Washington Mystics show off championship rings

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON – As the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) anticipates a late-July return to action, the defending champion Washington Mystics came together on Sunday to honor their historic 2019 season. 

After an eight-month hiatus from basketball, the Mystics received their rings at the private ceremony at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia.

“Our season was historic, extending beyond the records they broke along their journey,” said Mystics managing partner Sheila C. Johnson. “This ring represents the leadership of Coach Mike Thibault, the resilience of our team – who kept their promise to #RunItBack, on the court, and in our community – and a season that Mystics fans will always cherish.”

The rings, which were crafted by Jostens, consist of 120 diamonds, 35 rubies and 23 sapphires in 10-karat white gold. The Mystics DC logo and the WNBA Championship trophy sit on top with a half dozen custom-cut sapphires and six custom-cut rubies to represent the 12-player roster and a single round sapphire to symbolize head coach, Mike Thibault. 

The left side features the players’ last names and jersey number, while the right side spells out “RUN IT BACK” and the team’s 26-8 record from the 2019 season. The interior of the ring includes playoff scores and logos of opponents.

Staying unique to the nation’s capital, the ring also features District landmarks such as the Washington Monument, Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as symbols to represent the team’s home location in Ward 8.

“You’d think it would be loud, but we were all kind of quiet because we were all just taking in the moment and just studying the rings,” said Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne. “They’re absolutely beautiful.”

Choosing to receive the rings at a private event, the Mystics are not the only DMV team celebrating a championship season. The Washington Nationals, who initially planned on a virtual ring ceremony in May, instead chose to postpone the event for a later, more physical reunion. 

In the Mystics case, collectibles are available for purchase on the Josten website with prices ranging from $29 for a Championship Key Ring to nearly $9,000 for a Limited Edition Ring.

Winning their first championship in their 22-year history, the Mystics sparked a high-octane offense, leading the WNBA with 89.3 points per game and 21.9 assists per game. Delle Donne won her second career MVP award during the 2019 season, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Four other Mystics also averaged double figures for the season.

As the Mystics aim to run it back in 2020, they will be hurdling several losses to the roster, including Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, who have opted out of playing this season. Additionally, Kristi Toliver and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough have moved on to the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury, respectively.

Taking their place will be former number one pick and 2012 MVP, Tina Charles, former number two selection, Alaina Coates, 30-year-old rookie Shey Peddy and veteran Essence Carson. 

In the adjusted season, which has been shortened from 36 to 22 games, the WNBA teams will spend the entirety of the 2020 season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Major League Baseball season is a Go

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Michael Smith/The Sports Pulse

WASHINGTON – On June 23, Major League Baseball (MLB) players agreed to report to training camp on July 1, resulting in the MLB season taking place in 2020.

For weeks, it seemed like a baseball season was not going to happen based on owners and players arguing over the number of games played and the amount of pay received in return.

On Monday, June 22, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) rejected MLB’s offer of a 60-game season, which resulted in league commissioner Rob Manfred taking matters into his own hands and implementing a season himself.

However, MLB officially announced a 60-game regular season that will begin on either July 23 or July 24, with a specialized “spring” training session starting on July 1st.

The shortened season will also include new rules for 2020: 

  • Active rosters will have 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, and 26 in week five.
  • A separate injury list for the coronavirus.
  • Teams will play 10 games vs. divisional opponents; four vs. opposite league divisional opponents.
  • Universal designated hitter (DH) for both NL and AL.
  • The trade deadline will be August 31.
  • The runner starts at second base in extra innings

Due to COVID-19 still sweeping the nation, players must follow a lot of safety measures, as they are not allowed to make deliberate contact with any other player aside from making tags. That means don’t expect anything like high-fives or fights between players.

In terms of COVID-19 testing, it will be implemented in three phases: prescreening, intake, and regular monitoring, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich.

For prescreening, players and staffers will be tested three or four days before arriving at camp. For intake, they will then undergo a temperature check, a saliva or nose-swab test, and a blood test for antibodies two days before reporting to camp.

Finally, for regular monitoring, players will have their temperature and symptoms checked twice per day.

As for the minors, the MiLB season has been on hold since April, as they are awaiting word from the MLB if the season will be played at all.

But for now, an apparent free agent league is in place, so that MLB players could quickly sign a fill-in player if necessary.

According to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, MLB has talked with Nashville about having two teams of unsigned players there. Nashville is the home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

The players would serve as an emergency pool and would make $400 per week, as MLB teams would have to pay a fee to Nashville to sign one of those free agents.

According to Ken Rosenthal, Nashville might not be the only location for this free agent league, as Rosenthal stated that “MLB expects other minor league teams to do something similar to Nashville and allow major league teams to sign players for a fee, operating the same way independent leagues do.”

MLB is not the only North American pro sports league planning to return, the NBA and NHL are expected to begin their playoffs in late July/early August, MLS announced a tournament which will kick off in Orlando on July 8, the WNBA plans to tip off their season in late July, and the NFL is expected to start on time in the fall.

Bethesda native Bella Alarie transitions into the WNBA

Exclusive interview with Dallas Wings CEO, partner and team president Greg Bibb

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

BETHESDA – With the sports world on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the month of April resulted in the WNBA and NFL Draft to be held virtually.

The WNBA Draft took place on April 17 with Bethesda native Bella Alarie being taken fifth overall by the Dallas Wings.

Standing at 6-foot-4, Alarie played four years of college basketball at Princeton University and completed her high school basketball tenure at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C.

“I think I have great versatility as a player,” said Alarie. “I’m 6-foot-4, but I can step out and shoot. I have a high basketball I.Q., I like to find my teammates for open shots, and I just play really hard.”

At Princeton, she averaged 16.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and had a 48.0 field goal percentage, but during her junior season, she averaged a career-best of 22.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG.

“I love the defensive end,” said Alarie. “I think I’m well rounded, and that’s modeled after the great players of the WNBA.”

Alarie also comes from a basketball family, as her father Mark Alarie played college hoops at Duke University and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1986, spending five years in the NBA until retiring at the age of 27.

Alarie was one of the top five picks chosen in the WNBA Draft, along with University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who was taken first-overall by the New York Liberty.

One person pleased about the pick is Greg Bibb, Dallas Wings chief executive officer, partner and team president who expressed his thoughts on Alarie in an exclusive interview with The Sports Pulse:

HL: “How does it feel to have Bella Alarie on the Dallas Wings?”

GB: “We feel fortunate to have drafted her with the fifth-overall pick. Perhaps [because] she played at Princeton, that’s why she was a little under the radar. I believe she’ll have a very successful WNBA career.”

HL: “Bella is from Maryland, but she will be playing in Texas for the beginning of her professional career. How do you think she’ll adjust to playing there?”

GB: “She, like most other players, having experience playing in other places. As a member of USA Basketball, she’s accustomed to traveling around the world to play. I think the adjustment will be great. I think she’ll be the professional that she is.”

HL: “When the WNBA finally returns after the quarantine is likely over, how will it feel to have Bella on the court?”

GB: “I think Bella will be part of a young and exciting roster that will grow over time and win a lot of other games together.”

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Charles rejoins Thibault in hopes of another championship run with the Mystics

By Brooks Warren/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – The defending WNBA champions have gone all-in on their championship window after trading Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and their 12th draft pick to acquire Tina Charles from the New York Liberty in a three-team trade that involved the Dallas Wings.

In her five seasons in New York, Turner cemented herself as an all-time great, becoming its all-time leading scorer last season. The only thing missing on Charles’ resume is a championship.

After missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Charles declined to sign her core designation option. Going into her 10th season and at 31 years of age, Charles isn’t interested in being apart of a rebuilding project with the Liberty.

“Tina’s in a position where she wants to compete for a championship sooner than later as an older player,” Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “It’s been a couple of weeks in the making. [The Liberty] clearly were motivated to get it done before the draft so that the draft picks would play a factor for them this week.”

According to NBCSports, the former MVP was granted permission to talk with the Mystics during the offseason to negotiate a trade to play for Washington.

With the Mystics, Charles has a chance to reunite with her former coach. The two achieved some success during their time together with the Connecticut Sun, namely during 2012, when Charles won MVP and led the Liberty on a deep playoff run before losing in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champion Indiana Fever.

“Tina Charles is a name that will forever be synonymous with New York basketball,” said Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb said in a statement. “Over the past six seasons, Tina has cemented herself not only in the Liberty record books but in the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere due to her tireless and selfless work in the community. On behalf of the New York Liberty organization, I thank Tina and wish her well in Washington.”

That was their last season together after the front office fired Thibault after a 10-year tenure that included two runs to the Finals. Thibault quickly got back on his feet and found immediate success with the Mystics, making back-to-back finals appearances and finally getting over the hump while ripping the monkey off his back, beating the Sun for their first title in 2019.

The addition of Turner will help to offset the losses of Walker-Kimbrough and Kristi Toliver, who signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Sparks. Toliver is the only player to leave the team after unrestricted free agents Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman resigned for four years and for an undisclosed amount, respectively.

Although her role is undefined, Turner joins a historic Mystics team that went a league-best 26-8 and reset the record books after finishing with the highest offensive rating in league history at 112.9. Delle Donne joined the exclusive 50-40-90 club last season on her way to her second MVP after averaging 19.5 points, grabbing 8.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game.

NBA stars, WNBA’s Quigley shine in HORSE competition

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – Current and former basketball stars came together to play rounds of HORSE in front of a nationally televised audience as ESPN, the NBA and WNBA put together a tournament that aired on April 11.

The 2020 NBA HORSE Challenge was done virtually in the home courts of each player to entertain quarantining viewers. Players had to match each other’s shots or receive a letter. The first person to spell out “HORSE” was eliminated from the 8-player tournament.

In the first pairing, former Detroit Pistons star and current broadcaster Chauncey Billups fought back from a three-letter deficit to knock off Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. 

Billups failed to convert a left-handed floater, and a behind the backboard shot and a left-handed free throw attempt while dealing with the windy conditions at his home court in Colorado.

However, Young lost the lead after failing to convert three consecutive shots, including a 3-pointer and an attempt from behind the backboard. The second-year All-Star, known for taking long-range efforts during games, missed two straight shots, including a left-handed 3-pointer, as Billups advanced to the semifinal round.

“That’s how you respect your elders Trae,” Billups said after the game.

In the second matchup, Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley took advantage of playing in an indoor gym to defeat recently inducted Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings. The 12-year pro took advantage of his controlled environment, attempting multiple trick shots, including sinking a corner 3-pointer with one hand to take a four-letter lead.

Catchings struggled to gain her rhythm while battling windy conditions at her outdoor court in Indianapolis. Conley collected only one letter and sealed his victory with an over the backboard from behind shot with his right hand.

Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls used his athleticism and creativity to sweep former Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce in their matchup. LaVine, who said during the broadcast that he takes 500 shots a day, attempted multiple creative layups that Pierce could not convert. The guard did not receive a letter and finished the game by converting a deep out-of-bounce 3-pointer.

In the nightcap, WNBA star Allie Quigley knocked off Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul competed in the most completive pairing of the quarterfinal round. The Chicago Sky Blue guard took a two-letter lead after Paul failed to match a sitting-down shot, an homage to Peter “Pistol Pete” Maravich.

Paul, with HORS spelled out, bounced back, starting with a one-footed, body twisting shot away from the basket. However, after forcing Quigley to reach HOR, the Thunder star could not match a free throw bank shot, giving the WNBA star the victory. She will face LaVine while Conley will take on Billups.

ESPN will broadcast the semifinals and championship game on Thursday, April 16, starting at 9 p.m. The winner will have more than $200,000 donated in their name by State Farm to charities helping relief efforts during the pandemic.