Reeve shows the way for Lynx
And so we return to the WNBA Finals, the occasion of Cheryl Reeve's seminal moment as a WNBA coach. The day she threw her jacket.
Upset over a non-foul call in Game 2 of the 2012 WNBA Finals, Reeve lost her cool and one article of clothing, tearing off her blazer and tossing it while yelling at the officials.
But if Reeve earned national airplay with her revealing outburst, it is only a colorful distraction from a coaching career that is starting to build momentum in the legacy of the league. An illuminating moment, but still only a moment.
Reeve, 47, has guided Minnesota back to the championship series, making the Lynx the fourth team to reach three consecutive trips to the WNBA Finals. And, as they prepare to open the best-of-five series Sunday against Atlanta, they're hoping to win another title to go with the one they won in 2011 to become the league's sixth team with at least two championships.
Minnesota has posted the best record in the league in each of the past three seasons, winning the Western Conference's top seed and the West finals each time. The Lynx are marked by their leadership, their steadiness, their attention to detail on both ends of the floor. There's nothing gimmicky about the Lynx, just high-level and hard-nosed basketball.
They are a reflection of their coach, who embodies every aspect of her roots from the fire of her days playing basketball in Philadelphia, to the discipline of her military father, to the precision of someone who graduated from college with a degree in computer science.
"It's a great mix," Seimone Augustus said of Reeve and her players. "She meshes well with us. She's intense, but she knows how to turn it on and off. Most of the time, she lets us figure things out, lets us handle it."
Reeve describes herself as "fiery and edgy."
"I am being myself and they allow me to do that," Reeve said. "At the same time, I respect the heck out of the game. If you see me on game nights, you might think I'm hard to play for. But there are a lot of other things that go on. A lot of jokes and laughter."
And a lot of purposeful motivation. After seeing Phoenix get tabbed by some as the preseason favorite, Reeve's squad used the slight as a reason to prove the Lynx were still the best team in the league.
They used last year's loss to Indiana in the Finals -- a failure that, after a dominating run through the regular season, surprised many -- as a reason to get better.
She meshes well with us. She's intense, but she knows how to turn it on and off. Most of the time, she lets us figure things out, lets us handle it.” -- Seimone Augustus on Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve
As her team struggled to gain momentum in that series, Reeve proved unafraid to bench her star players -- some of them recent Olympic champions -- in favor of combinations that might work better. It ruffled feathers at the time, and she didn't care. But she gives credit where it's due in that series and understands how useful it has been since.
"We got beat in the Finals [last year]. We didn't give away anything, Indiana took it," Reeve said. "We know what we didn't get it done. And the things we didn't get done have really shaped who we have become today. The adversity they created for us, coming in and winning on our home floor, winning the series, it's helped us. We are on a mission to get another chance."
A mission that began at the start of the 2013 season. Minnesota surged out of the gate, but hit a skid in which it lost four of five. Reeve refocused the Lynx on their defensive effort and the ship was righted quickly. All the way to a Western Conference title, sweeps of both Seattle and Phoenix in the playoffs and now another trip to the Finals.
Where she intends to keep her jacket on.
Reeve's emotion is a sharp contrast at times to the cool customers on her roster.
When was the last time anyone saw Augustus, Maya Moore or Lindsay Whalen lose their heads on the floor?
"The injection of the edginess, I see that as my job," Reeve said. "I don't walk around intending to be a jerk, but I'm not afraid to be the jerk."
Lynx owner Roger Griffith considers his coach an outlet for his team's emotion.
"Let the players stay focused," Griffith said. "If Cheryl shows that emotion during the game, it's better her than the players, maybe."
Griffith hired Reeve in December 2009 to coach his team, which was in the middle of a five-season postseason drought. It was her first head-coaching job in the WNBA.
She was coming off four years with Bill Laimbeer in Detroit, where she was an assistant coach, director of player personnel (2008) and general manager (2009). The Shock won a pair of WNBA titles during Reeve's stay and went to the Finals three years in a row.
Griffith found Reeve, who began coaching in the WNBA as an assistant in Charlotte in 2001, refreshingly honest and driven.
"She talks very openly and honestly about what she wants and what she thinks it takes to make a successful team," Griffith said. "It makes it easier for me. I don't have to play games, trying to figure out if she's only telling me what she thinks I want to hear.
"I have never had any doubt in my mind about what she thinks about something."
Every game during warm-ups, Reeves isn't hiding in the locker room drawing up a game plan. She is out on the court in her team sweats, diet soda in one hand, a ball resting on the other hip. She talks to her players -- including a brief meeting with Whalen before every game -- laughs and jokes and then gets down to business.
"You have no doubt when you walk into the gym that she is the most prepared person," Moore said. "I have never questioned that. She holds herself to a really high standard. She holds her players to a really high standard."
Reeve views herself as the fourth-grade teacher that everybody loved. After the fact.
"We all appreciated that teacher who pushed us, the one who pushed us to be better," Reeve said. "I'm confident with this group that in the end, when we walk way and our journey is said and done and our mission is accomplished, it won't matter whether or not they always liked me. As long as we win."
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