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Postgame texts, limos, a private performance: Prince loved the Lynx

Most champions walk off the court after their wins, throw a party, and go home. But on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, after winning the WNBA championship, the Minnesota Lynx went to Prince’s house. In style. Limousines picked them up, and one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known was on stage, waiting for them.

But let’s pull back.

There’s an episode of ABC’s Black-ish this season — Episode 5, “Churched”— that features a running gag about Jack’s (Miles Brown) fears. His prominent fear is attending a WNBA game. At one point he yells, “I don’t want to go to a place worse than hell! I’ve already been to a WNBA game!” Later he proclaims, “God is everywhere … except WNBA games.” It’s a long-standing comedic trope to bash the WNBA for its lack of dunks or high-scoring games. Though the league has been experiencing growth, and has fresh leadership, it isn’t on a ton of people’s radars, and WNBA games aren’t likely to lead SportsCenter on a given night. You probably can’t name the last three WNBA champions.

“For somebody of that magnitude to make us feel appreciated, I mean he gave us memories of a lifetime.” — Renee Montgomery

But none of that mattered to Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and the rest of the Minnesota Lynx as they huddled under the Phoenix Mercury’s basket as the last moments of the WNBA finals wound down that October evening. It also didn’t matter to the almost 19,000 joyous fans at Minneapolis’ Target Center. The team gathered around Moore and were bathed in confetti falling from the rafters.

They were celebrating the Lynx’s third championship in five years, continuing Moore’s streak of not going more than two years without a championship since high school. “It’s an unbelievable experience,” Moore said to SB Nation after the win. “I don’t really have words for that feeling … the way we came out and just executed and started pushing that lead, and the crowd was just so into it.” Prince Rogers Nelson was in that crowd — in the cut. “It just built and built. That last minute, when we were up 15 or so, I just lost it.”

And what a place to celebrate: Paisley Park — Prince’s manor — is less mansion and more sexy, psychedelic compound where Prince entertained close friends and hosted private parties. A lot of these soirees were impromptu, and there’s a long-standing cardinal rule at Paisley Park: No pictures allowed. On the night of the Lynx’s third championship, Paisley Park became the home of the post-Finals celebration for Prince’s home team.

We’ve seen stories about Prince playing basketball a million times now — ever since Charlie Murphy told the infamous story on Chappelle’s Show in 2004. But this moment isn’t about Prince as a basketball fan — even though the stories of him checking scores during his performances are legendary at this point. This story is about Prince’s love of highlighting the accomplishments of women — and his love for his home state.

Prince did more than just throw a party for the Lynx on their big night, he kept up with their games and cheered for them throughout every season. He was often at Lynx (and Minnesota Timberwolves) games, but this was the first time it was possible for the Lynx to seal the deal at home, so Prince made sure he was there.

And as soon as the buzzer sounded, Prince posted a congratulatory tweet and disappeared from the Target Center without the players even knowing he was there. Then they got the texts: Prince is throwing a party for the Lynx.

Prince had a limo pick up the players and they soon filed into Paisley Park guests of honor at a party for more than 150 invited guests. Prince was already on stage, and opened with “Purple Rain” at 12:30 just as the players were making their way in. He invited players on stage to dance with him as congratulatory graphics shone brightly. Prince put on a jam session that included hits such as “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry” for almost two hours before heading backstage. A DJ took the stage and the night was seemingly over. Until Prince came back out and performed for another hour, pulling players on stage to dance with him the whole time. Lynx players Renee Montgomery and Augustus played backup dancers for the jam session for most of the night as Prince ended up performing for three hours in all. The concert didn’t end until 4:30 the next morning. Then Prince walked off the stage and joined the team on the dance floor. “He gave us one of the best things ever — which was memories, and he made us feel important,” Lynx guard Montgomery told USA Today in April. “For somebody of that magnitude to make us feel appreciated, I mean, he gave us memories of a lifetime.”

Prince often challenged the notion that women aren’t meant for certain (musical; athletic) spaces and recognized them whenever he could.

And giving the Lynx team that lasting memory — as well as his attendance, and recognition of their success fits in with Prince’s habit of spotlighting women’s accomplishments and gifts. The are big obvious exceptions that prove the rule, but women — most certainly black women — are often left on the outside looking in when it comes to being a part of what’s deemed cool or important by the rest of society. Prince often challenged the notion that women aren’t meant for certain (musical; athletic) spaces and recognized them whenever he could. He famously employed female musicians in prominent band positions. He once made InStyle magazine hire a black woman to interview him. His sex-positivity and refusal to conform to gender norms were groundbreaking and undeniably feminist. And he approached the WNBA like it was any other sport — free from the ridicule the sport has received by so much of popular culture. As a result, Prince was the most famous WNBA fan and he was unabashed in his support for his team. He threw them a celebration that most NBA teams would kill for, and provided the WNBA with perhaps its defining pop culture moment.

And his team is boss. The Minnesota Lynx are the WNBA team of the 2010s. Their star, Moore, is the player of the decade. She was 2011’s Rookie of the Year, MVP in 2014, and Finals MVP in 2013. She dominated the 2015 season with a 20-point-per-game effort, and landed in the top 10 in rebounds. Moore was eighth in total assists, and second in total steals with a monster player efficiency rating of 25.2. In just her sixth year in the league, she’s as dominant a player as there is in any league. These are stats that Prince could have probably recited on any given day.

When Prince died, the Lynx website featured a picture of him and the phrase, “When the doves cry, the Lynx cry.” On May 15 the team of course opened its season with a ring ceremony, and as each player came to the court a mashup of Prince songs was the soundtrack. The Lynx started the 2016 season winning their first 11 games and are primed for another run at the title. If they do go on to win it all again this year, Prince will be noticeably absent. But the legend of the night he treated the WNBA stars like the champs they are will live on forever.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.