Jim Souhan
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ATLANTA -- There is a big difference between men's and women's basketball.

Unlike the men, when women celebrate a championship, they sip their champagne out of long-stemmed glasses.

We learned this because the Minnesota Lynx won the first WNBA championship in franchise history Friday night in Atlanta, then conducted one of the most genteel and organized celebrations in the history of sports.

Lynx players were just as controlled on the court, beating the Atlanta Dream 73-67 on Friday night at Philips Arena, taking the WNBA Finals in a sweep of three games. Lynx forward Seimone Augustus earned Most Valuable Player honors after averaging 25 points in the series, and caught the final pass of the season from her bookend first-round draft pick, Maya Moore, before dribbling out the final seconds.

"It makes it that much sweeter when you go through tough times," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.

She was talking about her team's self-inflicted fourth-quarter drama, but she could have been referencing her franchise, or Minnesota sports in general.

The Lynx had won one playoff game before this season, when they built the best record in the WNBA then went 7-1 in the postseason. Their championship was the first by a Minnesota pro sports team since the Twins won the World Series in 1991.

"One of the reporters told me that today," Augustus said. "I didn't know they hadn't won a championship in 20 years. It definitely gives the people of Minnesota something to smile about, to tell the Vikings and the rest of the teams to get on track.

"This is a very big moment for us. We're still fighting to get the exposure we need for women's basketball. I think it's here. We're starting to get some attention."

Friday wasn't about remembering history, though. It was about a talented team making history.

As if needing a reminder of franchise history, the Lynx, a gifted and up-tempo team, struggled in the first half on Friday, falling behind 37-33. They burst into the lead in the third quarter, outscoring Atlanta 19-8, with Georgia native Maya Moore and guard Candice Wiggins combining on a six-point possession.

Moore made a three-pointer, drew a foul, missing the free throw, got the rebound, and kicked to Wiggins for another three-pointer.

That spurred the Lynx to an eight-point lead, but when the Dream went to a press in the waning minutes of the game, the Lynx momentarily lost their bearings. Atlanta made it 64-63 with 1:20 left before the Lynx settled down, forced Atlanta to foul and made nine of 12 free throws to secure the title.

"We just tried to do too much, too soon," Augustus said.

They were in no rush once the game ended. The players gathered with coaches and management on a podium for the trophy presentation. The problem was, they were facing away from most of their fans, who were screaming behind the Lynx bench.

Finally the players streamed to the sideline, and Augustus' teammates chanted "M-V-P" and pushed her up onto the scorer's table, where she held up her MVP trophy.

Was she surprised to score so effortlessly in the finals? "No," she said, with a shocked expression on her face. "No way. This is what I do. I score. It's just that this year we've had an amazing team. I haven't had to score as many points as I have in years before."

The championship was borne of long years of struggles, struggles that allowed the Lynx to land Moore and Augustus with the No. 1 picks in their respective drafts. The team brought Minnesota-born point guard Lindsay Whalen home, signed veteran post Taj McWilliams-Franklin and selected Rebekkah Brunson in the league's dispersal draft.

They developed into the ideal group to promote their sport as well as win a title: A physical, defensive-minded team that could run a fast break featuring behind-the-back dribbles and reverse layups.

"I'm just glad that we were able to finish it off playing Lynx basketball," Moore said.

Lynx basketball. It wasn't too long ago that "Lynx basketball" was a punchline in the Twin Cities. Friday night, that phrase became a beacon of excellence, and perhaps even hope.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com