When Sylvia Fowles began making a name for herself in the WNBA a decade ago, Damiris Dantas witnessed it on television in her native Brazil.
Dantas, then in high school, dreamed of playing like the 6-5 center. Now, she plays with her.
“I started playing basketball (because of) Syl,” the Minnesota Lynx forward said. “I started to play volleyball in Brazil first. After seeing Big Mommy, I say, ‘I’m going to play basketball.’”
Fowles, 33, has embraced the relationship the two have forged in their first season as teammates, as Dantas signed with Minnesota as a restricted free agent last winter.
“It’s like big sister-little sister,” Fowles said of the 26-year-old. “She’s very eager to please, she doesn’t want to do any wrong. That’s something that I can appreciate. … She would always say she watched me growing up, and it’s been an honor for me to play alongside her. It’s mad love and respect.”
The merging of the two is steeped in irony. Dantas played for the Lynx in 2014, and the following season they traded her to Atlanta as part of a three-way deal that netted them none other than Fowles, who had sought to leave the Chicago Sky.
“I’m happy and I’m honored to know that she really wanted to be my teammate,” Fowles said. “I wanted to play with her, too, actually, but it didn’t work out that way once I got here in ‘15. I kind of messed that up.”
Now, with Fowles as her running mate, Dantas is having a banner year in 2019. She’s averaging a career-high 8.3 points per game, pulls down 4.3 rebounds a night, and shoots 38.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Dantas has started in all 19 games she’s played this season, serving as an integral piece of the rotation and showing a knack for big plays in the clutch. She’s dealt with a calf injury that sidelined her for eight games, but when Dantas is in the lineup, Fowles said Minnesota hits a new level.
“Damiris makes or breaks the team,” Fowles said. “We have a lot of pieces in place, and without Damiris… we kind of struggle a little bit. So a healthy Damiris is a winning Lynx team.”
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve recognizes the importance of Dantas on the court, too.
“When you can space the floor with the 4, it gives other teams fits,” she said. “Especially because you’re worried about Syl.”
Dantas isn’t a big talker on the court, but Fowles noted they use hand gestures and eye signals to communicate with one another without words. It’s part of the growing chemistry between the pair.
“When you think about it, we do kind of resemble each other. We step up to challenges and we work hard,” Fowles said. “… And it’s fun, of course. I’m just happy to see her grow. She’s grown so much in a short span of time, and I’m happy she’s my teammate.”
Dantas has come a long way since first meeting her idol.
“The first time, I was scared,” Dantas said. “I was nervous, my hands (were) sweaty. But she helps me every time on the floor and (off) the floor.”
Minnesota is fighting for elbow room in the league standings, currently sitting eighth with a 13-14 record. As the playoff race intensifies, with just seven games remaining, the franchise will be leaning on both bigs to help push them into the postseason.
Dantas hopes this can be one of several seasons she and Fowles play together, as they help rebuild the Lynx.
“It’s my dream,” Dantas said. “I’m so happy to play with her.”
Minnesota is in Los Angeles tonight to take on the Sparks at 7:30 p.m. PT.