There are team moms, and then there's Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the unofficial matriarch of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. Mama Taj, as she's called by teammates, can be strict (holding players to the team dress code); she can be sweet (hosting team dinners at her place); and—to the surprise of just about everyone—she can still play. A 6'2" forward-center, she averaged 8.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 28.4 minutes as the Lynx raced to a league-best 27--7 record and their first WNBA finals berth. That McWilliams-Franklin (above) is doing this at age 40—the next-oldest player, Tulsa's Sheryl Swoopes, is five months her junior—is a fact the six-time All-Star is reminded of only while breaking down video of her performances. "The announcers mention it at least 20 times," says the 13-year vet, who had 8 points and 10 rebounds as Minnesota defeated Atlanta 88--74 on Sunday in the first game of their best-of-five series.
The secret to her longevity? McWilliams-Franklin thanks good genes and a rigorous diet for keeping her largely injury free. And she remains a tough mark because of her ambidextrous shooting skills (switching to lefty at close range) and knack for adjusting to her teammates' playing styles. McWilliams-Franklin picked up on many of rookie swingwoman Maya Moore's nuances by rebounding for her in drills. "The more we play together," says Moore, the league's Rookie of the Year, "the more comfortable we get."
How much longer will Mama Taj, who has three daughters of her own, look after the Lynx? "I've been asked about coming back next year," says McWilliams-Franklin, who signed a one-year deal last February. "But not by anyone who does any of the money stuff." As long as she's still out on the court, though, she plans on remaining one tough mother.