Monday, August 20, 2012

All-Time Team 

The BCs were looking forward to yesterday’s Mystics game against the visiting Chicago Sky, because, at half-time, the Mystics would be honoring the five players who’d been voted by fans onto Washington’s “All-Time Team” -- Nikki McCray, Murriel Page, Chamique Holdsclaw, Vicky Bullett, and Crystal Langhorne. For Founding Fans like us, that’s a stellar group, all deserving of this honor for what they have meant, or, in Lang’s case, still mean, to the fans and the franchise. Indeed, in casting our on-line ballots, the BCs voted (early and often) for each of those five players. Quite frankly, though, we wish the “All-Time Team” had been a little bit larger, as Alana Beard surely should have been on it. We voted for AB on many of our ballots, and also wrote in another of our favorites, Helen Luz. (Mostly because we were hoping for the chance to yell “Luuuuuuzzz!” one last time.) Unfortunately, though, the team was limited to five.

Except for Lang, no one on the All-Time Team has played for the Mystics since the end of the 2005 season, Murriel’s last summer in Washington. That’s a long time ago, and for us, it meant that the celebration of the All-Time Team was primarily about remembering and honoring the Mystics’ past (which was fine with us). Mique, Nikki, Murriel, and Vicky bring a smile to our faces. There was so much excitement and fun – as well as plenty of disappointment and heartache – in those early years. But with time, we mostly remember the good, and especially those unforgettable seasons when Fred was dancin' in a Phone Booth packed with screaming fans. (Instead of dancing all alone like he did yesterday.)

A couple of particular memories of the early days stand out, of course. The Mystics’ very first home game on June 19, 1998 against the then-Utah Starzz, when Nikki McCray and Murriel Page and their teammates notched the new franchise’s first win ever – in a completely sold out arena. The Phone Booth was packed – and rockin’ – right up to the last rows of the 400 Level!  To this day, the BCs believe that the absolute astonishment of playing in front of that crowd was the difference-maker in the Mystics' winning that game. The Starzz were simply unprepared for what they saw in the stands that day in 1998. Twenty-thousand-plus cheering, screaming, excited fans. Goose bumps.

And then, of course, there was August 17, 2002, when Mique, Murriel and Vicky helped lead the team to the Eastern Conference finals (the only time the Mystics have ever advanced that far) with a thrilling road win over the Sting. We doubt that any of the hundreds of Mystics fans who made the trip to Charlotte for that game will ever forget what it was like to experience that victory in person.

The All-Time Team brings back other fond memories as well. We remember the excitement when the WNBA announced in early 1998 that former ABL star Nikki McCray had been assigned to the brand new Washington franchise. We remember when Murriel Page was the first college player drafted by the team that spring (third overall). We remember when the Mystics used their number one overall pick in the 1999 draft to select Chamique Holdslclaw. And we remember when Vicky Bullett, in the twilight of her outstanding career, was acquired by trade in 2000 from the Charlotte Sting. Those were the days – what a cliché, but still true.

And so, to celebrate and honor those memories and four of the remarkable women who helped create them, we dug out our original blue Mystics T-shirts yesterday and made our way to the Phone Booth.

Unfortunately, before the ceremony, we had to endure a lackluster first half of basketball during which neither team managed to score 30 points. But finally, half-time arrived, the lights dimmed, and the ceremony began.

What transpired then was unexpectedly anti-climactic. Here it was, the Mystics' 15th Anniversary celebration, and not a not a word was spoken. No celebratory remarks from anyone associated with the team, and no opportunity to hear from any of the five honorees. Odd.

Sheila Johnson walked out first to mid court, unsmiling. She was greeted with a smattering of polite applause (and a few audible boos). But mostly, there was an odd and eerie silence --- wasn’t this supposed to be a celebration? Then each member of the All-Time Team walked out -- to loud cheers – and received flowers from Sheila and a large picture of herself in action. When all five had been so honored, they waved to the crowd, and then walked off. That was it. Definitely odd, and a little disappointing.

After the ceremony, at least the current Mystics managed to send the honorees home with a win. Unfortunately, in the second half, the honorees (and the fans) were treated to another less than stellar 20 minutes of basketball, which saw both teams struggle to reach 62 points at the end of regulation. It almost seemed that neither the Mystics nor the Sky really wanted to win this game. But the Mystics (who had blown a 9-point fourth quarter lead) finally managed to pull out the win in the extra period, 75-71, improving their record to 5-16. It was a win. But hardly memorable.

Our memories of yesterday will be of Nikki, Murriel, Chamique, Vicky, and Lang. Five very special Mystics. This was their day. And that’s what we’ll remember.

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases