And, like any other championship team, it was that delicious combination of coaching, chemistry and insane work ethic that gave them the crackling electricity you can feel from a team that’s winning and winning.
Here’s what their championship basketball win story should not be about:
We shouldn’t have to talk about the long-awaited arena they finally got after decades of sharing the downtown stage with the NBA Wizards or vagabonding around in college gyms.
We shouldn’t be smirking just a little when we mention that this arena stands on the grounds of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital, once the nation’s largest psychiatric facility and in the city’s most impoverished, underemployed, violent and neglected ward.
We shouldn’t be congratulating them for their genuine bonding with their Ward 8 neighborhood and fan base, for being on the bow-wave of a new age of investment and development in the part of the city that usually doesn’t get this kind of attention. We won’t dare call it maternal.
And do we need to remind D.C. that the Mystics are part of the narrative that makes the city a sports town? To stop pining away for the football team and the baseball boys?
And maybe we shouldn’t have to use this as a time to mention the consistent and staggering pay gap in women’s professional sports.
Mystics star and league MVP Elena Delle Donne spoke out last year about the pay disparities, when she was making $107,000 and was tired of the trope that women’s sports can’t hold fans.
She began speaking out “because I want it to be better for the next generation coming through,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ben Pope. “Knowing how hard we all work and how talented we all are, and just not getting the props and the pay that we deserve.”
And no, it’s not only about ticket sales. It’s about the value the league places on these players. NBA players get 50 percent of league revenue, while the WNBA players get just 20 percent, according to Forbes.
Do we also have to use a championship win to extol the players’ bravery and their honest, social activism? The out-and-proud, same-sex marriage of Delle Donne. The Athletes + Activism events that explore social justice issues. The special section for victims of gun violence and the backpacks for neighborhood children organized by point guard Natasha Cloud.
And just because they’re female, do we have to linger on the raw pioneer-woman persistence and pain they muscle through? The back problems that sidelined Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins just days ago seemed like a memory as they dominated the court Thursday night. How is it possible that the towering Goddess statue come to life, Delle Donne, struggles with chronic Lyme disease?
There are female champions every year in the WNBA, so do we still have to dwell on the importance of seeing a woman hoisting a trophy above her head in a flurry of confetti as a common sight? Do those girls really need to see one to be one, or is it just okay that men are the usual default in that victory montage?
Should we be indignant that the Mystics’ city celebration is an afternoon rally at their Wed 8 arena, rather than the citywide, Viking victory parade the Caps got? Should we be extra upset that the quickie rally is all they could do because most of the national champions have to rush off for their second jobs in other leagues?
When women win the same way men win, we tend to give it all a greater mission, to make it a movement and a moment, to put it all in some greater, historical context.
Can’t they just be the best ballers that day?
Yes and no.
The fact is, these women aren’t making the NBA minimum of over $800,000 a year; they can’t really take the summer off; and their games aren’t broadcast during prime time. Heck, their historic win wasn’t even on the top of The Washington Post’s home page the morning after. Their win is still different. Their hills remain steeper. Their barricades are still higher.
True equality will happen when their win is just a win.
But for now, the women of the Washington Mystics will have to be celebrated for being social justice warriors, neighborhood advocates and brave individualists who also happen to the best damn ballers in the country.
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