Mystics

5 takeaways from the Mystics documentary - Run it Back: Journey to a Championship

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5 takeaways from the Mystics documentary - Run it Back: Journey to a Championship

There are several steps necessary for a franchise or organization to take to win a league title. The Washington Mystics were no different when they 'Ran it Back' to their first WNBA Championship in 2019. 

Many of those steps and priceless memories were documented in the Mystics' documentary Run it Back: Journey to a Championship. A name that rings home with Washington's 2019 team slogan when they took a 2018 WNBA Finals loss and used their momentum to win it all in 2019. 

The documentary was released by Monumental Sports and Entertainment with exclusive interviews and never-before-seen footage of key moments in the franchise's history. It's an ideal way to encapsulate all the storylines surrounding the 2019 season and highlight decisions made years prior that led to the team winning their first championship.

Moments include inside the board room during head coach Mike Thibault's first draft in Washington to inside the locker room once the team popped the champagne. 

Run it Back: Journey to a Championship can be watched in its entirety on Monumental Sports Network's Facebook Page

1. Mike Thibault's first draft in Washington got the ball rolling

While at the time it may have not been significant, Thibault's first draft as head coach of the Mystics got him one of the biggest pieces of the 2019 championship team.

With their second-round pick, Mystics found a 19-year-old Belgian - Emma Meesseman. A move that in the documentary you could feel took some convincing from Thibault to the others in the room. Nevertheless, Thibault was committed to Meesseman and making her work in Washington. 

“If we draft this kid, despite whatever else, we’re going to keep her as our eleventh player," Thibault said on draft night. "She’s your fifth post,” he directed at his coaching staff. 

For their third pick during the draft that is very high praise for a new coach. In a way, he also took a risk by making a statement that bold.

Already it is a tall task for any draft pick to make a WNBA roster. A spot is typically reserved for first-rounders, but difficult for those deeper in the draft. Despite that, Thibault was there on draft night, without even seeing her at a team's practice, promising the staff that she gets a spot.

In 2013, the Mystics were thought of the odd team out with the 'Big Three' of that year's class being Brittany Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins. Washington selected fourth and went with Tayler Hill. Now that it's all wrapped up, the Mystics definitely got at least the fourth-best player in the draft.

“We knew about Emma because she had already won some awards when she was 16 as the best young player in Europe. We just felt this was a player worth taking a chance because if she is what we think she might be, we’ll have a gem,” Thibault said in reflection.

2. Meesseman was intimidated by the WNBA

Meesseman admitted that she was hesitant to make the trek to the United States. In her eyes, the WNBA was not in the cards and didn't even know she was drafted until she woke up the next morning and read some text messages. 

Her idea of Washington was Washington state, not the capital on the East Coast. 

When she found out she was drafted, Meesseman was only 19-years-old. Most draft picks are typically 21 or 22 after completing four years of college. Going and competing at that level was intimidating. 

“The scariest part for me was that, you always hear it’s the best competition in the world and the players are so strong, so athletic, so physical and that was much pretty much everything I was not,” Meesseman

What eventually convinced her was Thibault and how she could tell he had confidence in her. 

"I just heard (Thibault's) voice and I was sure he was going to take care of me."

3. The championship-intensity Delle Donne and Toliver brought to DC

Associate head coach Eric Thibault said that ownership gave them the freedom to build the team they wanted to build early on. Then they were presented the opportunity to get Delle Donne.

Things obviously drastically changed for Washington when they orchestrated the trade for EDD. Washington brought the former MVP to their team and Kristi Toliver who had recent championship experience. 

“I came to DC to stretch myself," Toliver noted in the documentary. "I wanted to see where I could grow as a leader, how I can grow as an individual player.”

Toliver's leadership was instrumental to a young team with little to no playoff, let alone championship experience.

Meesseman said that her and Delle Donne brought the championship mentality to D.C.

"Elena Delle Donne together with Kristi Toliver changed how we acted because they have been in the Finals," Meesseman said. "They kind of passed that on to us."

4. EDD breaking her nose, created a new beast

One of the biggest speed bumps throughout the Mystics' championship season was the injuries to Delle Donne. The first was when she suffered a nasal fracture early in the year. 

Once she was able to return from the injury - donning her face mask - there was a new level of confidence noted by her coach and teammates.

"When she came back, it was almost like she had an extra layer of toughness added to her that she basically said 'I can get through anything,'" Thibault said.

"Getting her nose broken and putting a mask on and playing through it, she's like a superhero," Natasha Cloud said.  “Elena just became a different beast.”

Her season was the best of her career in nearly every statistical category. Delle Donne was named the MVP for a second time and joined the exclusive 50-40-90 club. A trophy at the end just was a perfect way to wrap her season. 

“We’re going to beg Elena to keep the mask on for the rest of her career, probably,” Thibault added.

5. Game 3 loss to Aces was their wakeup call

Dominating as the Mystics did in 2019 could lead to some complacency among a team that at times blew teams out by 20, 30 or more points on a regular basis. 

There was no complacency after Washington's Game 3 loss in the Semifinals to the Las Vegas Aces. A loss that came with several headlines surrounding the matchup.   

Liz Cambage's comments toward LaToya Sanders surely lighted a fire to the Mystics. But Delle Donne notes that it was more than her comments that got the Mystics' attention. The Aces dominated Game 3 of that series.

“I think that Game 3 of getting blown out was definitely a bit of wake up call, but we didn’t freak out and that’s why our team was so great,” Delle Donne said.

Instead, the team got angry, as many know, and sealed the series in the next game. None were more public in their angst toward Cambage than Cloud. 

“I felt like somebody attacked my family member and when you attack my family member, I’m going to attack you," Cloud said. “I can make myself look like an ass but I can also get you hype in the process.”

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Natasha Cloud shares her harrowing experience after getting pulled over by police

Natasha Cloud shares her harrowing experience after getting pulled over by police

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the first part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America this week. Natasha Cloud, Mike Locksley, and Ian Mahinmi joined Chis Miller for the first of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud is one of the many faces of the Black Lives Matter movement within Washington D.C. sports.

She's vocal on issues more than just race relations and police brutality. She is constantly out in the D.C. community, fighting for reform. She's so passionate about her cause, Cloud is opting-out of the 2020 season to continue the momentum gained in the BLM movement over the past month.
 
And just like several other Black Americans, she has her own harrowing story of how she had to deescalate a simple traffic stop with the police merely a block from her home. 

"I've been pulled over in D.C. before," Cloud said during NBC Sports Washington's recent Race in America roundtable. "It happened right before this last season. A white man, a white cop, approached me at 1:30 a.m. in the morning, coming home from shooting at Entertainment and Sports Arena. ... I'm by myself, in my car, driving home to my apartment and he approaches my car with his hand over his gun. The latch was already undone and I hadn't been doing anything but driving myself home from shooting. Because I'm in a nice car, because my side windows are tinted, he approached me aggressively and in the wrong manner. The ticket I got was a window tint, but that window tint could have been my life if I hadn't deescalated the issue."

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH THE FULL ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION HERE

To ensure that she was able to get out of the situation safely, Cloud believed she was the one that had to remove the tension.

The officer kept looking in the back windows to see what was in the back seat. Cloud told the officer everything she was doing. When she was reaching to roll down the windows for him, even after he asked her to do so, she asked for permission.
 
Cloud said she asked twice if she could reach for her license and registration. Both times she told the police officer where exactly it was and where she was reaching.

"For me, I've always been taught, even though I grew up in an all-white family, my mom has made sure to tell me to put my hands at ten and two. Put your hands where you can see them. You say yes sir, you say no ma'am, be respectful," Cloud said.
 
But when the traffic stop was over, Cloud's work was not done. She made sure that she went to court, knowing that her window tints were too dark, but also to say her side of the story. Cloud felt the cop needed to be held accountable for how he approached the situation.
 
"I was lucky to have a minority judge, who also happened to be female and she ripped him a new [expletive] when I was in that courtroom."

RELATED: WHY CLOUD IS FOREGOING THE 2020 WNBA SEASON

This is part of the societal change that Cloud is continuously advocating. Police should not feel the need to further amplify a nonviolent situation and they should also be held accountable when they make a bad decision.
 
"We understand that not every cop is a bad cop," Cloud said. "There is a lot of good cops out there as well and there is more good cops than there is bad cops. But not every black person is a thug or a criminal and so you can't approach every black person as a threat. And I feel that is the No. 1 issue with [Black people's] interaction with police is that we're immediately seen as a threat. That [Black individuals are] immediately in defense mode because of the color of our skin. And that immediately escalates the situation even though it doesn't need to be escalated."

To watch the full roundtable discussion, featuring Natasha Cloud, Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley and Washington Wizards star Ian Mahinmi, click here.

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Converse will pay Natasha Cloud her forfeited WNBA salary by opting-out of 2020 season

Converse will pay Natasha Cloud her forfeited WNBA salary by opting-out of 2020 season

By sitting out the 2020 WNBA season to focus on fighting for social reform, Natasha Cloud has forfeited her salary for the season.

Her new shoe sponsor, Converse, will cover those lost wages and pay the Washington Mystics star the entirety of her forfeited 2020 salary, Converse told NBC Sports Washington. 

"Converse is so amazing. I knew immediately when I signed with them that this was a family atmosphere and that they cared about me. Not only what I do on the court, but I who I am off the court" Cloud told ABC News. "I wasn't expecting it, I knew the financial burden that I was taking on. My Converse family understands this is bigger than basketball and they want to support me in any facet and they wanted to make sure that me and family are okay during this time. It's huge."

Cloud announced her intent to opt-out of the newly constructed 2020 WNBA season last week. While the WNBA is allowing its players to not play this year without penalty, Cloud does not fall into a group that can still receive pay. Only players with medical conditions that make them more 'at-risk' to severe complications of the coronavirus can still be paid. 

RELATED: CLOUD'S OPT-OUT SHOULD NOT BE A SURPRISE

Converse released the following statement to pay Cloud's salary.

Converse has immense respect for Natasha Cloud’s decision to forgo the WNBA season. These systemic racial justice issues are bigger than basketball. To be able to put her career and passion on hold in order to devote her energy, voice and platform to change demonstrates her integrity and strength. We are proud to have her on the Converse team, are humbled to match her forfeited players salary and look forward to working together with Natasha on these issues as well as supporting her vision in this space. 

Cloud's contract for the 2020 season is worth $117,000, according to Spotrac. Converse is offering to pay a majority of that, as the WNBA sent out some checks at the start of the league year.

“There are a lot of factors that led to this decision (to opt-out), but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete," Cloud said in a statement. "I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

In early June, Cloud became the first WNBA player to sign with Converse. Not only did the company sign Cloud for her play on the court - a 2019 WNBA Champion and the Mystics' all-time leader in assists - but for not being afraid to take a stance and inspire change. 

Cloud originally postponed the announcement due to the death of George Floyd. She was a huge leader in organizing D.C.'s Juneteenth march and has continued to stay in the local conversation about race.

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