Rookie and veteran share championship moment
ATLANTA -- Minnesota Lynx starting center Taj McWilliams-Franklin didn't want to let this emotional moment pass without letting rookie guard Maya Moore know how special she is.
The Lynx had just won the franchise's first WNBA title, taking Game 3, 73-67, over the Dream for the series sweep at Philips Arena Friday. Joyous pandemonium reigned, with Lynx players dancing, hugging and screaming for joy over the din of the celebratory music.
McWilliams-Franklin grabbed Moore and hugged her, then whispered in her ear:
"Your heart is right. You have right attitude, humility. You are a sweet kid, raised properly; all these things follow good kids. This is just the start of many titles for you, enjoy this," McWilliams-Franklin recounted.
Moore smiled, acknowledging the words. This was a once-in-a-lifetime championship moment, shared by McWilliams-Franklin, 40, who has played in the WNBA since 1999, and Moore, 22, who has just finished her first year.
Moore becomes the second WNBA Rookie of the Year to win the championship in the same season, matching the Detroit Shock's Cheryl Ford in 2003. McWilliams-Franklin adds a second championship to her long résumé, the first coming with the 2008 Detroit Shock.
"This feels so different, even better than winning in college," Moore said over the din of the loud and crazy postgame celebration. "Winning in college was great, but this was a lot harder, we had to work so hard for this for so long. You get to be with people like Taj, who has such a big heart and is so tough. She fights and fights, and I've learned so much by watching her never giving up.
"I just feel amazing right now, just overwhelmed a little, it's wonderful."
Both women were important in helping Minnesota win Game 3. Moore scored 15 points off 6-for-9 shooting and had seven rebounds. She had some big scores down the stretch, helping keep the Lynx in the lead.
McWilliams-Franklin had seven points, including some pressure free throws in the final minute. She also had four assists and two blocks.
Ever the leader, McWilliams-Franklin calmed down the crazy dancing and singsong "Los Lynx" chants in the locker room long enough to gather the team for a champagne toast. The bottles used for sipping and spraying were put down, and flutes were raised to being a champion.
The Lynx clinked their glasses, and McWilliams-Franklin made a point of reaching over the table to toast personally with Moore.
"Two championships, baby, for me, and now one for you," McWilliams-Franklin said.
She said her two titles feel different, as she knew the 2008 Shock team was a juggernaut. This time, she was part of a team that had a lot of potential, but nobody knew if it could win the title.
"To me, '08 was like a foregone conclusion," McWilliams-Franklin said, comparing her two title runs. "We just won, and won, and won in Detroit, and once we got into the Finals, it was kind of known that this is what the Detroit Shock do -- win titles. This  was like we had to fight, the feeling is so different.
"I came in, talked to [head coach] Cheryl [Reeve], heard what she wanted from me, but neither one of us envisioned this would be the year we'd win it. And to have the combination of all the hard work, the tears, the pain, all the feelings we have …."
McWilliams-Franklin paused, as tears started rolling down her champagne-soaked left cheek.
"This means so much to me, especially at my age," McWilliams-Franklin said. "I'm going to be 41 in 13 days. I know I don't have many more [seasons] left in me. This really is special, I'm taking it all in, I'm going to live it all."
She's been taking photos throughout the regular season and playoff run, helping document her journey with the Lynx.
Moore laughed when she was asked if she could see herself winning a WNBA title when she turns 40.
"Oh man, that's a long way away," Moore said. "But it goes to show you, Taj shows you, it can be done if you want it."