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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