Lindsay Whalen racked up wins and titles in the WNBA, but the Hall of Fame wasn't something she expected

·6 min read

Lindsay Whalen needs no introduction in Minnesota. But she does it, anyway, with a simple and humorous “Hey guys. Lindsay,” at Target Center in Minneapolis last month. Outside in the arena hallways are the four WNBA championship trophies she helped bring home.

There are few places she would need to formally introduce herself. Her career as one of the best in basketball history is a fact known wider than the Midwest and will be recognized on Saturday with the game’s highest honors. Whalen will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in a 13-member Class of 2022 that includes Team USA teammate Swin Cash and former WNBA coach Marianne Stanley.

“It’s something that I was not expecting at any point in my career, but to be able to go in with those great people is obviously a tremendous honor,” Whalen, 40, said in April after the announcement.

Whalen is a first-time nominee and the first Lynx player in franchise history to be elected in her first year of eligibility. She received at least 18 of the 24 votes from the Naismith Honors Committee. Her former teammates from the core 2010s group will surely follow after they built a dynasty with four championships in seven years (2011, '13, '15, '17).

The 5-foot-9 point guard out of Hutchinson, Minnesota, was drafted No. 4 overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2004 WNBA draft after, in the University of Minnesota’s own words, “destroying the program’s record book” during her collegiate career. She led the school to its only Final Four appearance as a senior weeks before the draft.

She played six seasons with the Sun and ranked top five in the league in assists per game every year except her final one in 2009 when she was sixth. The Lynx acquired the hometown hero ahead of the 2010 season and she went on to a .701 winning percentage (201-82) in her nine years there. Whalen led the team in win shares (5.7) in their 2011 title season and they made consecutive Finals appearances from 2011-13 and 2015-17.

The five-time All-WNBA selection retired as the league’s all-time winningest player (323), a mark that was surpassed by Sue Bird in June. She was a three-time winner of the WNBA’s Peak Performer award for leading all players in assists per game and is fourth in career assists (2,345), ninth in career win shares (59.8) and 19th in career points (5,523). In 2016, while still playing, she made the league’s “Top 20@20” list for the 20 best players in league history. And she earned the honors again in 2021 with the “W25.”

The Minnesota Lynx's Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore celebrate winning the 2017 WNBA championship. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Lynx's Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore celebrate winning the 2017 WNBA championship. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

In an entertaining interview with Star Tribune “Daily Delivery” podcast host Michael Rand at the Minnesota state fair, Whalen said she did not grow up with the Hall of Fame as a goal. In the latter years of her career, with accolades mounting, she saw the potential on the horizon.

“Once you kind of see others that were getting in and what they had accomplished [and] you start to watch their speeches and the enrichment and everything, then, it kind of was like, yeah,” said Whalen, who in typical Midwest fashion saw her brother-in-law and nephew mid-interview and chatted them up. “Going into my last few years, it was something that I kind of figured if I had a little more success, whether it was on the Olympic team or that last 2017 championship team, I kind of thought, ‘That might do it. That might be something that would get me in.’ And thankfully it happened.

“At the end of my career, it was something that I wanted to do and wanted to achieve and wanted to be there. I’m competitive and I love the game and so, yeah I’m excited.”

Whalen remains the franchise leader in assists (1,394), second in games played (283) and fourth in scoring (3,233). She is the single-season franchise record holder for assists with 199 in 2011 and is tied with Noelle Quinn, now the Seattle Storm head coach, for most assists in a single game. Whalen had 14 against the Los Angeles Sparks in September 2013. And she hit three of the Lynx’s 12 all-time buzzer-beaters.

Whalen became the first of that dynasty group to officially retire after the 2018 season. She was juggling her final pro season during her first year as head coach at the University of Minnesota, where she has remained since the announcement in April 2018. The following spring of 2019, Maya Moore announced she would opt out of the season for social justice pursuits. Moore, who leads the franchise in average points (18.4), has not returned to the league.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen brings the ball up court during a 2018 game against the Connecticut Sun, the team that drafted her in 2004. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen brings the ball up court during a 2018 game against the Connecticut Sun, the team that drafted her in 2004. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rebekkah Brunson, the franchise leader in rebounds (2,158), retired in February 2020 and joined the Lynx coaching staff. Seimone Augustus, the franchise leader in points (5,881) retired in 2021 and is an assistant coach with the Sparks. And Sylvia Fowles, who leads the Lynx in double-doubles (88), rebounding average (9.8 rpg) and blocked shots (309), played her final WNBA game last month.

Internationally, Whalen keyed Team USA to two of its now seven consecutive Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016) and two World Championship titles (2010, '14). She played with Cash, part of her inductee class, on the 2012 Olympic team a decade after having seen her and the 2002 UConn team at the Final Four.

Whalen was asked in April what part of her career she thinks makes her a Hall of Famer. Was it the championships, the statistics, the international accomplishments?

“I’d like to think that I’ve had success on the floor, but I think I've persevered and I’ve always tried to — as much as I can [and] learning from my parents — treat people in a really, really good way,” she said. “And treat people how I would want to be treated.

“It’s always my goal to want people … to be that it’s like, ‘God, they can play basketball, but, man, they’re really respectful [and] they’re really great people.’ ”