There are some athletes you watch a majority of life and revel in. It could be they’re not like any player or athlete you’ve ever watched. They could be the classiest and sweetest person ever, interacting with regular people like they’re family. Perhaps it’s the number of hobbies and fun activities when not scoring, running races or blocking shots. Or maybe, it’s because they stand out so much in and out of sports that it blows one away and you can’t help but want them around, forever wanting their presence and energies.
Sylvia Fowles is all wrapped into one. I’ve watched her play professionally since her early days with the Chicago Sky around the turn of the 2010s. I still have yet to hear a bad word about her from teammates, coaches or fans since watching and analyzing women’s basketball.
Fans found out before last season started she likes to knit and sew. She loves plants and how they bring good energies. Sylvia’s planted gardens across Minneapolis, helping serve healthy food to those who want local shops and places to go to. She swims to keep up with fitness, believes in reincarnation (she’d love to be an eagle or elephant in a next life), is avid about her mental health, loves bike-riding and charity for children. Sylvia’s obsessed with science and education, and is a talented dancer and comedian.
Since August of last year, Sylvia’s finally getting a good amount of honors, appreciation and respect she should have much of her career. You probably heard what she wants to do now that she’s retired from the WNBA, but you may not know why. I had known she’s been wanting to become a mortician because there was interest in Chicago to ask her things past basketball, but there’s still a lot to learn about someone who’s been quiet yet motherly to her teammates.
Why Sweet Syl is very important to the league and to those covering the WNBA
The WNBA had a renaissance woman they could’ve promoted for 15 years. Sylvia was the second overall pick by the Chicago Sky in the 2008 draft. To this day most see her as LSU’s best women’s basketball player. The league blew it in ways no other sports league would.
One can say Sylvia never wanted the attention and would be both uncomfortable and weirded out. Past a point, her accomplishments can’t be overlooked and she should be both praised and told how she’s one of the best players to take the court. This falls on who covers women’s and men’s sports with what best to say.
It’s why despite her farewell tour (which she was hesitant on and absolutely felt a lot of emotions her last weekend of play), the media and the league decided to focus on another WNBA star for most of the season. Unless one watched her games throughout 2022, it would be hard to know she was retiring until ESPN put on segments in the middle of August.
You may have figured out there’s a certain pattern as to why Sylvia didn’t get the attention, and it’s not because she doesn’t want it. She’s a very tall, dark-skinned black woman who probably has a deeper voice and is intimidating to both opposing teams and anyone covering women’s basketball. All of this outside of intimidating the media is correct. Some of her own teammates joined the Minnesota Lynx because they were tired of facing her at least three times a season. Outside of the media tidbit, this is a problem the league hasn’t addressed and falls face first on.
Think of who the faces of the WNBA are today. Chances are most, if not all look closer to me than her. You probably assumed who the other retired player was or pictured to be even if you don’t watch the sport. It would be hard to figure out Sylvia is the only player to lead two franchises in rebounding, or be the only woman to have 4,000 rebounds. In an interview with LaChina Robinson aired at half-time of her last game Sunday August 14th Sylvia said she takes this to the chin, and she does get in her feelings at times (it’s also one of the few interviews she’s fully herself when it comes to her being in basketball), but she’s adamant of knowing she at least deserves the full respect, something that’s been quiet off the court in most markets.
This is something the league and mainstream media need to not just address but fix and figure out before the start of the 2023 season. Promote and talk about players like Jonquel Jones, Kahleah Copper and Arike Ogunbowale just as much as Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and Candace Parker.
What makes Mama Syl GOAT-worthy
Ask yourself who the last dominant center you watched play professional basketball was; male or female. Chances are most men would say Shaquille O’Neal. No center has played as close to Sylvia’s level since Lisa Leslie retired (one could say Brittney Griner but she hasn’t played since 2021).
Here are things you can say about Sylvia that you can’t say about many or any players in the W. They include
- One of ten women to dunk, one of four to do it more than once
- Most field goals in a quarter with nine
- best shooting/field goal percentage at .5932
- Rebounds (stats above)
- 404 Rebounds a season, highest rebound avg. at 11.88
- 282 rebounds in 2018, most in a season
- Over 2,500 defensive rebounds (career)
- tied for 3rd with 17 defensive rebounds (most per game)
- Second most defensive rebounds in a half v. an opponent (12)
- Tied for first with most defensive rebounds in a quarter (nine)
- Led Minnesota to largest margin of victory in a WNBA regular/post-season game at 59 points
- Led Minnesota to most wins consecutive to start a season with 13.
- Led Minnesota to second three straight championship appearances
- Had the highest point and rebound total in the 2017 WNBA Finals, first player since Lauren Jackson in 2004 and third champion to do it overall.
- Helped lead Minnesota to most playoff appearances with 11
- Won defensive player of the year award twice while admitting she never watched film until heading to Minnesota
- Won the WNBA Peak Performer Award three times (2013, 2018, 2022)
- Two time WNBA blocks leader (2010, 2011)
- Was WNBA Finals MVP in both championships won
- All rookie team in 2008
- Three time champion in three different continents
- All-WNBA First Team in 2010, 2013 and 2017
- Four time DPOY in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2021
- Seven time All-Defensive First Team: 2010-13, 2016-17, 2021
- WNBA Rebounding champion in 2013, 2018 and 2022
- A Lock on the WNBA 25th Anniversary Team revealed in 2021
It’s a rarity to find a player in basketball, regardless of sex to have a list of accolades this deep, thorough and impressive. Sylvia’s well known for defense but is a critical player around the hoop to either score, generate second-chance opportunities or draw fouls. Unlike with forwards or guards, there’s been no solid counter to Sylvia for almost her entire career. Minnesota still ran an older style of offense and defense when she started games. The Lynx didn’t want to make three-point shots a main focus of scoring when Fowles was on the court. It slowed opponents’ games and worked in Minnesota’s favor all but one season. On defense, teams preferred having second chance scoring opportunities rather than numerous three point chances. No other player in her three decades of play commanded that much respect.
Many of us obsess over male athletes (and to be honest, with good reasons) because we know how hard things are for them to attain either the levels of greatness or to stay a good person especially with normal people around for long periods of time. A fewer amount do the same with female athletes or try to understand them unless they fit a certain description. Sylvia didn’t and for the most part, still doesn’t fit a lot of the characteristics a good amount of the public wants from both taller and dark-skinned female athletes. Yet she’s one of the most empathetic, comedic, creative and wonderful people you’d ever come across.
In the end the league never deserved a one-of-one, unequaled individual. As a true fan, I’m happy and blessed I got to watch her play for as long as she did. While I’m mostly at peace she leaves on her own terms, it’s also true to say the league will not be the same without her. It won’t be as colorful with that extra height space and the added sweetness she brought every summer. In the end, it’s safe to say the true fans were the ones playing funeral all year.