Chip Scoggins
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Taj McWilliams-Franklin had a problem. A good problem, but a problem nonetheless.

The Lynx center slipped on her diamond-encrusted WNBA championship ring after Sunday's season opener, marveled at its magnificence and then tried unsuccessfully to take it off.

The jumbo-sized rock was stuck on her finger.

A quick-thinking teammate proposed using lotion, which did the trick. McWilliams-Franklin placed the ring back in its case and left it on display on a chair in front of her locker.

"It's not better than my wedding ring," she said, "but it's a close second."

Her teammates also showed off their new jewelry after debuting as defending champions in a 105-83 victory against the Phoenix Mercury. In what felt at times like a party, the Lynx celebrated their 2011 title one final time in a festive pregame ceremony at Target Center that included the unveiling of their championship banner.

Players were introduced individually -- appearing through spotlights and smoke for effect -- as they received their rings. A highlight video played on the scoreboard. An announced crowd of 12,611 -- the largest home opener in team history -- cheered louder and louder until the curtain concealing the championship banner unfurled and fireworks exploded high above.

It was a cool scene that reminded fans what a winner looks like. Twin Cities sports fans have suffered through a dispiriting stretch of futility and failure from their favorite teams. Losing has become the norm around here. We just seem to move from one season of lowlights to the next.

Even though the Lynx lack the same broad appeal and popularity as the four other professional franchises in town, they provided a reprieve from the endless loop of frustration. They gave us something to talk about last summer besides the sad state of our sports teams.

"Everywhere we've gone, people are so excited about the opportunity to say, 'We love you,'" McWilliams-Franklin said. "[People say], 'Thank you for doing something for us. We wish the other teams were like that, but we've got you guys at least.'"

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve admitted she didn't sleep well Saturday night. She wanted her players to enjoy the ceremony and feel good about their accomplishment, but she worried about how the emotion might affect her team once the game started. The Lynx looked a little out of sorts in the first quarter, but they eventually settled down and took control.

"I think it was really fun for our players, but at the same time it was hard," Reeve said. "A day full of distractions. We understand how special it is. I think we had a chance to take in the moment."

That's what they'll remember most about Sunday. Seimone Augustus left the game after suffering bruised ribs in the third quarter, but even that pain did little to dampen her spirits or the emotion she felt during the pregame ceremony.

"Those 15 minutes were probably the best 15 minutes of my life," she said.

She sat at her locker stall afterward, still in uniform, staring at her ring. She called it "perfect."

"You can't even describe the feeling," she said. "Once you get it, you're in awe."

Professional athletes in every sport are driven by the pursuit of a championship ring. It's their status symbol, an expensive reminder of the hard work required to reach the pinnacle. Plus, it looks really nice on their hand.

"I think I'll wear it from time to time," guard Lindsay Whalen said. "Definitely wear it next time I see my parents and show it off a little bit. It's kind of big."

McWilliams-Franklin owns two championship rings now, her first coming with Detroit in 2008. She had planned to wear that one to the game Sunday, but her husband forgot it at their home in San Antonio. This one feels different because, at age 41, she knows she might not get another opportunity.

"It's special for me mainly because you never know when the next one is," she said. "This could be my last one. If it is, I want to soak that in. For what we did last year, this is the reward."

Now, it's time to turn the page. The Lynx are favored to repeat as champions, and they took a good first step in that quest on Sunday. Reeve seemed especially relieved that the pomp and circumstance is over and now her team can focus strictly on basketball and the 2012 season.

"It was a successful day," she said, "but most of us are glad it's over."

Chip Scoggins •