By any measure, the Washington Mystics have had a season for the ages. They won 26 games, the most in franchise history, and won eight of those by 25 points — the most in WNBA history. Star forward Elena Delle Donne became the first WNBA player to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent on free throws. (If you think that’s not a big deal, only eight NBA players, including Larry Bird and Stephen Curry, have hit the 50/40/90 mark.)
This year was the culmination of a rebuilding process: After missing the playoffs in 2016, the Mystics traded for Delle Donne, a former league MVP, who led the team to the WNBA semifinals in 2017 and the WNBA Finals in 2018, where Washington lost to the Seattle Storm.
Following a double-bye in the opening rounds of the playoffs, the Mystics return to the Entertainment and Sports Arena on Tuesday as the league’s No. 1 seed. They play at home for the first two games of the best-of-five semifinal round, as well as a potential Game 5. If you’re about to jump on the bandwagon — or you just want to watch the most entertaining team in the Washington area right now — here’s what you need to know about going to a game.
Their home arena isn't downtown, but it's easy to get to.
The Entertainment and Sports Arena, which opened last fall, is on the site of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast. Eventually, the campus will include retail, townhouses and apartments, but for now, the roads on the hospital site are lined with dilapidated brick buildings trapped behind chain-link fences.
The upside is that the main entrance is only a five-to-10-minute walk from the Congress Heights Metro station. (A representative from Events DC, the parent company of Entertainment and Sports Arena, told me I would have gotten to the arena faster if I’d cut through the Blue parking lot from the station’s north exit instead of following Alabama Avenue to Oak Street. Duly noted.)
There’s also plenty of parking, and free “Soul of the City” shuttles offer rides from the Red and Green parking lots. For those coming by ride-hailing apps, there are designated pickup and drop-off areas, though employees in the parking lot weren’t always sure where customers should wait.
It's cozy, and it's loud.
In 2018, the team averaged more than 6,100 fans per game at Capital One Arena. At the new arena, a sellout crowd is just 4,200. But whatever the new space lacks in capacity, it makes up for in atmosphere. Seats feel like they’re on top of the court, even in the upper tier.
The crowd can get loud, and not just when guard Natasha Cloud throws up her arms toward the fans after a hard foul. Everyone remains standing until the Mystics get their first bucket, celebratory cries of “WHOOSH!” come from the stands after Delle Donne sinks another free throw, and there’s dancing when DJs spin hip-hop and go-go tracks during breaks in the play.
At times, things may calm down enough to hear the gray-haired ladies a few rows away haranguing the refs, but decibel levels shoot right back up when the Mystics drive toward the basket, or the Mystics Mayhem spirit squad comes out for a dance routine or to shoot T-shirts into the stands.
One of the reason Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and others tout the revitalization of St. Elizabeths is that Ward 8 lacks sit-down dining options. Near the Entertainment and Sports Arena, choices include an IHOP, which is about a half-mile in the other direction from Congress Heights Metro, and the divey Player’s Lounge.
That’s why Events DC has made having good, local concessions inside the arena a priority. “The emphasis is on Congress Heights,” says Pete Kirschner, the marketing and communications director. “Not just Southeast, not just Ward 8.” To that end, they’ve worked with companies from the neighborhood to run concession areas.
At MLK Deli, an offshoot of a brick-and-mortar shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, the star is Mr. Luke’s Fried Chicken Sandwich: a breaded chicken breast covered in a sweet mumbo sauce and served on brioche bun with lettuce and tomato. There’s also a crab cake sandwich and the Glizzy Dog, named after D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy. Plum Good offers flavored popcorn, wings and baskets of shrimp and fries with a house marinade. And for dessert, there’s the Orange Cow, home to ice cream and ice-cream sandwiches .
Unfortunately, the drink options were less interesting (and less local). There’s the usual arena-ish choice of domestic ($9) or Stella Artois/Goose Island ($11) cans, or glasses of Woodbridge wine ($9). The cocktails, which were primarily shot-and-a-mixer, fell into “Premium” (Bombay or Bacardi, $12) or “Super Premium” (Hennessy, Avion, $15).
Splurging is optional, but worth it.
While no seat is bad, there are some that are better than others. The most desirable are the nine floor sections, where you might wind up next to a celebrity — Redskins running back Derrius Guice was at last Friday’s game, sitting courtside and wearing an Elena Della Donne-style face mask — and tickets include access to a bar with free hot dogs, nachos and desserts.
The Mystics’ version of club level is “Above the Rim,” a section with bar-style seating — think bar stools at a drink rail facing the court — just above the seating bowl. Beer, wine and soft drinks are included, as well as a buffet with unlimited nachos, popcorn and pretzels. Those tickets were $49 during the regular season, a relative bargain when basic single-game tickets start at $12.
Entertainment and Sports Arena, 1100 Oak St. SE. esaontherise.com. Upcoming home games are Sept. 17 and 19, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.