By Ross Forman
Sylvia Fowles is not a fan of the sports memorabilia world. She’s never asked anyone for their autograph, ever, and likely never will. She doesn’t even have one of her own bobble head dolls, released a few years ago.
Still, Fowles – a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, three-time WNBA All-Star and the reigning WNBA Defensive Player of the Year – is quite familiar with the collecting craze.
“I get a lot of fan mail,” said Fowles, who guessed she receives at least 200 fan letters or more every month. And yes, she always replies.
“I don’t mind signing autographs, it comes with my job. It comes with what I do, and I’m happy that I get the credit I do. Sometimes it feels surreal when people ask for my autograph, mostly because I don’t feel like the superstar, as the fans do. That’s just how I carry myself, not as some big-time basketball player. I just try to be as humble as possible – and I think a lot of the fans can relate.”
Fowles, 28, was the second overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft and has been a Chicago Sky standout ever since. She was an All-Star in 2009, 2011 and 2013 – and also was the WNBA rebounds leader in 2013.
Fowles, who was born in Miami and attended Louisiana State University, was a U.S. Olympian in 2008 and 2012. Her WNBA career has spanned 166 regular season games, and she’s averaged 16 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Also from her illustrious career:
She became the first WNBA player to achieve two 20-points, 20-rebounds games in a season.
- She tied the WNBA record for the most offensive rebounds in a half (10).
- Had the highest point total in a Sky home opener (24).
- Leads the WNBA with an average of 11.7 rebounds per game.
- Had a career-high 22 rebounds in a game.
- Holds the Sky’s first 20-point/20-rebound performance.
- Was a two-time WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week last season.
- Has played the most games ever in a Sky uniform.
- Stands at No. 4 on the WNBA all-time slate for regular season double-doubles.
- Named the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month three times in 2013.
“Sylvia is a specimen of an athlete; there’s no one like her in this world,” said Elena Delle Donne, a teammate on the Chicago Sky and the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year. “She’s incredible and going to leave a legacy for the rest of her life.”
Fowles’ fan mail includes autograph requests from across the U.S., and around the world, particularly Germany, France and Australia. In fact, Fowles has received several fan letters over the past few years from a young girl in Germany – with pictures that the girl has drawn, not an autograph request.
Fowles has saved all of the pictures, and admitted that the girl likely doesn’t even know that.
“I get a ton of autograph requests, which is good, but also a humbling feeling,” Fowles said. “I actually received a fan mail letter today, asking for a photo since (the letter writer) collects photos – and they put $1 in the envelope.”
Fowles said she doesn’t ask for autographs because “I don’t have the courage to ask anyone for an autograph.”
Even if Michael Jordan was nearby, Fowles wouldn’t seek out his signature.
“I’d probably say ‘Hello’ from afar. I wouldn’t even go ask to get a picture with him; that’s how scared I’d probably be,” she said.
Fowles said she’s donated many of her game-worn, size-13 shoes from the past few seasons to fans. She previously donated her shoes to boys’ or girls’ youth teams in need of larger-sized shoes.
“I never used to save my (game-used memorabilia). Once the season ended, I’d normally just give my (memorabilia) to our PR department and tell them to do with it whatever they need to,” Fowles said. “But, with so many people asking for a T-shirt or shoes or whatever, I started saving the stuff for them. I give most of my stuff to my fans.”
In fact, two seasons ago, Fowles took her shoes off just before halftime and gave them to a young girl sitting courtside.
“I don’t really know why (I gave her my shoes); it just felt good in the moment,” Fowles said. “When I can make someone’s day, I just try to do it because it’s not often that I can do that.”
Fowles uses about 15 pairs of shoes per season.
She keeps her jerseys and has saved one from every season.
But Fowles also has given away game-used jerseys. “Everyone in my family has a (game-worn) jersey, probably (game-worn) shoes, too,” Fowles said.
When asked who she’d want an autograph from, Fowles hesitated. Then hesitated some more. She eventually replied, Serena Williams, “Because I think she’s a freak of nature.”
But Fowles wouldn’t approach Williams to shake her hand.
Or ask to take a selfie with the tennis sensation.
“When it comes to stuff like that, I freeze up,” Fowles said.
Fowles has appeared on numerous cards during her career, yet said she only likes two of them – “Because of the facial expressions (on those cards),” she said.
Not surprisingly, Fowles does not have any of her cards.
“I stay away from that stuff because that’s how I stay humble,” she said.
Fowles said she does not have any autographs from anyone associated with the Sky, including assistant coach Wayne “Tree” Rollins, a former NBA player.
She does, though, have the team-issued bobble head doll from two years ago of Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman.
As for the Fowles’ bobble head, she said, “I liked it a lot; I admired it; it looked nice . . . but I don’t think I want one for my house.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.