Soon, though, the championship buzz will wear off and Hines-Allen and several Mystics teammates will have to sober up and march forward to new jobs.
It’s the nature of the WNBA. Unlike other sports in which winning the final game of the year means getting to party all offseason (see: the 2018 Washington Capitals), many professional women’s basketball players juggle year-round work. According to the team, seven Mystics players have upcoming commitments to play for international teams.
“At least half of them,” Mystics General-Manager Coach Mike Thibault said of his roster. “Some will be leaving in the next couple days.”
That’s why their victory rally was held Friday at Entertainment and Sports Arena, just hours after the clinching Game 5 victory, and why a parade will have to wait till spring. "Today is an exciting and historic day for the Mystics family, and we wanted to celebrate as a team with our fans prior to everyone heading in different directions for the offseason,” Thibault said in a statement.
Hines-Allen had barely removed her Oakley ski goggles, worn to protect vulnerable retinas from the spritz of Italian wine, before thinking about her next gig.
“I’m going to South Korea,” she responded when asked about the near future. “They couldn’t talk to me until the season officially ended, so I’ll probably be getting a text soon. But hopefully I have some time, like two weeks, before I have to go over there."
Other Mystics will scatter elsewhere across the globe. Finals MVP Emma Meesseman will soon hop a transatlantic flight to Russia. Guard Natasha Cloud and forward Aerial Powers are heading to China. Guard Ariel Atkins goes to Australia, rookie guard Kim Mestdagh to France and guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to Hungary.
Last fall while she was in Russia, Hines-Allen couldn’t stop thinking about the way the 2018 WNBA season had ended. The Mystics were swept in three games, and that sour feeling stayed with players who longed to return and, as their 2019 motto suggested, run it back.
“When you’re overseas, it’s like you want to get back to the States,” Hines-Allen said. “And I mean this is what we play for, to win a WNBA championship. First you dream about playing in the WNBA, and next it’s actually winning a championship. And winning in my second year, it’s amazing.”
Even Thibault has a busy offseason lined up but with stateside travel.
This month, he will welcome a daughter-in-law to the family when Eric, his son and assistant coach, gets married. The coach also plans to do some television work with ESPN, as well as catch a few University of Minnesota games — daughter Carly is an assistant for the women’s team — and travel to University of Wisconsin River Falls to watch his son-in-law, Blake DuDonis, coach the Division III school’s women. Throw in Mystics offseason duties such as scouting for the next draft pick, and Thibault’s schedule will remain busy.
Still, for his players who have to immerse themselves in a new team and a new culture soon, Thibault believes there are worse things than playing the sport you love all year long.
“It’s hard when you play year-round to make a living, but what I always tell people in this game: It beats working, and it beats not working,” Thibault said. “There are a lot of people who go to regular jobs every day, and they work year-round no matter what. A lot of our players work year-round, but they’re playing a kids’ game, and they’re getting paid for it, and they get to do something they get joy in every day. They’re not sitting behind a desk. So even though there’s hardships, it beats the real world sometimes.”
Several other Mystics will put away their red jerseys but remain close to D.C. Veteran guard Kristi Toliver will resume her role as a player development coach for the Washington Wizards, and she will take on more responsibilities in her second season. Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said Toliver will be in charge of scouting multiple opponents and presenting reports to the team, a common role for assistant coaches.
“Kristi is going to plug in a lot of spots,” Sheppard said during the WNBA Finals. “Whenever. We’ll take her when she’s got a ring.”
Elena Delle Donne, too, will not travel far away. Since she arrived in Washington via a trade in February 2017, Delle Donne has not played overseas, choosing instead to remain near family and prepare her mind and body for the next WNBA season. She also has acted as a basketball ambassador for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, showing up at Wizards games.
But for several Mystics, enjoying their well-earned championship while still in Washington will last for only so long. The buckets of prosecco will empty, and the party will soon end. It’ll be time to return to work.
“We’re going to remember this season because we were around such incredible people and we absolutely adore being together,” Delle Donne said. “So I’m kind of sad, like the season is about to be over. I’m going to miss everybody. But my goodness, we sure ended this on a high note.”