WASHINGTON -- It's been two years and some change since Emma Meesseman has played a competitive basketball game in the Mystics home confines of the Entertainment and Sports Arena. In fact, until Team Belgium took the court Feb. 10 for FIBA World Cup Qualifying contests, her last visit to the Southeast D.C. venue was when she walked off the court a champion in 2019.
That's 854 days in-between games at ESA and two seasons. One season she even played for Washington, but all games were played in Bradenton, Fla.
For Meesseman, her return was a long time coming.
"It's been great. I've been looking forward to it since I've been knowing that we were coming," Meesseman said during the qualification tournament. "And for me, it's extra special that I can share this with my teammates. We have some young kids now, like for the first time and I think it's really great that they get to see where I lived, where I played, what we achieved here and I hope it can inspire them a little bit.
"Or not, it's their choice. But I think that's nice because Belgium Cats was always like something 'Oh, I have to leave the Mystics' and vice versa, but now it kind of came together a little bit."
Aside from her Finals MVP award while coming off the bench, much of Meesseman's tenure in Washington will be remembered for her international commitments with Team Belgium. For years, Belgium was often an afterthought on the international stage. But after a bronze finish in the 2017 EuroCup, there was a new sense of assurance for the team. Meeseman being the center of the focus, their approach changed to make a push.
In total, Meesseman missed the entirety of the 2018 and 2021 WNBA seasons, with several games missed in-between as well.
All the missed time - and a coronavirus-affected bubble season in 2020 - accounted for her seeing the team's championship banner for the first time with this visit.
"I was just happy. I got chills a little bit," Meesseman said when she saw the banner. "And I think my teammates can confirm it was just a big smile."
For 2022, Meesseman won't be returning to the Mystics. This time it's because she reportedly signed with the Chicago Sky, not for playing with Team Belgium.
That didn't stop D.C. fans from showing out their support for a player who helped bring the franchise's lone title home. It wasn't just Belgium and Team USA fans in attendance during their qualifier. Meesseman's Mystics' fans were there too.
"It's always nice to see that support," Meesseman said. "I didn't expect it to be for a team that I was not paying with, a different jersey, but it's nice. It's really nice to see those people, like even I feel like it's been a couple of years since we played here but to see that they still support you and they're still in my heart too, so (it's on) both sides."
Meesseman will get the full return treatment a second time when the Sky come to D.C. on May 22 in a Commissioner's Cup contest.