The Washington Post

The Mystics won it all and exhaled. Up next: Two years of pain.

- CANDACE BUCKNER

On Oct. 11, 2019, the Washington Mystics woke up as champions. Maybe a little hung over and certainly a bit exhausted after going the full five games in the WNBA Finals, but they started the day as the new champs of the league and had visions of the city’s next parade — and possibly more banners hanging from the rafters at Entertainm­ent and Sports Arena.

It has been almost two years. So much has happened that Coach Mike Thibault chuckles when he’s asked about that day.

“I clearly remember,” Thibault said in a recent interview. “It was our one day of celebratio­n.”

In the fall of 2019, there was no forecast of a pandemic. The words “novel” and “coronaviru­s” were familiar to epidemiolo­gists but foreign to the rest of us. No one knew then, as nearly half of the Mystics’ roster prepared to board transatlan­tic flights to continue their playing careers, that the world was about to change. Covid-19 would affect all aspects of life, including sports. And few franchises have felt that string as acutely as this one.

“The pandemic started it, but I’ve experience­d nothing like this in 50-plus years of coaching,” Thibault said, reflecting on the past two seasons. “This has been the hardest season I’ve ever had.”

The spread of the virus shattered the Mystics’ coronation. Given the unique nature of the WNBA, in which many players must immediatel­y go overseas after the season ends to increase their income, the team postponed its parade until the spring of 2020. That parade, however, never happened. Before the start of the 2020 season, players and coaches gathered at team owner Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg for a ring ceremony. Everyone was socially distanced and wore masks. It was a nice substitute but not the same as having a party rolling down the streets of the District.

Then the coronaviru­s directly affected the franchise’s steps toward what was supposed to be a bright future and a wide-open window for winning more championsh­ips. The WNBA played its 2020 season inside a bubble in Bradenton, Fla. Instead of preparing to repeat, Washington looked nothing like the championsh­ip team it had been months before.

Tina Charles, the 2012 league MVP and the Mystics’ big acquisitio­n that offseason, opted out of the season because she has asthma. Natasha Cloud sat out to focus on raising awareness for

Mystics at Liberty Friday, 7 p.m., Twitter

 ?? SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Natasha Cloud and her Mystics teammates made history in 2019 with their first WNBA title, but the past two years have been rough.
SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Natasha Cloud and her Mystics teammates made history in 2019 with their first WNBA title, but the past two years have been rough.

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