I just want to put out a note here first.
NOTE – This piece is completely hypothetical and fictional though there are some actual events in it. This piece is also part of our SB Nation NBA series on “What If” scenarios if we could turn back the hands of time and reset one pivotal moment in history.
The 2002 Draft Lottery: DC wins the Bird Sweepstakes
Like the 2013 WNBA Draft… there was a good amount of hype about the 2002 Draft class, in particular the “TASS Force” from the University of Connecticut, which featured Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash, and Sue Bird
It is the year 2001 and three teams: the Seattle Storm, the Detroit Shock, and the Washington Mystics all had identical 10-22 records, with the Mystics ending up with the most chances to win the #1 pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, followed by the Shock and then the Storm for the first ever Draft lottery. After the lottery balls fall, the order remains the same with DC picking first, Detroit second, and Seattle third. In addition, the Mystics acquired the 4th pick in the 2002 Draft by trading away veteran guard Nikki McCray to the Indiana Fever.
Like the 2013 WNBA Draft has been with the Big Three (I’m not using that other term), there was a good amount of hype about the 2002 Draft class, in particular the “TASS Force” from the University of Connecticut, which featured Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash, and Sue Bird, basically the Fab Four of women’s college basketball at the time and really it was a Fab Five when you include sophomore guard Diana Taurasi who also was a major contributor. Of the players on that team, Bird the star guard was the Huskies’ leader and top star, and was widely regarded to be the top pick in the 2002 Draft.
After a 39-0 season where UConn won the championship, and where Bird won most, if not every individual player of the year honor, the Washington Mystics select Sue Bird with their top pick where team owner Abe Pollin proclaims that she would be a player as special as the great Wes Unseld who led the Washington Bullets to an NBA Finals title over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978.
After that, the Shock picks Swin Cash with the #2 pick, and the Seattle Storm picks Stacey Dales, a guard from the University of Oklahoma at #3. At #4, the Mystics select Asjha Jones to provide additional frontcourt help to their top player, Chamique Holdsclaw who coincidentally also went to the same high school Bird did, at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village, Queens, New York. Holdsclaw is very pleased with the new acquisitions to her team.
2002 Season: DC gets in the WNBA Finals, Bird is Rookie of the Year
Head Coach Marianne Stanley gets the Mystics to improve from 10-22 to their first 20 win season in franchise history by just getting to 20-12. She wins the 2002 WNBA Coach of the Year award. Bird gets named to the All-Star game held in front of her adopted hometown fans (after all, DC is her hometown now) as a starter, and is named the Rookie of the Year after averaging 16 points and 6 assists per game. The Mystics head to the WNBA Finals in the postseason, but lose to Lisa Leslie and Los Angeles Sparks in a sweep, two games to zippy.
As for the Storm, the team fails to be a .500 team for the third straight year since the franchise’s inception. They fire GM and Head Coach Lin Dunn after the season and hire a journeyman NBA assistant coach named Mike Thibault to lead the team in 2003. The Shock is the worst team in the league with a 9-23 record. One of these teams will play a major storyline later on.
Chamique Holdsclaw is pleased to play alongside a franchise level guard like Bird and is also glad that she doesn’t have the whole burden of the Mystics’ franchise. (Going back to reality – Holdsclaw noted in a 2012 interview with the Washington Post that she felt “on an island by myself in DC” – at least in part due to the Mystics’ dysfunctional front office structure and the pressure to lead the team despite thos problems in regards to her depression. With Bird now in Mystic Blue and emerging as one of the top guards in the league, that pressure is considerably reduced.) Asjha Jones is mostly a reserve post, but still is playing about 20 minutes a game.
2004: The Mystics win their first WNBA championship while facing adversity midseason
Chamique Holdsclaw Interview on OWN Recently, Holdsclaw gave an interview to OWN regarding her relationship with her mother and adds more perspective on her life.
After losing the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals to the Detroit Shock, which would go on to win the title that year, Sue Bird is named to the 2004 US Olympic Team where she is a backup guard.
Holdsclaw misses games toward the second half of the season due to at the time, publicly, unknown reasons – but for her clinical depression as we find out later in that year. Bird would say in interviews after the season that she was honestly shocked to hear about Holdsclaw’s battle with depression. (Also from the reality world, here’s another link from Truth About It which is an interview with her from 2010 when she returned to DC as a member of the Silver Stars).
The Mystics start out this season 15-9, but end up finishing 18-16 in the wake of Holdsclaw’s absence and with the team subject to the speculation, but it’s good enough to make the playoffs. Holdsclaw would not return for the remainder of the season. In her absence, Asjha Jones (she does NOT get traded to Connecticut in the 2003-04 offseason like what happened in reality) starts and ends up playing at an All-Star level from thereon.
Bird, Jones, and the Mystics head to the 2004 Finals where they face the Seattle Storm which has a young Dynamic Duo of its own with Australian center Lauren Jackson and rookie guard Diana Taurasi who was selected 1st in the Draft that year and was also Bird’s backcourt mate at UConn. The media pundits all say that everything is on the Storm’s side – they say that Coach Thibault (who wins the 2004 Coach of the Year award in this universe) is better than Coach Stanley because the Storm swept the Mystics in the regular season that year, because the Storm won more games than the Mystics, and that Diana Taurasi is better than Sue Bird. Coach Stanley says in a media interview, “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings” not unlike how Dick Motta used the same phrase about the Fat Lady during the Bullets’ 1978 playoff run.
The Mystics win Game 1 of the Finals in triple overtime with Bird scoring 40 points including a buzzer beater over Taurasi at the Key with Taurasi scoring 36 of her own. Given that the Storm’s fans are very passionate that their new franchise guard is better than the Mystics’, they passionately boo Sue every time she is touching the ball and even after every made three pointer.
Mystics fans do the same to Taurasi by booing her like crazy in Game 2 at MCI Center (It was not called Verizon Center until after 2006). There, Bird scores another 25 points along with 12 assists to help the Mystics complete the sweep over Seattle and win their first WNBA championship. (the Finals was a best of three in 2004) Asjha Jones averages 16 points and 11 rebounds in the playoffs and maintains those averages in the Finals. Marianne Stanley is the first woman to win
Bird is the Finals MVP due to her out of this world scoring. Mr. Pollin proclaims that the Mystics winning this championship is right on par with the Bullets 1978 championship and calls it revenge for the 1979 Finals sweep at DC’s expense when they played against Seattle again. The Mystics publicly dedicate their championship to Holdsclaw as well given her condition which was not disclosed at the time.
Still, given that Asjha Jones plays the same position as Holdsclaw and is showing that she can be a legitimate #2 option to go along with Bird who is the Mystics’ leading scorer and assister, many fans and WNBA pundits believe that Holdsclaw would be expendable for other assets.
2005 – 2010: The Bird/Jones/Milton-Jones Big Three Era in DC and a perennial rivalry against the Seattle Storm
After their 2004 Finals matchup, the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm develop a perennial rivalry given that their cores are young, and are performing at a very high level.
There is an ownership change in the 2004-2005 offseason as Mr. Pollin sells the Mystics to Lincoln Holdings which owns a substantial stake in Pollin’s ventures which include the Washington Wizards NBA team and the MCI Center but is already the full owner of the Washington Capitals NHL team. The majority owner of Lincoln Holdings is Ted Leonsis, an AOL executive. A new partner joins Lincoln Holdings, BET Co-founder Sheila Johnson who is named Team President and oversees the Mystics’ day-to-day business matters.
Also in the same offseason, the Mystics acquire Delisha Milton-Jones from the Los Angeles Sparks as a wing option to go along with the Bird/Jones guard/post duo in exchange for Chamique Holdsclaw. This new Big Three would go on to be one of the dominant forces of the WNBA’s Eastern Conference, and the entire league.
After their 2004 Finals matchup, the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm develop a perennial rivalry given that their cores are young, and are performing at a very high level. They meet once again in the 2005 Finals, with the Storm winning their first championship, winning 3 games to 2 in the first series to be in a best of five format. The Mystics and Storm both make the Finals for 2007 with the Storm winning the championship that year, and the Mystics winning the championship (with Bird once again winning Finals MVP) in 2008 in a year that seemed to be dominated by a versatile forward named Candace Parker who won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards for the Los Angeles Sparks. When the Mystics failed to make the Finals they still advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals with this trio losing to the Shock in 2006 and the Indiana Fever in 2009.
In terms of individual accolades, Bird wins the WNBA MVP award in 2006 after scoring a career high 23 points per game while still dishing 6 assists per game in an uptempo Mystics offense. The very next year, Diana Taurasi wins the MVP for the Storm in a closely contested race between the former UConn teammates. For the 2008 Team USA Olympic team, Bird, Jones, and Milton-Jones all make the final roster, where they win the Gold Medal in Beijing. In the Olympics, Bird starts alongside her rival, Diana Taurasi.
And now some comments on other business dealings around the Mystics during this time.
Ignore Ernie Grunfeld, Randy Wittman, and Otto Porter. Ideally, the Mystics’ logos and wordmarks would look closer to how the Wizards’ current logos and marks are and there’s a lot of similarity with the Caps. I HATE the Mystics’ current logo and wordmarks because they don’t look aggressive at all. The Wizards’ ones are MUCH better and in real life I do want to see the marks change.
In 2007, Ted changes the Capitals’ and Mystics’ colors and logos (note from reality world – I know the Mystics changed in 2011 but hey this is FANTASY!) from teal and gold/bronze to red, white, and navy blue in a public ceremony where forward Alex Ovechkin and team captain Chris Clark don their new jerseys while Sue Bird and Asjha Jones don theirs in a public ceremony attended by media. The new Capitals’ logo is reminiscent of the classic Caps’ logo from the franchise’s founding in 1974. The new Mystics’ logos are more aggressive looking and some believe that the typeface of the Mystics’ logos are too similar to the Caps’. In regards to that Ted says that any similarity is by design because he owns both teams, and that red, white, and blue are colors that represent the DC area the best.
In November 2009, Mr. Pollin, the former owner passes away. A month later, a couple Wizards players are involved in an incident in the locker room where guns are brandished. This causes a lot of embarrassment to the NBA, the Wizards organization, and their fans. The Wizards, already off a 19-63 season in 2008-2009, start 2009-2010 off poorly and ultimately, they trade a number of their best players for other assets, such as Caron Butler (coincidentally a UConn player like Bird) and Antawn Jamison.
In May 2010, the Wizards are in the Draft Lottery which both Irene Pollin, Mr. Pollin’s widow, and Ted Leonsis attend. The Wizards have the 5th most chances to win the #1 pick, and win the #1 pick in the Draft. Ted, who’s in the final stages of buying the rest of Mr. Pollin’s businesses including the Wizards and Verizon Center says in a post draft lottery interview that, “I have seen first hand what a number one Draft pick in the NHL can do to rejuvenate the Caps, now that we won the President’s Trophy and are making a run in the playoffs. I have also seen firsthand that a number one Draft pick in the WNBA can win the Mystics championships and make DC a destination city for the best athletes in the world. I hope we’ll do the same with the NBA and this number one pick.”
In June 2010, Ted and Lincoln Holdings finalize the purchase of the remaining shares of the Wizards and Verizon Center and calls his new enterprise Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Then in the 2010 NBA Draft, John Wall, a guard out of Kentucky is drafted at the number one spot which gets the whole city doing the twist fist. In his press conference the next day, after being asked a question on who he’d like to emulate, Wall replies, “Without question, I want to be like Sue Bird. She’s a leader, a winner, and a champion for the Mystics. Also, she has arguably the best jumpshot in the WNBA. I want to be like her for the Wizards so we can make that next step.”
Now let’s head back to the 2010 WNBA season.
After the 2009 WNBA season, Marianne Stanley retires from coaching the Washington Mystics, where she is lauded as one of the best WNBA coaches of all time. After a national search, Cheryl Reeve, an assistant with the Detroit Shock, which relocated to Tulsa (and fired her upon relocation) is named the new head coach of the Mystics.
Unfortunately, Reeve’s first year in DC starts off on the wrong note, at least partly due to injury. Before the 2010 season Delisha Milton-Jones suffers an ACL tear while playing overseas. Then during the middle of the season, Bird breaks her wrist in a hard fall as she drives toward the hoop and misses the rest of the year. This gives the Mystics a 13-21 record for 2010, their worst record since 2001, the year before the magic started, but it also gives DC a chance to add a major young player who could potentially succeed Bird as the franchise player for the future.
2011-2012: The rich get Moore richer and DC’s resurgence to the top Sue Bird AND Maya Moore on the same team? In the nation’s capital? Oh YES! Only in SB Nation fantasy-land!
The Washington Mystics head to the 2011 Draft Lottery and the buzz is about another UConn player named Maya Moore a swing forward. The WNBA decides to televise the lottery on NBA TV to hand out the top four picks. The Mystics have the third worst record in the league and are represented by Ted Leonsis and Sue Bird who sit behind the cameras and John Wall who sits in the spotlight. Despite the fact that they had the third best odds, the Mystics win the #1 pick in the Draft. When Wall realizes that the Mystics pick #1 he does an impromptu Dougie and says that he’s excited to welcome another top young talented player to DC.
Though UConn plays at a high level during the 2010-2011 college season, they ultimately lose to the University of Notre Dame in the NCAA’s national semifinals.
The Mystics select Moore with their #1 pick in the 2011 Draft. Not unlike how Asjha Jones was to Chamique Holdsclaw back from 2002 to 2004, Moore is a bench player, but plays starter level minutes. Her performance earns her the 2011 Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year awards. The Mystics once again appear like the Mystics of the Sue Bird era, have a 25 win season, and go to the Finals. This earns Coach Reeve the 2011 Coach of the Year award. However, they lose once again to their arch rival Seattle Storm, giving Coach Thibault, Taurasi, and Jackson their third title.
In the 2012 season, the Mystics acquire Jayne Appel of the San Antonio Silver Stars in exchange for Delisha Milton-Jones and a 2nd round pick for the 2013 Draft. The deal is criticized by many Mystics fans because Appel does not put up big numbers, but after the trade she develops into a solid rebounding presence for DC that season. In addition, dealing Milton-Jones gives Moore free reign to start and become the #2 option to Bird and during the year, she shows signs that she could be the #1 for the Mystics sooner rather than later. Bird, Jones, and Moore all make the 2012 Team USA Olympic team that wins gold in London. The Mystics go back to the Finals, this time, winning their third championship, against Candace Parker and the LA Sparks. Unlike the 2004 and 2008 Mystics championship teams where Bird win the Finals MVP award, Maya Moore wins it in 2012.
Concluding thoughts and a return back to reality
That’s all I have with this form of revisionist history. Obviously, there’s A LOT that needs to happen besides just Sue Bird being drafted by the Mystics for them to win three WNBA Finals championships. One of the biggest what-ifs that must happen here is that Sue Bird must become a “score-first” point guard in order to be winning Finals MVP’s in 2004 and 2008, and winning the WNBA MVP award in 2006 and perhaps more. In Seattle, Bird is a scorer, but only after Jackson in most cases. Here, at least statistically, she is more like Diana Taurasi.
From hindsight, we know that in reality, Mike Thibault ended up coaching the Connecticut Sun for ten years before coming to DC where he is now. If he did go to Seattle in 2003, would he have been able to make the Storm a perennial winner, especially after 2004 when Diana Taurasi hypothetically comes to the Emerald City? And would Taurasi be more like Bird is in real life knowing that she has a strong post player in Jackson? I assumed here that Jackson would have been a clear #2 star there with Taurasi being drafted where she’s the clear #1. Just because things work out in one place doesn’t mean that they will elsewhere.
So yeah, how do I wrap this up now that it’s over? Only one song does it appropriately for this post.
Yeah, really, DON’T WAKE ME UP! I WISH THIS WAS REALITY! If it were, things would be a lot different in DC, Seattle, and the entire league.