When Sylvia Fowles retired at the end of the 2022 season, it wasn’t just an ordinary player stepping away from the court. In addition to her Hall of Fame worthy resume, Fowles was Minnesota Lynx basketball. Fowles was the epitome of the hard-nosed, defensively tough Lynx teams that won two championships in her eight seasons in the Twin Cities. So when Fowles did call it a career, you’d expect there to be a void, not only in the box score but also in leadership both on and off the court. With so much turnover, this team needed guidance. Looking no further than her own roster, head coach Cheryl Reeve knew the leadership would have to come from within and from none other than Kayla McBride.
Entering her 10th season, McBride likely knew the responsibility would fall to her. As the only player on the roster with double-digit years in the league, McBride was the logical choice from an experience perspective. “I’m the vet,” McBride told me after the team’s first win of the season in Washington DC against the Mystics on June 3. “I’m only 30, but I’ve been in this league for 10 years. I know this league, and I know how hard it is. I have a lot of experience, whether it’s in this league or overseas. I’ve played with a lot of teams. I’ve played with a lot of players. I just understand it on a different level.”
McBride is so much more than a collection of seasons. She’s wise and youthful, sincere and forthcoming. While leadership can often seem like an intangible factor to measure, McBride makes it feel like you can reach out and grab it.
“We know how hard it is to win in this league,” McBride told me on June 3. “It just takes one game for us to figure out how to play together. You can see us learning and growing throughout the game; that’s the best place to learn.”
Learning is something McBride talks about passionately, like the proverbial “be a sponge” mantra the rookies memorize to regurgitate back to the media during their early days in the league. One of the biggest figures McBride has learned from is Fowles herself.
“[I learned to] just to do it in my own way. Syl was kind of like me; she isn’t someone who’s going to talk a lot. She isn’t loud with her words but is loud with her presence, loud with her leadership, loud with her love. And seeing how [Syl] moves through things, good moments and bad moments and through the adversity, how calm she was, I always appreciated that. Coming here, she was a vet for me, so moving into that role is kind of crazy to me. I just try to take it with the hits and misses because it isn’t easy and [the team]is figuring [itself]out in the process too. I’m still trying to grow as a player, which is a type of leadership role in [and]of itself, so I’m really, really fortunate to have had that time with Syl to help prepare me for this moment.”
McBride’s readiness and ease with her answer points to a player with emotional maturity and self-awareness far beyond her years. Any chance you get to ask McBride questions, she’ll always find a way back to her learning process. She has the exact quality any team would want in its leader—a player who knows so much and still acts like there’s so much more to learn.
“I’ve always been a lead by example type of person,” McBride told me after their June 27 win against the Seattle Storm. “Especially growing up, I just never really talked a lot. So moving along and getting older and becoming a vet, just using your words in the right way and being able to understand younger players. I’ve been a vet for Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, now Diamond [Miller] and Dorka [Juhász], a lot of high picks. Being a high pick myself, I understand what it comes with. Being able to move them through their learning curve, which every rookie has, I’ve been trying to be there. It’s not easy. It’s not easy [going from]being the best player on your team to playing against the best players in the world. I think the extremes that I have and being that calm voice, it can be loud voice sometimes, but it’s about finding the ways to get through to them. ”
The lessons McBride has gleaned from her experiences have been put to the test in one of the more transitionally challenging seasons for the Lynx in years. For her part, McBride is having one of her worst offensive seasons of her career, but she isn’t letting that get her down.
Reeve has seen McBride’s perseverance too and has commended her for such maturity in the process. “Getting outside yourself [when things aren’t going well]and being able to lead, that’s not easy to do,” Reeve explained to me before the June 27 contest. “And Kay Mac has been giving us that. She’s given us a way to do things at practice with her energy at shootarounds. It’s been important. Phee needs that kind of help from such a veteran.”
Despite the tougher stretches, the Lynx have played far better in the last few weeks, turning around a brutal opening stretch to the season. For McBride, it’s her calming demeanor and consistent approach that she believes has helped this team. “For me, it’s about being the consistent leader,” said McBride. “For this team, I think them hearing my voice is so calming. It just gives them a sense of being able to refocus, and that’s something I had to learn, something I had to continue to learn. As far as who I am for this team, it’s continuing to grow, continuing to evolve. I’m not 21, 22 anymore. I’m not as spry as I once was, but the experience I’ve gained, whether overseas or in the WNBA, I feel like I have a lot to contribute. But I’m learning too. That’s the fun of it. That’s the beauty of it. I’m enjoying that process.”
And enjoyed it she has, even when her shots aren’t going in. “[I’m just] staying consistent with what I do,” the cerebral McBride told me. “Shots are going to go in. Shots aren’t going to go in. That’s the name of the game. It’s about doing other things, knowing how to win. It’s the defensive end. Sometimes it’s effort, energy, etc. It looks different every game. And that’s okay. So when we do go through rough patches, [what I’m doing]isn’t going to look the same. And that’s something I’ve learned from my experience. Shots go in. Shots don’t go in. But I need to be the same for my team.”
McBride’s calming presence has imbued this Minnesota team that has gone 7-3 in its last 10 games. Harnessing all that she can offer this team as a leader, McBride will continue to steer the Lynx to increasingly brighter pastures ahead.
All stats as of 7/3 and courtesy of WNBA.com