By Dave Campbell
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Lindsay Whalen sat in the back of a convertible, scanning the delighted crowd for kids to toss candy to.
On her right was Seimone Augustus, waving and smiling as the Minnesota Lynx caravan crawled through downtown Minneapolis in celebration of their first WNBA title.
Between them was the shiny basketball-shaped trophy.
The Lynx don’t draw the attention the Vikings, Twins or Gophers get, but that didn’t matter on this day. This was a championship parade, the kind of community pride Minnesota sports fans have been craving.
“Awesome. Awesome. Awesome,” Whalen said afterward at Target Center, after the eight-block ride down Nicollet Mall and 7th Street in front of a crowd the Lynx estimated at 15,000.
Workers on lunch break Tuesday streamed out of the skyscrapers in their suits, grinning at the unexpected entertainment as the players, coaches and staff went by. People lined up about five deep at the points where the car carrying Augustus and Whalen passed. Confetti was poured down from some of the rooftops.
Students who got out of school hammed it up, enjoying their freedom. Long-time fans — of a team that didn’t win a playoff series from the franchise’s start in 1999 until this year — cheered in green and white T-shirts.
The Lynx just soaked up the sun and the praise on an unseasonably warm day before heading inside for a rally with video highlights, dance music and grateful speeches from the main attractions. About 5,000 people showed up for that part of the party, four days after the Lynx finished their three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream in the finals.
“They were just so solid. Every player contributed,” said one fan, A.C. Flynn, who joined the celebration with Amy Jones.
Flynn and Jones recently moved to Minneapolis from St. Louis and attended several games this summer. They’ve got season tickets for next year. Shortly before they relocated, Jones recalled, they watched the Lynx take Maya Moore, one of their favorite players, with the first pick in the draft.
“We were just jumping up and down,” Flynn said.
The WNBA is a niche league, but the success of the Lynx spread to the mainstream in a market where the big-time teams have struggled badly lately. The Vikings are 1-4. The Twins lost 99 times this year. The Gophers football team has been beaten in consecutive Big Ten games by a combined score of 103-17. The Timberwolves aren’t even playing because the NBA is in a lockout.
The Lynx were happy to pick up the slack.
With the final game on TVs at bars around the Twin Cities on Friday night, patrons clapped and cheered as the Lynx moved closer to victory. Greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport when they arrived Saturday from Atlanta, the team was honored on the field before the Vikings game Sunday. Before the rally Tuesday, they had breakfast with Gov. Mark Dayton.
“We’re champions,” said key reserve Candice Wiggins. “People look at you differently. They look at you with respect, and it feels good to earn that respect.”
That much was clear along the parade route.
“I was really overwhelmed by how much emotion the people were feeling there,” Wiggins said. “They, in their hearts, love us. It feels good to be loved.”
Whalen, who grew up in Hutchinson, Minn., and starred for the Gophers, has seen her popularity rise to an even higher level. She expressed hope and optimism that the Lynx, who went 27-7 during the regular season and 8-1 in the playoffs, can keep this up.
“We have a nice core group,” Whalen said. “We’re pretty young, so this should be pretty fun for a lot of years.”
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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.