed by atop convertibles, grinning widely and holding up their trophies and four fingers in reference to their four championships. Camera phones flashed, lighting up the evening.
“We are your biggest fans,” Freda Miller told Whalen. The former Gophers star smiled back and thanked Miller, who was with her four granddaughters and husband.
Parade marchers included the school band from Whalen’s alma mater, Hutchinson High School.
Radio play-by-play announcer John Focke, who emceed the rally following the parade, asked the energetic crowd inside the Barn if they “woke up with their voice scratchy?” The crowd cheered.
“You couldn’t write a better ending than what we had last night,” Focke said.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges both read proclamations.
“I am star-struck,” Hodges said. “This is the best basketball team in the world.”
After receiving a standing ovation, head coach Cheryl Reeve wiped away tears. “You guys are too good, too good to us,” she managed to say. “Obviously things didn’t end well for us in 2016,” but this year has “been quite the journey.”
“You are the best fans in the WNBA,” she told the crowd. “Thank you so much.”
The feeling, judging from the crowd’s reaction, was mutual.
Brianna Delaney and her nephew, Matisse Moore, patiently waited for autographs. “I’d love to get a picture with Coach Reeve,” Delaney said. “I think she’s awesome.”
In 2016, Delaney flew from South Carolina to attend the championship game. She recently moved back to Minnesota and said she couldn’t miss the chance to see the Lynx face the Sparks once more.
Meanwhile, her nephew was trying to flag down Moore, who left the floor early. But when Seimone Augustus put her arm around his shoulder for a photo op, he beamed.
Looking toward Delaney, he mouthed the word, “Wow.”
Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647