The 2017 FanSided Fan of the Year contest had an exceptionally strong field of super fans this year, but one fan stood out among even the very best.
We’re happy to announce Minnesota Lynx fan Larry Lien is our 2017 FanSided Fan of the Year. Larry was all-in on the Lynx from the moment University of Minnesota basketball star Lindsay Whalen was traded to the team and, over the years, his Lynx fandom and gameday traditions became his legacy and, now, a way for his family to honor his memory.
Larry passed away this past October and accepting the award on his behalf are his daughters, Roxanne and Becky, who will fly to New York City in early December to attend the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year event. Roxanne and Becky will receive Larry’s trophy, as well as a delightful amount of swag — including a custom bobblehead of their father in fan mode.
We’d also like to thank our other finalists, Charlotte, Shelton, Havok and Ted as well as every fan who participated as voters or contestants. The submissions we received this year showed the true range of what fandom can mean and the power of sports to provide entertainment, connection and comfort through good times and bad.
In case you missed it, you can read Larry’s story, as remembered by his daughters, below.
A Larry Lien Minnesota Lynx night goes like this: Ride the light-rail train downtown with family. (Daughters: Roxanne and Becky.) En route, place a modest $5 bet on the game’s top scorer. (For Larry: Lindsay Whalen, Roxanne is Team Seimone Augustus and Becky bets on Rebekkah Brunson.) Dinner — same place, same order, same Dad Joke, every time — and arrive at the Target Center when the doors open. Snag a stat sheet and study.
“This was a process. It wasn’t just show-up-and-watch-the-game. It was show-up-four-hours-before-the-game-started. We had to be one of the first people in the door,” remembers Becky. “The Lynx give out gameday stat sheets that talk about the Lynx and the team we’re playing and some other historical facts about the interactions between the two teams. [Larry] would study that sheet of paper front and back for at least an hour, and then be able to recite everything he read.”
After cheering their hearts out, the family would take the train home. Often, Roxanne and Becky would be too giggly — on account of a few adult beverages — for their father, but it was no matter to him. Larry would find other random Lynx fans on the train, introduce himself and rehash every moment of the night’s game.
Larry became a Lynx fan by way of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, specifically Whalen’s arrival and success on the Gopher teams of the early aughts.
“She has lots of energy, and he just fed off that,” Becky says.
Larry and his daughters’ women’s basketball fandom was mostly limited to the U until Whalen returned to the area, traded to Minnesota in 2010. From that day forward, Larry was a Lynx fan.
“Over the years, he would talk about all the different players, and not just on the Lynx but in the WNBA, talking about their stats, their records, their college information,” Roxanne adds. “He knew everything, he knew them all.”
With the Lynx, Roxanne says, Larry “really appreciated their talent and their sportsmanship. They’re outstanding role models for the community here in Minneapolis. They are great advocates and he really appreciated it. You can tell when the Lynx play, they love the game. They go out there and they play so hard. I think he honestly just truly believed in the women of the WNBA.”
Larry’s fandom was like a relationship, built and nurtured over time. After each game, each quintessential Lynx night with his daughters, the team became a bigger part of his life.
The Lynx were Larry’s passion, and toward the end of his life, during his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, they became a vital source of positivity. After his first bout with cancer, in 2002, Larry was in remission for many years. In 2015, his cancer came back and he received treatment again. He was in remission for only a few months before his cancer returned a third time. Larry received a more aggressive treatment of chemo and radiation.
“He didn’t want to talk about the cancer. He wanted to talk about positive things. So he would tell everybody about Lindsay Whalen, and the Lynx, and Sylvia Fowles,” Becky says. “I think if the Lynx weren’t around, I don’t think his cancer would have been as joyful of an experience for him, if we can say that. I think he would have succumbed to it a lot quicker if it wasn’t for the Lynx giving him something to look forward to.”
When Larry learned his cancer was back for a fourth time, he made the decision to decline treatment and live his life, with a prognosis of three-to-nine months. But his condition deteriorated much faster than anyone expected, and he would only make it two more weeks.
During Games 3 and 4 of the WNBA Finals, with his eyesight mostly gone, Larry was at home in hospice. He couldn’t see very well, but he could still hear, so his daughters provided him with play-by-plays.
Larry passed away shortly after Game 4. His daughters made the emotional decision to attend Game 5, which the Lynx would win, thereby securing their fourth championship. The pregame was one of Larry’s favorite times and when the Lynx theme song came on, Roxanne and Becky lost it, hugging each other surrounded by thousands of fellow fans in their father’s favorite place.
“It was so emotional, I just can’t even explain it,” Becky remembers. “Why would a sports team evoke so much raw emotion?”
Larry Lien loved the Lynx. He loved their energy, their talent. He loved the way they played. When Roxanne and Becky return to the Target Center for the 2018 season, Larry’s seat will be filled by the next generation of Lien Lynx fan. But you’ll need only feel the energy in the room when Lindsay Whalen gets the crowd going to know his spirit is still there.