In the 23-year existence of the WNBA, the Washington Mystics had never won a championship.
That changed Thursday night when they outscored the Connecticut Sun 27-14 in the fourth quarter and won the coveted title, 89-78, in the fifth and deciding game of the WNBA Finals before a sellout and red-clad crowd at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in southeast D.C.
Emma Meesseman, who came off the bench to lead the Mystics with 22 points, received the Most Valuable Player award in the five-game series, averaging 19 points and five rebounds.
Meesseman’s bank shot with just less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter put Washington up 82-74 to seal the deal.
When the soft-spoken Meesseman was asked on the court about being the missing piece from last year’s unsuccessful title run, she simply said, “I don’t know. All I know is now, I’m a champion.”
At the postgame press conference, Natasha Cloud revealed league MVP Elena Delle Donne played with three herniated discs.
“The medical staff is going to kill you,” Delle Donne joked, adding that she was able to lay it on the line because she knew could recuperate in the offseason.
“We have a great medical staff. They’ve been giving me treatment every day,” she said. “I felt pretty decent today. I also knew it was the last game, so I can rest now.”
Washington used the “Run it Back” motto, basically an old-school term used on the blacktop basketball courts to play when a team loses.
Another word the team constantly used during the season: “fun.”
Cloud, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Ariel Atkins danced on the floor in celebration as rap music blasted through the arena speakers.
The smell of a champagne-soaked locker room accentuated the team letting loose to win the city’s second major sports title in as many years, following the Washington Capitals’ championship in 2018.
In addition, the Washington Nationals advanced Wednesday to the National League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.
All the Mystics players said winning the franchise’s first championship is special, but for Tianna Hawkins, it was a bit more personal as a native Washingtonian.
“D.C. needed a championship,” she said. “The Caps won it. We had to bring one. It was the first time in franchise history. We plan to bring more.”
Kristi Toliver, the only player on Mystics to have previously won a WNBA title, said Thursday marked a special moment.
“We made history tonight and that just takes it to a whole other level,” she said while sporting red goggles. “I’ll never forget my first, but the relationship I have with these guys. I love them. These guys are my family.”
A more somber atmosphere permeated the other locker room as the Sun, which was also chasing the franchise’s first championship, lamented the missed opportunity.
Connecticut center Jonquel Jones led all scorers with 25 points, while teammate Alyssa Thomas finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Sun head coach Curt Miller said his team will also carry a similar experience the Mystics felt after they lost in last year’s championship game.
“They were not considered megastars. Well, that locker room is filled with a bunch of megastars,” Miller said. “They proved that and everyone is going to know who they are for the rest of their careers.”
Back in the District, the Mystics plan to hold a community rally from 2-4 p.m. Friday at the Entertainment and Sports Arena to celebrate the championship.