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The Big Twenty: The Mystics win the 2019 WNBA championship

The Big Twenty: The Mystics win the 2019 WNBA championship

For the next three weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 18.

Not all championships are equal.

Every title tale has its own unique wrinkle that differentiates their story from those that preceded it and the ones that will eventually follow. 

The Washington Mystics 2019 WNBA Championship had its own nuances that will likely never receive the same attention of the other DC championships.

But let’s make it clear, the Mystics championship was far different than the Capitals' Stanley Cup Championship in 2018 and the Nationals' World Series title that occurred concurrently. 

Unlike the Capitals, the Mystics were not a team that had a decade of success that was yearning to breakthrough. Unlike the Nationals, they were not an underdog, where the team had overcome obstacle after obstacle and break through walls to get to the title.

The Mystics were just good – check that – historically exceptional when they won the franchise’s first championship. They weren’t just a championship team, they shattered records and re-defined how the game is played in the WNBA.

No team could get in their way.

They were led by one of the best basketball players in the world in Elena Delle Donne. Who, despite having to wear a knee brace, a face mask and wrap around her back for three separate injuries, won the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player award en route to her first league title. While doing so, she also finished the year as a member of the elite 50-40-90 club (field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages) that only eight other basketball players, men or women, have accomplished in a single season. 

But the rest of the roster is how they won the championship. Kristi Toliver brought the championship pedigree, Natasha Cloud brought the swag, Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers brought the youthful energy.

Emma Meesseman, the original Mystic of the entire group (and arguably the second-best player on the team), came off the bench.

Their coach Mike Thibault was one of the most accomplished in WNBA history.

What they accomplished a year removed from falling short in the WNBA Finals was staggering. ‘Run it Back’ was their motto, but it was a stampede on their path to glory. 

Here’s just a sample of their record-breaking year:

  1. 13 victories by 20 points or more (WNBA record)
  2. Eight victories by 25 points or more (WNBA record)
  3. Beat the Connecticut Sun by 43 points (4th largest margin of victory ever)
  4. 316 3-pointers made (WNBA record)
  5. 89.3 points per game (3rd best all-time)
  6. 21.8 assists per game (WNBA record)
  7. Offensive rating of 113.2 (WNBA record)
     

There are more, but the point has been made. There are not enough words to describe how dominant this Mystics team was. 
 

2.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle

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USA TODAY Sports

2.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick Horrow sits down with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle and takes you through the top sports business stories of the past week.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

MLB stands beside USA Softball Women’s National Team as presenting sponsor of “Stand Beside Her” Tour. Chicks (and fellas) who dig the long ball have something else to pay attention to right now besides burgeoning activity in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. USA Softball is proud to announce that Major League Baseball has stepped up to the plate as the presenting sponsor of the “Stand Beside Her” tour. As the presenting sponsor of the “Stand Beside Her” tour, MLB proudly stands alongside members of the 2020 USA Softball Women’s National Team as they embark on a nation-wide tour that will hit over 35 cities as the team prepares for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with training and exhibition contests. Like baseball, softball was almost shuttered by international Olympic governance during the last decade, but global fan and player outcry and renewed investment by the pros in the amateur development of the sports helped solidify the bat swinging sports’ place in the Games. And it looks like they’re here to stay – especially after what should be a very high profile turn this summer in baseball crazy Japan.

 

SINC2020 kicks off this weekend. The 2020 Sports Industry Networking and Career (SINC) Conference will be held February 21-22 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Rick looks forward to leading a session on Saturday, and keynote speakers include Sarah Hirshland, CEO, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; Sport Business Handbook contributor Zach Leonsis, Senior VP Strategic Initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and GM, Monumental Sports Network; Max Siegel, CEO USA Track & Field; and JoAnn Scott, NCAA's Managing Director for Division I Men's Basketball Championships. More than 100 sports business professionals from teams, leagues, agencies, collegiate athletics, sports media, esports, corporate sponsors, and sporting goods manufacturers participate and share trends, best practices, and advice for young professionals and those

 

The Inaugural class at LeBron James' high school will receive free tuition to Kent State. According to CNN, all 193 students, who are currently high school juniors, will have their college tuition covered. The kids attend James' I Promise School located in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. When they were visiting the Kent State campus, they were told of the donation and erupted in cheers while many of their parents, watching from a live feed in a separate room, burst into tears. The included donation from James comprises free tuition for four years as well as one year of a free room and meal plan. If admitted to Kent State, students need to remain in good academic standing, take part in a required number of community service or volunteer hours, and complete a minimum number of credit hours per year in order to remain eligible. James’ legacy has long been cemented on the court – now he’s solidifying his philanthropic efforts and post-basketball identity even before leaving the league.

Denny Hamlin wins another Daytona 500 for Joe Gibbs; Ryan Newman hospitalized

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Denny Hamlin wins another Daytona 500 for Joe Gibbs; Ryan Newman hospitalized

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ryan Newman flipped across the finish line, his Ford planted upside down and on fire, a grim reminder of a sport steeped in danger that has stretched nearly two decades without a fatality.

At the finish line, Denny Hamlin made history with a second straight Daytona 500 victory in an overtime photo finish over Ryan Blaney, a celebration that quickly became muted as drivers awaited an update on Newman's condition.

"I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are," Hamlin said. "But number one, we are praying for Ryan."

Roughly two hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman is in "serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life-threatening."

During the long wait for an update, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express his concern. Trump a day earlier attended the race as the grand marshal, gave the command for drivers to start their engines and made a ceremonial pace lap around Daytona International Speedway before rain washed out the race.

"Praying for Ryan Newman, a great and brave @NASCAR driver! #PrayingForRyan," Trump tweeted. Newman was one of several NASCAR drivers who attended a 2016 rally for Trump in Georgia when he was a presidential candidate.

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, acknowledged the excruciating delay for information on Newman.

"To hear some positive news tonight is a relief," Rushbrook said. "He is so respected for being a great competitor by everyone in the sport."

NASCAR scrapped the traditional victory lane party for Hamlin's third Daytona 500 victory, rocked by Newman's accident 19 years after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was the last driver killed in a NASCAR Cup Series race.

Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney's bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall. His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the driver's side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line in flames (VIDEO - watch with caution).

It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. Medical personnel used solid black barriers to block the view as the 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken to a hospital. The damage to his Mustang was extensive -- it appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved -- and officials would not allow his team near the accident site.

Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman's car as it was flipping.

"Dang I hope Newman is ok," he posted on Twitter. "That is worst case scenerio and I had nowhere to go but (into) smoke."

Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win consecutive Daytona 500's, but his celebration in victory lane was subdued.

Hamlin said he was unaware of Newman's situation when he initially began his celebration. It wasn't until Fox Sports told him it would not interview him on the frontstretch after his burnouts that Hamlin learned the accident was bad.

"It's a weird balance of excitement and happiness for yourself, but someone's health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport," he said. "We are just hoping for the best."

Team owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for the winning team celebration.

"We didn't know until victory lane," Gibbs said. "I know that for a lot of us, participating in sports and being in things where there are some risks, in a way, that's what they get excited about. Racing, we know what can happen, we just dream it doesn't happen. We are all just praying now for the outcome on this."

Runner-up Blaney said the way the final lap shook out, with Newman surging ahead of Hamlin, that Blaney got a push from Hamlin that locked him in behind Newman in a move of brand alliance for Ford.

"We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 ... I was committed to just pushing him to the win and having a Ford win it and got the bumpers hooked up wrong," he said.

Hamlin had eight Ford drivers lined up behind him as the leader on the second overtime shootout without a single fellow Toyota driver in the vicinity to help him. It allowed Newman to get past him for the lead, but the bumping in the pack led to Newman's hard turn into the wall, followed by multiple rolls and a long skid across the finish line.

Hamlin's win last year was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship. Now his third Daytona 500 win puts him alongside six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett -- who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993 -- Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough's four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.

This victory came after just the second rain postponement in 62 years, a visit from Trump, a pair of red flag stoppages and two overtimes. The 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history, and Hamlin's win over Martin Truex Jr. in 2016 was the closest finish in race history.

That margin of victory was 0.01 seconds. The win in "The Great American Race" is the third for Toyota, all won by Hamlin. Gibbs has four Daytona 500 victories as an owner.

"I just feel like I'm a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time," Hamlin said. "It doesn't always work. We've defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far they've been good for me."

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