Jim Souhan
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Sylvia Fowles will play in what might be her second-to-last home game on Sunday night at Target Center.

If they offer her a farewell gift, she should reprise her career and swat it into the second row.

Fowles plans to retire at the end of this season, during which she has dealt with knee problems. She is already the WNBA's all-time leading rebounder, and ranks first in shooting percentage and effective shooting percentage, and is fourth in blocks and ninth in points just behind Lynx assistant coach Katie Smith.

This season, despite her age (36) and ailments (several), Fowles ranks first in the WNBA in rebounding average and field-goal percentage, and seventh in blocks.

This is no time for Fowles to retire. The league is growing in popularity, and the Lynx have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, one of which could be quite high.

For all of their struggles this season, the Lynx may be a little point guard stability away from contending again. Remember, they had a home playoff game last year, and just happened to catch the Chicago Sky as they were getting healthy and hot.

Fowles is one of the unique forces in the game. She might be the greatest pure center in league history. She remains an excellent player and a walking slice of history.

Why retire now?

Fowles playing 20 minutes a game is valuable and possibly irreplaceable, and promising center Nikolina Milic could give the Lynx a dynamic post duo.

If, however, this is Fowles' last week in a Lynx uniform, Minnesota should show its appreciation.

She is one of the greatest athletes to perform in our state. She's so good that when she joined a team that had already won two championships while featuring four Hall of Fame-caliber players, her coach, Cheryl Reeve, redesigned the offense to run through her.

Minnesotans, though, aren't the only ones who should take note. Fowles' farewell tour has seemed to pale in comparison to Seattle star Sue Bird's.

This became painfully noticeable during the All-Star Game — an All-Star Game in which Fowles won the tip, swished a three-pointer on the game's first shot and later dunked.

ESPN's WNBA announcers are excellent, but when Bird and Fowles left the All-Star Game for the last time, the camera followed Bird and largely ignored Fowles.

"There's no question that Sylvia is not being treated equally," Reeve said. "Look no farther than the All-Star Game, with ESPN, who should know better."

Reeve praised ESPN's broadcasters but questioned the camera work. "When two legends like Sue and Syl are departing the court, we only get a visual of Sue Bird leaving the court and then they flash to the back of Syl after she's already kind of left the floor," Reeve said. "I thought that was a big mess that is a microcosm of what's happening.

"Sue is very aware of it. She was uncomfortable with it. When an official, following the All-Star Game, takes the game ball and brings it to Sue and does not acknowledge Syl, Sue then goes to Syl."

Reeve is right about that sequence, and white WNBA stars receiving more attention than Black stars. In terms of Fowles and Bird, there is another factor.

Fowles is private. Bird is gregarious and a willing interviewee. At the Final Four in Minneapolis this spring, she and her friend Diana Taurasi starred on an alternate broadcast of the games, and were hilarious. Fowles was in town along with a large, eager group of media who passionately cover women's basketball, and was hardly heard from.

Bird will remain a public figure. Fowles has chosen to be a mortician, and those close to her say that is typical — that she would want to work in private to ease the pain of people who are suffering.

The reasons for Fowles to continue — more money, records and acclaim — probably don't appeal to her.

Sunday night and in Friday night's home finale, Fowles should receive enough adulation to make her blush, whether she likes it or not.