Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve never called a play for Rebekkah Brunson.
Take that back. She did. Once.
"The one time I did,'' Reeve recalled last week, "she came over and said, 'Don't ever do that for me again.' "
Reeve was explaining what made Brunson so special, as important a part of four WNBA titles with the Lynx as anyone. Brunson didn't score like Maya Moore. She didn't create like Seimone Augustus. She didn't dominate in the offensive post like Sylvia Fowles or run the show like Lindsay Whalen.
She did the dirty work.
She defended, one of the best deny defenders in league history. She could guard four positions, from shooting guard to center. Whenever the Lynx were preparing for a game and the question of an opposing star would come up, Whalen remembers former assistant coach Jim Petersen saying, ''Just put Brunson on her.'' In 15 seasons Brunson was first- or second-team all-defense eight times.
She retired after the 2018 season as the league's all-time leading rebounder, with 3,356. She currently stands third, still first in offensive boards (1,166).
And she won. Brunson is the only woman in WNBA history with five title rings; she won her first in Sacramento in 2005, beating a Connecticut team that included Whalen in four games. She is tied for third all-time in regular-season wins (294) and won 57 of 81 career playoff games.
On Sunday, after the Lynx's game with Las Vegas at Target Center, Brunson will have her No. 32 jersey retired, pulled to the rafters alongside Whalen's No. 13 and Augustus' No. 33.
"It's exciting,'' said Brunson, now in her third season as a Lynx assistant coach. "It's an honor to be able to hang out with Whay for a little while longer. With Seimone for a little while longer.''
According to Whalen, the Lynx had a nickname for Brunson:
"She was so consistent,'' said Whalen, who came to the Lynx via trade for the 2010 season, the same year Minnesota acquired Brunson in the dispersal draft. "You knew what you'd get from her every single game, for nine years. There was never a question of how, 'How hard will Rebekkah work today?' or 'What kind of mood will she be in?' She was the same. Same energy.''
Brunson took the other team's best player most of the time. She set crushing picks. She hit the boards.
"She was such a part of our will,'' Reeve said. "Her determination to defend the team's best player, to finish plays with rebounds, get us extra possessions on the glass. She would physically put herself out there in a way you could count on.''
Brunson averaged 9.2 points and 7.4 rebounds in her career, numbers that don't start to describe her impact, her worth ethic.
"That's one of the things that separated me,'' Brunson said. "No matter what it was, I was going to go out there and compete. I always say, if you figure out what's going to allow you to be successful, you carve out your own niche and stick to that, you'll be able to find success.''
Reeve recalled one time during a difficult 2010 season when she gathered her captains around her trying to find an answer. "Coach, I just don't think we're good enough,'' Brunson said.
Both Reeve and Whalen remembered the 2017 finals. L.A. won Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Reeve had benched both Whalen and Brunson down the stretch. In the wake of that game, Reeve and Whalen talked it through. But Reeve let Brunson alone, let her be angry. "She was madder than hell at me,'' Reeve said. "And that's OK.''
Game 4: Brunson scored 18 points with 13 rebounds. It was her three-point play shortly after Whalen's famous flagrant foul of Odyssey Sims that put the Lynx in the lead, as it turns out, for the rest of the series.
"I remember the embrace after that game,'' Reeve said. "It was, 'I hate you,' and 'I love you.' "
In Game 5 at Williams Arena, Brunson scored the game's first two baskets, the first off a Whalen feed, the second on a drive. Whalen then hit a three. Up 7-0, the Lynx were on the way. "It was, 'OK, we're good,' " Whalen said.
One goal: winning
Always able to put it succinctly, here's the nicest thing Fowles could say about Brunson: "She never failed us.''
She's still coming through, now as an assistant. Fowles described Brunson as the calm, at times, to Reeve's storm.
It's the same even-keeled but always relentless way she played the game.
"Everyone views the game differently,'' Brunson said. "Some might say 'I want to be the all-time scorer.' Some might say, 'I want to have the most rebounds, or assists.' For me, it was always about winning. With every team I played with it was, 'What can I do to continue to win?' "
In 15 seasons she played in eight league finals, winning those five rings.
"It's about being selfish in the way you approach the game but selfless in the way you play it,'' Brunson said. "I always played for my teammates. That allowed us to have all those banners that are up there right now.''