Mystics release ‘Run It Back’ documentary on journey to championship

The first episode premiered on May 16 and recapped the Mystics’ personnel moves under head coach Mike Thibault

On Saturday afternoon, one day after what would have been their 2020 season opener, the Washington Mystics aired the first episode of their documentary, “Run It Back: Mystics Journey to a Championship.” The documentary chronicles the Mystics’ path from a longtime losing team to 2019 WNBA champions.

The first episode, “Puzzle Pieces,” reviewed the Mystics’ important trades and draft picks from 2012 to 2018. “The first piece to this whole puzzle was actually Coach T himself,” assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti said in the documentary. Thibault was hired in December 2012, and it was hoped that he would stabilize a franchise that had had 12 different head coaches in its first 15 seasons.

For Thibault, one of the first significant building blocks came in the 2013 draft, when the team drafted Belgian forward Emma Meesseman in the second round. That night, just before he officially selected her, Thibault double-checked with his staff: “[If] we draft this kid, despite whatever else, we’re gonna keep her as our eleventh player. She’s your fifth post.” Hearing no objections, he called in the pick.

Halfway around the world, Meesseman hadn’t watched any WNBA games, and she wasn’t watching the draft, which took place in the middle of the night in Europe. She woke up to text messages telling her she was going to Washington. “At first I thought [it] was Washington State,” Meesseman said, “because I was looking on the map.”

Meesseman, just 19 years old at the time, wasn’t sure if she should leave Belgium for a shot at the WNBA. She explained, “The scariest part for me was that you always hear it’s the best competition in the world and players are so strong, so athletic, so physical, and that was pretty much everything I was not. But then I met Coach T and I just heard his voice and I was sure that he was gonna take care of me.”

The rest is history: Meesseman has played in Washington every year since except for 2018, when she missed the WNBA season to rest and to play with her national team. She won WNBA Finals MVP in 2019, and at the postgame press conference after last year’s championship, Thibault famously called Meesseman “one of the first pieces” as well as “the missing piece” that got Washington its first-ever title.

Nanci Thibault, Mike’s wife, said in the documentary that basketball is both her husband’s job and his hobby. “He’s really good at getting players to put a team together,” she said. “It’s what he does well,” dating back to his NBA days when he was in the room that drafted Michael Jordan.

The documentary reinforced that idea, referencing the acquisitions of Natasha Cloud (drafted in 2015), Elena Delle Donne (via trade in 2017), and Kristi Toliver (in free agency in 2017). It also mentioned the trade for Tianna Hawkins in April 2014—which, Thibault revealed, happened because Meesseman had moved ahead of the player Washington traded, Crystal Langhorne, on the team’s depth chart.

The episode was streamed on Facebook Live, and associate head coach Eric Thibault answered questions from fans in the comments section in real time. One fan asked which season was the toughest for the franchise since Thibault arrived in 2013. “2016, no question,” Thibault replied. That year, the team went 13-21 and earned the fewest wins in Mike Thibault’s tenure. Eric explained, “We couldn’t catch a break. One person would get healthy, another one would get hurt. And I believe we lost seven straight [games] going into the Olympic break…that was a long month.”

Another fan asked Thibault about the Mystics’ pregame rituals. “We all joke that we’re not superstitious,” he replied, “but we have our own routines. For the coaches, we would race across the practice court after our final team meeting. And we’d all try to cheat.”

Meesseman, Hawkins, Cloud, Delle Donne, and Toliver all spoke in the short—just 13 minutes—first episode. Notably, Cloud was wearing a sweatshirt that said “2-8-24,” presumably honoring the late Gigi and Kobe Bryant. (Consider this a substitute for the “game day drip” that we’re missing this season!)

At the end of the episode, Eric Thibault turned the tables by posing a question to fans in the comments: what was your favorite moment of the Mystics’ 2019 season? Some pointed to the semifinal series against Las Vegas, which involved some smack talk with Las Vegas center Liz Cambage, or to Cloud guaranteeing a win in the decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. But the most memorable response came from a local grandmother, who said, “My granddaughters [sic] face when she realized the Mystics were champions. She has been coming to the games since she was 6 months old.” The girl, now eight years old, attended each of the Mystics’ three home games in the WNBA Finals.

The documentary premiere was the penultimate event in the Mystics’ day-long “virtual home opener.” The day began with messages from Washington mayor Muriel Bowser and others, followed by the release of a fan video, an Instagram Live show starring Cloud, and a Zoom happy hour for season ticket-holders with Mike Thibault. After the documentary, the Mystics re-aired various playoff games, with commentary from players and coaches, on Monumental Sports Network.

Four more episodes of “Run It Back” will air at 12pm ET on May 18-21 on Monumental Sports Network. The website notes that, due to WNBA broadcast rules, the episodes will initially be restricted to viewers within a 75-mile radius of DC. However, the entire documentary will be available for all to watch on May 22 at 7pm.

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