A whirlwind week
Just after 10 pm EST last Thursday night, as the game clock ticked under five seconds left in the WNBA Finals, Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud shared a long embrace near midcourt. As the buzzer sounded, the rest of the Washington Mystics spilled off the bench, touching off a celebration that has continued for the better part of a week in the nation’s capital.
After the trophy presentation and the crowning of Emma Meesseman as WNBA Finals MVP—the first time ever that the award went to a reserve—the Mystics celebrated with a champagne toast in the locker room. Every player’s locker and belongings were protected, thanks to an expert taping of plastic over every surface, but if you looked carefully, you could still see the poster above Cloud’s locker promoting Delle Donne’s candidacy for MVP through the plastic. A horde of media, almost certainly in violation of the fire code, entered to interview players, everyone’s shoes squelching on the champagne-soaked plastic. Kristi Toliver had a bottle of champagne in each hand, one for each of the WNBA championships she has won.
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Ariel Atkins was the last to stay in the locker room answering questions. “We wanted to be [champions], and we put in the work to get there,” she told reporters. “And we’re here! … Now we’ve got two MVPs!” she added, referencing Meesseman and WNBA regular-season MVP Delle Donne.
The players soon moved to the practice courts, where access was restricted to players and families, and continued the celebration there before departing for The Wharf, a neighborhood on the DC waterfront about 15 minutes from the arena.
Delle Donne admitted on Friday that she only got about 30 minutes of sleep on Thursday night, though it certainly looked restful:
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault also admitted to being sleep-deprived on Thursday night, but the entire group rallied on Friday to hold a championship celebration at the arena with their fans. The invitations were sent with less than 14 hours’ notice, but fan turnout was strong and a sizeable contingent were Founding Fans—season ticket-holders since the team’s first season in 1998.
The celebration began with a video showing the Mystics’ playoff highlights, including—to the crowd’s obvious delight—Cloud doing push-ups after beating Las Vegas. The Mystics’ pregame hype video was next before the on-court festivities, emceed by Mystics play-by-play announcer Meghan McPeak, began. Every Mystics staff member, coach, and player was introduced individually and tossed small red balls into the exuberant crowd. Mystics part-owner Sheila Johnson, Thibault, Delle Donne, Meesseman, Toliver, and Cloud spoke, and the Mystics wrapped up the celebration with their signature swag surfing—a dance so catchy that even the Connecticut Sun players participated, moments before tip-off, throughout the Finals.
The celebration revealed two important pieces of information for Mystics fans: the team will have a parade in the spring, once all players are back from their overseas commitments, and Thibault is not retiring. “I just signed a two-year extension a couple months ago … so, no!” he told High Post Hoops on Friday.
After the celebration, fans could take photos on the court and, if they were lucky, get a photo or an autograph from one of the Mystics’ players. Meesseman and Cloud stayed the longest, and fans especially clamored for Meesseman’s attention as her mother, in town from Belgium for the Finals, looked on proudly. Cloud was seemingly the bane of the Mystics media relations staff’s existence: they repeatedly tried to wrap up autographs and steer her back to the locker room, but several times she eluded them to sign a few more.
Meesseman and her Belgian national team teammate Kim Mestdagh were the first two Mystics to leave Washington on Saturday, along with Meesseman’s mother. They got a nice surprise when Brussels Airlines upgraded them to business class for the 7.5-hour flight.
A day later, the Mystics didn’t make an appearance at the Washington Redskins game, but at least one fan did, bringing a sign that read, “C’mon Skins, start playing like girls! Go Mystics! WNBA Champs!”
On Monday, several players and coaches traveled to New York to appear on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. “All my dreams came true,” Delle Donne told Roberts of the moment the buzzer went off. “It just feels so validating,” Toliver added, calling her teammates “my best friends and the best people in the world.” While on set, the Mystics also met the cast of the hit TV show Black-ish.
That evening, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez wrapped up his pregame press conference with a Mystics shoutout: “I just want to say one thing. I want to congratulate the Mystics for winning a championship. I think that’s pretty awesome for the city as well. So congratulations.” Thibault said on Friday that the Mystics and Nationals had been supporting each other throughout the playoffs and that he personally had appreciated a shoutout from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Despite three herniated discs in her back, Delle Donne also showed her support for the Nationals by delivering a strong first pitch on Tuesday night. “We’re doing our little champs thing, enjoying the moment,” she told NBC Washington’s Sherree Burruss before the game. “It’s been crazy, but it’s been so much fun. I wake up with a huge smile every day, just letting it sink in.” Thibault and several teammates joined Delle Donne at the game, which the Nationals won 7-4 to clinch a World Series berth.
Delle Donne and at least one of her teammates wrapped up the week at the Washington Capitals game on Wednesday night. Delle Donne announced the starting lineup in the Capitals locker room before the game and participated in the ceremonial puck drop, while Aerial Powers took the trophy for a ride on the Zamboni:
While the week of festivities must have been a fun reward for the entire team, Thibault said that nothing could beat the original celebration on Thursday night. “Watching the smiles on [the players’ faces] after the game was the best part,” he revealed on Good Morning America. On Wednesday, Thibault told NBC Washington’s Al Koken that this year’s Mystics were “an unbelievable pleasure” to coach and added, “You just smile every day when you go to work with a group like that.”
In Washington, DC, and across the country, many WNBA fans are smiling, too, as they see the Washington Mystics get feted like the champions they are.
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