On Friday night, the Washington Mystics clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs after they defeated Dallas 86-73 and Connecticut lost to Chicago. Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud had just four points in 37 minutes, but she recorded five assists to set the franchise’s single-season assist record with 194.
After the game, Cloud deflected when asked about the record, spreading the praise to her entire team. But she was happy to talk about one individual accomplishment: the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award that she received on August 27, and her community service efforts more broadly. She said the award “surpasses every other award that I’ll ever win” and was especially honored to receive it from Staley, who like Cloud is a Philadelphia native and is a former WNBA point guard.
Because of Staley’s busy schedule, Cloud found out she had earned the award over a month before it would be presented. “Coach texted me and told me to come up to his office,” Cloud revealed. “So I just left [the locker room] and was like, ‘Hey, y’all, start packing up my locker for me. I don’t ever get texted to come to the office. What did I do in the last few days?’ And he knew that I was going to be nervous … [and] tried to act mad at me … but I was like, ‘I already packed my locker up, so I’m ready. What you got?’”
When Thibault told Cloud the real reason he had called her in, she was excited and grateful. “Giving back to our community is super important to me,” she explained after Friday’s game. “And I’ve said it time and time again, but God’s given me a platform and He’s given me a career, but I think that there’s a greater purpose intended for this career of mine and I think that’s … the work within the community.”
During the 2019 WNBA season alone, Cloud has held a media blackout to raise awareness of gun violence in DC, given school supplies and toys to kids through Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s (MSE) “Christmas in July” program, discussed gun violence solutions with students at DC’s Thurgood Marshall Academy, and held a school supply drive at two Mystics home games.
However, she has been quietly making similar efforts throughout her time in DC. “This team does a phenomenal job of getting out in the community,” Cloud said. “We’ve done this since I was a rookie.” Over the past several years, Cloud has hosted sports clinics; helped build a playground at the Bright Beginnings Center in southeast DC; spoken on several panels about sports, careers, and activism; met with kids with disabilities at a Dream for Kids holiday event; and delivered holiday gifts to underprivileged families through MSE’s Family-to-Family program.
By her own estimation, Cloud’s efforts intensified when the Mystics moved from their longtime home, the Verizon Center, in a relatively affluent part of DC to the Entertainment and Sports Arena (ESA) before the 2019 season. ESA is located in Ward 8 in southeast DC, an area in which 95% of residents are non-white and 47% of children live in poverty. “I wanted to get out in this community and make a difference,” Cloud said.
Early in the season, she felt compelled to act after several bullets hit Hendley Elementary School, which is just 1.7 miles from ESA. She called out DC public officials by name on Instagram and organized a team-wide media blackout for the Mystics’ game against the Seattle Storm on June 14. Before the game, Cloud said, “We’re talking about five- and six-year-olds, and they’re in fear for their life. That was all that I needed. … Being in [the school], seeing the kids, hearing them talk about it as just something that happens—this shouldn’t be something that happens.”
The blackout only lasted one game, but Cloud has put gun violence front and center ever since—sometimes literally. She has warmed up in an orange Everytown for Gun Safety shirt to raise awareness throughout the regular season and said on Friday she would “absolutely” continue to wear it during the playoffs. She has also shared statistics about gun violence with the media at the beginning of most of her postgame interviews and invited gun violence survivors and reform groups such as Moms Demand Action to Mystics home games. “I have a corner within the arena,” she explained. “… Little things matter, too, so [it’s] not necessarily always using a media blackout. We will if it’s necessary within the community and we need fast action, but there’s other ways to get the job done.”
As this summer wound down and DC students prepared to return to school, Cloud reached out to the Mystics business operations staff with another idea to help Hendley Elementary School. The inspiration came from her own childhood experience: “My parents struggled when all of us were going back to school just to provide us with the necessities. So if I can take a little bit off the parents’ shoulders, that means the world to me.” On August 25 and again on September 6, the Mystics collected school supplies for Hendley. As of Friday night, the team had not counted up all of the donations, but a Mystics source said they had “a room full.”
When Cloud reflected on what she hoped her work in the community this season would accomplish, she focused on the impact that a positive role model can make. She explained, “I want young children, whether [they are] male or female, to see a strong, black, professional female that is … powerful and strong and in a successful situation and … [see] a path that they can take someday.” On the topic of gun violence, she emphasized “how important it is just to continue to bring light, whether it’s [in] big ways or little ways.”
Cloud has certainly served the DC community in ways big and small, this season and throughout her career, on and off the court. In setting the Mystics’ single-season assists record, she passed Nikki Teasley, Temeka Johnson, Lindsey Harding, and Ivory Latta, each of whom had long, successful WNBA careers, and positioned her team extremely well heading into the playoffs. And as a result of her efforts beyond basketball, she joined Latta as the only other Mystics player to receive the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award and earned a $10,000 donation to the MSE Foundation from the WNBA. As it turns out, that’s a pretty great reason to be summoned to your head coach’s office.
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