I came back from another Mystics event at Verizon Center earlier today (if you're in the west coast, otherwise it's last night) at the Dewar's Club, headlined by the appearances of team president and Monumental Sports Vice Chair Sheila Johnson and Mystics COO Greg Bibb.
By chance, there was a basketball game actually at the Phone Booth, where the Abe Pollin City Title Games (both boys and girls) held between the DCIAA (DC Public Schools Athletic Association) and WCAC (a DC area Catholic school league).
Today, we also had two extra people speak to fans. One was Trudi Lacey, the Head Coach and GM, so I wasn't surprised that she would speak. The surprise guest was WNBA President Laurel Richie. Most of the event was a structured Q and A moderated by Christy Winters-Scott, the Mystics' color analyst whenever there's a game at Verizon Center.
I recorded the event as an audio file and you can access it right here. This file is 50 minutes long, but I will try to note some of the more interesting comments and about when they come up if I can.
It's safe to say that since October 2010, she has been the target of ire by Mystics fans, and I've definitely shown my wrath on her as well in previous posts last year. Sheila also received a good amount of ridicule by the national WNBA analysts. Today, she was very readily available and said hi to everyone around in the Dewar's Club and shook hands, including mine. Big change from last year when she wasn't visible that much, if at all.
During the Q&A, one question Christy Winters-Scott asked Sheila was in regards to the perception that she was not as involved with the team like she was before last year, which also happened to be the same year when the Mystics had their worst season. (around the 10 minute mark)
Johnson explained that she was as always involved with the Mystics like before. However, her son had a severe baseball injury that impaired his sight last year, and it required her attention throughout the summer, and he's now better. Sheila noted that she is a mother first, and didn't want to make this a press story when it happened. The fact that the team sucked last year didn't make things any better.
No, Sheila never mentioned anything about the 2010-2011 offseason, and she didn't apologize either. However, she has had other issues which required her attention, which explains why she wasn't very visible last year, and it is understandable.
Either way, she does want the team to improve and did so in a musical way. (There's a light-hearted moment at the 18 minute mark.)
Many Mystics fans have pointed the finger at Bibb for what happened in the 2010-2011 offseason because basketball operations staff reported to him and it still appears to be this way. He is also the Wizards business chief since Ted Leonsis became majority owner in 2010, but GM Ernie Grunfeld reports to ownership which is an issue with at least some fans.
Having seen Bibb since he first came to the Mystics back in the 2007-2008 off-season and after the Wizards takeover in 2010, he is as pro-Mystics as anyone in Monumental Sports. I don't think many people would still be as active as he is with the WNBA team if they were in his shoes, given that he was given the Wizards job after the Mystics job for a couple years. So for that, he deserves kudos.
At the Q and A, Bibb mentioned the team's business accomplishments, where the team has more sponsorships and corporate money than any other WNBA team. You can also hear somewhere that the Mystics' jersey sponsor, Inova Health, a Northern Virginia hospital network provides the largest team jersey sponsor in the league, so it is worth more than other team's jersey sponsorships, including glamour teams, like the Storm, Sparks, and Mercury.
Greg announced some new promotions for next year, like a $15,000 shoot-out for each game, and to allow fans to vote for the five best Mystics of all time (they'll be announced on the first game after the break).
Like Sheila, Greg did not apologize for last year's season. However, he did give Winston Churchill's quote "If you're going through hell, keep going" as how he and the rest of the team handled it. That said, he believed that the team will be better next year for both the basketball and business operations sides. (just before the 25 minute mark)
Lastly, Bibb released a preliminary video of celebrities who congratulated the Mystics for their 15th season. Some of the celebrities here include DC mayor Vincent Gray, rapper Common, Wizards community liaison and former Bullets legend Gheorghe Muresan, and Redskins kick returner Brandon Banks among others (42 minutes and 30 seconds)
She didn't really add anything too much that was really new in my opinion, besides that she wants this team to make the playoffs and the team got older as a result. However she did note that there are stars and superstars in the league, and that superstars made players around them better. This was in reference to Crystal Langhorne, and what she needs to do this year and I forgot where it was.
Like Greg, Lacey did touch on the points of the down year and how to handle it. She said the fans were the team's backbone in the tough times and that they will try to do their best. (47-48 minute mark)
Richie actually spoke first in the chalk talk, and then left to do whatever she had to do. She did praise Sheila Johnson and the fans, but also said that she won't pick favorites.
Richie's money quote was that she took her niece to her first WNBA game and her niece was really happy. Her niece then went to her first NBA game with her mom, and said, "I didn't know men played basketball!" (3 minutes, 30 second mark)
I guess it is the team's way to try to make amends with all the fans, as some there didn't renew yet, especially when Sheila and Greg in particular acknowledged the bad season and gave their own feelings, in particular for Sheila who had to take care of her son. Let's face it, no one liked last season, and I absolutely hated it.
At least Sheila did say that she proposed personally calling season ticket holders who didn't renew yet. I don't know how good or bad the rate was explicitly, but I spoke with someone in the Wizards/Mystics staff who told me the rate was not as high as the Wizards renewal rate, which was over 80% between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, which also happened to be the seasons before and after the lockout. So you know, I asked this back in January or so, but I don't think Monumental Sports gets too many Mystics calls then either. Given that renewing or encouraging others to renew was mentioned a number of times in this chalk talk, I don't think it was very good, but that can change a lot by May.
So in short, I hope the Mystics finally started their wound healing process with fans, because I didn't feel that started this entire time.