Sylvia Fowles, the dynamic center for the Minnesota Lynx, has been named the WNBA's 2017 MVP, the league announced Thursday.
It's the first career MVP award for Fowles, 31, who led the 27-7 Lynx to the league's best record and No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Fowles received 35 of 40 first-place votes and 385 points from a national panel of writers and broadcasters, well ahead of New York Liberty forward Tina Charles (3, 199) and Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker (2, 132). Players received 10 points for each first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth.
"It's a proud moment," a teary Fowles said at a news conference about two hours before the Lynx faced the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals. "I thought about it, but it wasn't at the top of my list."
A four-time All-Star and the 2015 Finals MVP, the 6-foot-6 Fowles compiled one of the most dominant seasons by a low-post player in WNBA history. She finished among the top five in scoring (18.9 points per game, fifth), rebounding (10.4, second) and blocked shots (1.97, tied for second).
Fowles also led the league in field goal percentage for the fifth time with a career-high mark of 65.5 percent. No other player in league history has topped that category more than twice. And Fowles tied Connecticut's Jonquel Jones for the league lead in double-doubles with 20.
Though Fowles broke her nose in late May -- San Antonio rookie Nia Coffey whacked her accidentally after Fowles blocked her shot -- she never missed a game. In 34 starts, Fowles scored at least 20 points 17 times. Facing double- and triple-teams most nights, Fowles scored in double figures in all but three games.
Fowles credited Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve for pushing her to new heights. In their exit meeting last season, after the Los Angeles Sparks denied the Lynx back-to-back championships with a last-second victory in Game 5, Fowles said Reeve challenged her to be more dominant offensively.
"We talked about what we could have done, things we needed to do, how can I be more involved in the offense while continue to do what I do on defense," Fowles said. "That just was the moment where I was like, hey, this is what I've been waiting for, somebody to tell me what I need to do and how I need to step up. I took it to heart."
Reeve and assistant coach James Wade, who works daily with Fowles, attended the news conference. Fowles hugged them both, as well as WNBA president Lisa Borders, who presented Fowles the award. Fowles is the second Lynx player to win it. Maya Moore was first, in 2014.
"Ultimately, it came down to Syl allowing herself to be coached," Reeve said. "That means a coaching staff. That means letting herself go with her teammates as well. Syl is such a pleaser. It's not surprising to anyone that she would be so coachable.
"In order for this team to continue to be successful at a high level, we needed to turn our attention inside. It would take the pressure off our perimeter players who have carried us since 2011. Honestly, early in the season it exceeded my expectations as far as how fast she was able to apply it."
Minnesota defeated Washington 93-83 on Thursday in Game 2 behind Fowles' 25 points to take a 2-0 series lead.