It’s not every day the sideline microphone picks up a coach telling players not to get on the officials “because they’ve got their panties in a wad.” But then, Lin Dunn never has been just any coach.
And her Indiana Fever are no longer just any team.
As you all, or “y’all,” as Dunn would say, know by now, the Fever are WNBA champions, and what a celebratory moment it was for Dunn, Fever management (in particular General Manager Kelly Krauskopf), the staff, the folks at Pacers Sports & Entertainment and, especially, the players.
But it was also a good run for the city, reminding us why sports provide a platform for such widespread unity.
Winning did what winning does, which was to pull back the curtain (or, in the case of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, pull up the curtains) and make us all take notice, including the message-carriers in the media who tend to shove the Fever deep inside the sports section or devote a scant few seconds on the evening sportscast. And in the interest of full disclosure, yes, this is the first column I’ve devoted entirely to the Fever this year.
No, Shevonte Zellous is not a household name in Indy. Same for Erin Phillips or pretty much any other Fever player not named Tamika Catchings or Katie Douglas. But to their hard-core faithful who have followed and supported the franchise since the day it was formed 13 years ago, this was finally the moment that validated all those visits to a half-empty arena.
To be expected, there were a number of comments in the social media realm about the Johnny-and-Joanie-come-lately Fever fans. But there’s nothing wrong with a bandwagon rolling downhill and picking up passengers along the way, and that certainly is not a phenomenon isolated to Indianapolis.
Mostly, though, you feel happiest for those who have hung in there, stuck it out, and maintained the faith that ultimately a championship would be the result.
No one represents that more than Krauskopf, who was the franchise’s first hire—as chief operating officer—13 years ago. For those who know Krauskopf, she is unfailingly upbeat and positive, never complaining about the Fever’s position in the marketplace or their inability to close the deal.
This one is for her.
So, too, for Dunn, a women’s basketball coaching lifer who built the foundation for success at Purdue University, had a fall from grace, persevered, then found her way back home to Indiana—first as an assistant and now, the last five years, as head coach. The championship was her final say to those who whispered—actually, some grumbled loudly—that her teams always found a way to come up short.
Plus, she’s a hoot, a woman unafraid to colorfully speak her mind, even if it sometimes does require translation.
For a Hoosier touch, we have both Assistant Coach Stephanie White—the pride of West Lebanon, and in my mind, still the best ever women’s player to come out of the state—and, of course, Katie Douglas, the Perry Meridian High School and Purdue grad whose badly sprained ankle made us all feel the pain of her not being able to play in the finals. It was a touching moment when Dunn got her into the clinching game for the final few seconds.
Finally, Catchings, an NBC woman—Nothing But Class—who has represented the franchise and the city in such an extraordinary way. Her glistening resume now has filled in the missing blank. And what a statement her college coach at the University of Tennessee, Pat Summit, suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, made by attending Game 4 in Indianapolis.
We will see what long-term effect this championship has on the franchise. But it has reinforced the notion that it’s an outstanding product represented by exceptional people. I saw a basketball team, not a women’s basketball team.
So come next spring, as Lin Dunn would say, y’all come back now.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.