Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors, left, and Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve talk to their teams during timeouts during the WNBA Finals’ Game 1 on Sunday. For the first time ever in the history of the league, both teams in the WNBA Finals are coached by women.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The two coaches stalked up and down the sideline in Game 1 of the WNBA finals, barking out instructions to players, snapping at officials and calling the shots at the game's most crucial moments.
That is nothing new in this league or any other. The difference this time is that both coaches in the championship series were women, the first time that's happened in league history.
Cheryl Reeve led the Minnesota Lynx to a league-best 27-7 record in the regular season, and Marynell Meadors has guided the Atlanta Dream to two straight finals appearances.
The Lynx lead the best-of-five series 1-0 heading into Game 2 on Wednesday night. But no matter what happens, a female head coach will walk away with the championship trophy for just the second time since the league started in 1997. Anne Donovan won a title with Seattle in 2004.
"It tells you exactly how far the women's game has come and how far the women that are in this league as head coaches or assistant coaches have come because it used to be all men," Meadors said on Tuesday.
Reeve and Meadors both credit work as assistants for male head coaches for shaping their philosophies and putting them in a position to succeed as head coaches.
A former Florida State head coach, Meadors' WNBA career started in the league's inaugural season as head coach and GM of the Charlotte Sting. But it wasn't until she worked as an assistant for Ron Rothstein and Richie Adubato in Miami that she really learned the differences between coaching in the pros versus coaching in college.
"I think I learned so much from them that helped me now," she said. "It gets you in a different place."
Reeve also got her coaching start in college at Indiana State. She then spent nine years grinding as an assistant in the WNBA, including four under Bill Laimbeer with the Detroit Shock, before finally getting her chance to run the show in Minnesota last year.
Laimbeer, who was hired as an assistant with the Timberwolves in 2009, strongly suggested -- as only a former Pistons Bad Boy can do -- that the Lynx hire Reeve to turn around a franchise that had never won a playoff game.
"I said, 'This is the person you need to hire,'" Laimbeer said on Tuesday. "She's prepared herself her whole career. You shouldn't even consider anybody else."
In two years in Minnesota, Reeve's resemblance to her coaching colleagues Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn in Detroit has become abundantly clear to her players.
"She is the female Bill Laimbeer," star forward Seimone Augustus said with a chuckle. "Just the tenacity, the way she gets after us, the intensity every day at practice, the choice words that she uses in order to get us motivated. She's definitely Bill. Bill has taught her well and she's done a wonderful job."
Reeve got a hearty laugh out of Augustus's description -- "Am I better looking than Bill?" -- and said that toughness was instilled in her by her father, not the former Pistons forward. But she did credit Laimbeer with helping to validate her approach.
"What Bill did was he brought out the edgy, times 10, side of all of us," Reeve said. "The biggest thing I learned was it was OK. I think for women sometimes, that can be looked at in many different ways, and not always positive.
"Bill was great for me. I was so comfortable being myself. I could say whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to say it, without repercussions. I didn't always have that. I kind of got conditioned away from that. The flood gates opened. Now I am who I am."
After a rough first season filled with injuries, Reeve won coach of the year honors this year for leading the Lynx on a dominant run. They beat San Antonio and Phoenix in the playoffs to get to the finals, where more than 15,000 fans cheered them to victory in Game 1.
"She's tough," Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen said. "You can tell the type of player that she was, tough, hard-nosed. That's how we play. We really feed off of her and wait for her key. We're always following her lead and she's definitely tough. We all love playing for her."
Reeve said the fact that both teams are coached by women "is a nice aside" to the main story of the championship, but Dream guard Lindsey Harding said not so fast.
"That's how it should be!" Harding hollered playfully. "I think it's great. You have two strong women who know the game extremely well and have worked hard to bring these programs up. I'd like to say it doesn't matter because it doesn't. But as a woman, myself, I'm proud of that.
"For young girls to not only see us on the court playing, but to know that they have the opportunity, whether they play or not, that they could learn the game well enough to teach it at a professional level, that's huge."