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DJ Heat, once a Mystics ballgirl, now spins the soundtrack for a playoff run

Nicole Mosley, better known as "DJ Heat," plays music during warmups before Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Nicole Mosley applied for the Washington Mystics’ in-arena DJ job four times over 10 years before she was finally offered the position in 2017. Known as DJ Heat to Mystics fans and local radio listeners, Mosley had a considerably easier time landing a gig with the team during its inaugural season in 1998, when she emailed a member of the front office and asked whether the WNBA expansion franchise could use a ballgirl.

That’s how Mosley, who grew up in Southeast Washington and played sparingly on the basketball team at McKinley Tech High, came to spend the summer she turned 19 handing cups of Gatorade to players during timeouts, folding towels and mopping the MCI Center floor at every Mystics home game. It was slightly more exciting than her other job selling concessions at the Union Station movie theater.

“I always loved sports, and the ’96 Olympic women’s basketball team was a phenomenon,” Mosley, 40, said in a phone interview. “I got to see those players that were on that team. I remember [Mystics guard] Nikki McCray being so cool, and at the end of the season she gave me her practice jersey. I still have a ball signed by the team. Just the opportunity to be around these people, I think we were all a little star-struck. One of the other ballgirls was a huge Sheryl Swoopes fan. She had a Swoopes T-shirt under her Mystics T-shirt when [Swoopes’s Houston Comets played in D.C.].”

The Mystics, who defeated the Connecticut Sun, 95-86, in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday, went 3-27 in their first season but drew a league-best 15,000 fans per home game. Mosley remembers the energetic crowds more than the losses. During her freshman year at Morgan State, she spent a lot of her free time in the computer lab updating the Mystics fan site she created on Tripod. Eventually, her sports fandom took a back seat to her budding music career.

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Mosley, who started DJing when she was 13, interned with Big Tigger at WPGC-FM while in college, an opportunity that led to a full-time job at the station. Mosley first applied for the Mystics’ DJ position in 2008, but the team instead hired one of her WPGC colleagues, DJ Jealousy, who now works as the in-arena DJ for Georgetown and Capital City Go-Go games. She applied again in 2014 and 2015 but didn’t receive a response either time.

“Looking back, I probably wasn’t as prepared as I am now,” Mosley said. “I’ve been trying to get this gig for a while, but it seemed like everyone wanted this for me before I knew I wanted it.”

In 2017, longtime Wizards host Trey Rainey encouraged Mosley to apply for the Mystics’ position again. She was reluctant but did anyway and got the job after a competitive audition in which applicants were challenged to play songs for various in-game scenarios.

“To me, I felt like it was a full-circle moment,” said Mosley, who also works as a DJ at Baltimore’s 92Q-FM. “That season was their 20th anniversary season, and I was a ballgirl for their first season. That’s crazy.’ ”

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During Mosley’s first season as the Mystics’ DJ, a leak in the roof at Capital One Arena delayed the start of the second half of a game against the Indiana Fever. Mosley kept fans and players entertained during the 45-minute delay by leading an impromptu dance-off. The video went viral, even appearing on “SportsCenter."

On Mystics game days, Mosley begins playing music from a table at center court during the pregame shoot-around. She plays for another half-hour after the doors to the arena open before relocating to the upper level with her two laptops alongside the rest of the arena’s audio team for the game.

To keep things fresh, Mosley changes her playlist from game to game. Mosley was in a pop mood for Game 1 of the semifinals and sprinkled in Britney Spears and David Guetta. Other nights she’ll lean into throwback hip-hop by playing dance-inducing singles from the likes of Yung Joc or Soulja Boy. “Swag Surfin’ ” by F.L.Y., which has become the team’s unofficial anthem, is a key part of Mosley’s playoff rotation. Late in the regular season, the Mystics’ ballgirls began providing Mosley a list of song requests from players before every game. She’ll make mental notes of music featured in players’ Instagram and Snapchat posts for additional inspiration.

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“The main thing is to get the fans and the team into it,” Mosley said. “That’s always my goal. Anything that has a nice tempo that you can clap along to, the whole arena is clapping along to the beat of the song. You can always win with old-school music. It’s just feel-good things and fun things that make you want to enjoy the night even more.”

The Mystics went 14-3 at home en route to capturing the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs during a record-breaking regular season, their first at Entertainment and Sports Arena in Ward 8. Washington has won all three games it has hosted this postseason. While the team’s new arena has roughly one-fourth the capacity of the building where Mosley served as the team DJ for the previous two years — and worked as a Mystics ballgirl for one summer two decades ago — the energy on game days, she said, is better than ever.

“It’s electric. I’ve never seen a crowd as amped as this year,” Mosley said. “I’ll play music during the game, but sometimes I hear the crowd so into it that I won’t play anything. I’ll let the crowd get into the opposing team’s head or amp up the players. It’s freaking amazing. It’s wonderful.”

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