Mystics Save Their Best For Last

 

By Jasmine Brown

The year is 1998. The Washington Mystics organization is founded and the D.C. area finally has a sister team to the Washington Wizards. Prior to this season, the team would finish last, fail to make the playoffs and lose in many sweeps when they did make the postseason. A dark cloud of 20 years would be casted over the WNBA’s D.C. area organization.

The D.C. sports curse was indeed real. Or was it?

The year is 2017 and in a blockbuster move, Elena Delle Donne would be traded from Chicago to Washington. A few days later, DMV native and Maryland prodigy Kristi Toliver signed with the hometown team. The Mystics looked to be on the right track after these two blockbuster moves, but lost to the eventual champions in the Minnesota Lynx. It was disappointing to lose in a sweep, but little did they know, that loss would set them up for receiving one of the best rookies the very next season.

Texas guard Ariel Atkins was drafted seventh overall in the 2018 draft, but was not even invited. After being drafted, head coach Mike Thibault knew that Atkins would be a special prize for his team. “I didn’t know that she was a surprise to most of the people in the league,” Thibault said. “I think it was just to the outside world. Originally we thought she was going to be invited to the draft.” Trying to build off of a good 2017 year, the Mystics looked to have another successful season, this time without Emma Meesseman. Meesseman decided to sit out for the 2018 season due to her playing overseas. The team knew it would be hard without her, but they just had to take it one game at a time.

The first games of the season was proven a nightmare already. Delle Donne, suffering from Lyme Disease and Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, suffering from kidney stones. Center LaToya Sanders missed the first five games of the season after finding out she had anemia. The season could not have started any better for a team who wanted to get over the hump and go to the WNBA Finals. Everyone came back healthy and looked back on track, but Atkins took a hard fall and suffered a concussion that would derail the Mystics once again. It seemed that this team could not catch one break. The Mystics once again started back on track and were ready to finish their second half of the season on a positive note, but things took a turn once again. The Aces would forfeit their game against the Mystics due to travel woes, making it the first in its history.

After the forfeit, the Mystics would go on to win six games before falling to the soon-to-be Lindsay Whalen-less Lynx to earn the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye. Things were looking up for Washington, but Toliver noticed an alarming text from a white man whom she was sitting next to on the plane after they played Minnesota. The text read, “sitting in between two mystic players, must’ve played minny last night. All black team, of course.” This comes a week after the Mystics faced the Wings on the day of the rally for the anti-black group, the Ku Klux Klan in D.C. Not only did the Mystics face adversity in injury and illness, they face adversity racially as well.

Three days later, the Mystics found themselves facing the team that was in the Finals two years in a row, the Los Angeles Sparks. They blew out the Sparks 96-64 in the second round to face the No. 2 seed in the Atlanta Dream. They won the first game and were close to locking up their first Finals appearance at home. But of course, another “oh man, not again” moment resurfaces. In Game 2, Delle Donne slipped and fell and it looked like her season was practically over. Media, players, and fans anxiously awaited the news of the star player. Phones buzzed as it was announced that Delle Donne suffered a bone bruise. A huge sigh of relief showed that she was still in play, but was ultimately not ready to play in Game 3 in front of their home crowd. The loss was a sudden realization that the Mystics’ Finals could disappear in a blink of an eye without the hometown hero. After a rigorous schedule of nursing her knee back to health, Delle Donne returned for Game 4, scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds. Suddenly, the Mystics were one game away from securing that coveted spot at the finale of the season and for them, a very first.

The Mystics headed to Atlanta, where a raucous Atlanta crowd awaited the chance for their team to make their fourth appearance to the Finals in franchise history. Emotions were high, as there was no tomorrow for either team, and for the Mystics, another year that they would be the only active WNBA team not to make the championship round. That narrative would be no more, as the Mystics prevailed in a situation that the home arena won 4 out of 6 times in Game 5s. The players hugged and celebrated, with guard Natasha Cloud screaming “We’re going to the Finals!” A team picked to finish eighth heading into the regular season, now has a chance to finish first.

The year is 2018, the dark cloud has now been lifted and the Mystics are headed to their first WNBA Finals. During a year full of injury, illness, ailments and racial adverse, the Mystics came out triumphant. They round out the WNBA as the last team to make the Finals, but as a lovely quote goes, the best was certainly saved for last.