CHICAGO -- In the middle of the second quarter during the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game, Minnesota Lynx legend Sylvia Fowles stole the ball from Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young and took off on a solo fastbreak. With the entire court in front of her, Fowles had the freedom to do whatever she wanted.
She chose to throw it down. Her first dunk since her first All-Star Game in 2009 brought everyone inside Wintrust Arena to their feet and stole the show on Sunday afternoon.
"I think I just heard the momentum of the crowd," Fowles said. "I probably heard a couple of benches and seen a couple of faces on the other team and I was like, just go for it. It was just in the moment. I didn't really think about it."
That moment was the best in a weekend full of memorable ones for Fowles, who announced back in February that she'll retire at the end of the season. Over the past 15 years, she's established herself as one of the league's all-time greats, but has too often been overlooked. This weekend, during her final All-Star Game, she finally got the spotlight she deserved.
"[The love] has not made [retiring] harder," Fowles said. "I mean, you know when you have your mind made up, you know. I think I appreciate the love that I'm getting, which is weird because I always shy away from it. But it's been comforting knowing that people do appreciate the things that I have done throughout my last 15 years in this league."
Fowles was voted in as a starter, and later named as a co-captain for the game by the league. Initially selected to Team Stewart, she was traded during the All-Star Draft to Team Wilson. That turned out for the best, however, as she put up seven points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals to help Team Wilson secure the 134-112 win.
Earlier in the day, the league honored Fowles during a mid-game ceremony with a tribute video. Her co-captain, A'ja Wilson, also presented Fowles with a bouquet of flowers and a basketball signed by the other All-Stars.
"For me playing alongside Syl has been amazing," Candace Parker said. "Sharing the court with her and being able to, you know, give her her flowers and be able to celebrate alongside her. So it's been an amazing, fun weekend from practice to the festivities to now actually playing in the All-Star Game. I think Chicago did a good job of showing Syl how much we love her and appreciate what she's done for our game."
While much of Sunday was about Fowles, she wasn't the only legend playing in her last All-Star Game. Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird officially announced a few weeks ago that this would be her final season, and she'll step away after two decades in the league.
Bird, playing in a record 13th All-Star Game, was also named a co-captain for the game, and after the trade was paired with her Storm teammate Breanna Stewart. She was also honored during that mid-game ceremony, and got her own flowers and signed ball. Finishing with zero points, six assists and a loss, it wasn't the most successful All-Star appearance, but it was the most meaningful.
As she checked out of the game for good late in the fourth quarter, she received a standing ovation from the Chicago crowd.
"That moment was really special," Bird said. "[Team Stewart coach] James [Wade] actually came over to me at some point as the fourth quarter was starting, like, 'Hey, do you want to go back in?' I was like, 'Do what you need to do to win the game, don't worry about me.' He's like, 'No, no, let me put you back in, so I can take you out.' I was like, 'Oh, I see what you're doing here.'
"So that was really considerate of him to think of me, and it was a really nice moment to share with the crowd, with the other players."
After the final buzzer sounded, one of the refs tracked down Bird to hand her the game ball. Instead of keeping it, Bird then went and found Fowles to make sure she got the memento. The two shared a long embrace and a few words, then walked off the All-Star court one last time.
"I think for me it's like your game is raised whether you're on as teammates or whether you're opponents," Parker said. "So I think this era of basketball has been -- those two have been dominant, and they've really had a hand in the direction of the way basketball is played as well as all of us having to level up because we're competing against them or with them."