June 19, 2024 

How DiDi Richards has put her stamp on Washington Mystics’ starting lineup introductions

Karlie Samuelson: ‘You can rely on DiDi for anything fun’

WASHINGTON — On game days with the Washington Mystics, reserve wing DiDi Richards makes an impact on the court before she ever checks in.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

When the Entertainment and Sports Arena goes dark for the Mystics’ pregame hype video and starting lineup introductions, Richards stars. She is the player who executes the starters’ personalized handshakes as the public address announcer introduces them to the crowd. And if Richards gets her way, there’s a dance involved for each starter, too.

Richards and her teammates aren’t quite sure how she landed the role in her first season in Washington, taking the mantle from now-retired guard Kristi Toliver. “One day I was looking around like, no one’s gonna do it? Cool, this is where I come in,” Richards told The Next in early June. “So I don’t know. I think I just gave it to myself.”

“I actually don’t know either. I kind of feel like everyone just pushed her there because she’s the most excited and animated person,” guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough told The Next. “So why not?”

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

However Richards got the role, it’s obvious that she’s particularly suited for it. She has experience doing it earlier in her career with the New York Liberty, and she has the creativity to come up with handshakes and dances that suit her teammates.

“You can rely on DiDi for anything fun, for sure,” wing Karlie Samuelson told reporters.

Through 14 games, the Mystics have used four starting lineups because of injuries to point guard Brittney Sykes and center/forward Shakira Austin. The lineup that has played together the most is point guard Julie Vanloo, guard Ariel Atkins, Samuelson, forward Aaliyah Edwards and center Stefanie Dolson.

Starting LineupGames StartedMinutes Played% of Total Minutes Played
Vanloo, Atkins, Samuelson, Edwards, Dolson711019.6%
Vanloo, Atkins, Samuelson, Austin, Dolson4397.0%
Sykes, Atkins, Samuelson, Austin, Dolson2162.9%
Sykes, Atkins, Samuelson, Edwards, Dolson150.9%
Sources: Basketball-ReferenceWNBA Stats

The order of the introductions has varied, but Vanloo has often heard her name called first. Stepping in for Sykes, she didn’t start until the third game of the season, and she and Richards came up with her handshake as they stood in a back hallway waiting to take the court for warmups that day. According to Richards, she told Vanloo they had to do something fun, and Vanloo said, “You do it then. You figure it out.”

What Richards came up with is that she and Vanloo slap their right hands together a few times, then do a dance move from the music video for the song “Juju On That Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall. (Richards picked it because “Juju” can be a nickname for “Julie.”)

Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards and point guard Julie Vanloo bend their knees, face each other and slap their right hands together.
Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards (left) and point guard Julie Vanloo execute a handshake as Vanloo is introduced as a starter before a game against the Chicago Sky at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 6, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

For Vanloo, a 31-year-old rookie from Belgium, starting in the WNBA is something she never anticipated. But Sykes’ injuries — first a sprained ankle and then a sprained foot — changed that.

“It’s always amazing to start,” Vanloo told The Next. “Honestly, I’ve never thought I would, to be honest, when I came here. So … I’m really enjoying every moment of that, yeah. It’s special.”

Samuelson has been a starter from Day 1, but she and Richards also came up with her handshake at the last minute. “Literally right before it happened,” Samuelson said. “… She was like, ‘Shimmy?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, perfect.’”

In contrast, Richards and Dolson kept their handshake from when they were Liberty teammates in 2022, so no last-minute planning was needed. They slap hands similar to Vanloo’s initial handshake, but then they bring their right arms up and around, stick their right hips out, and slap their butts.

“I’m a little girly, but I’m a little bit old. So we kind of keep it mediocre,” the 32-year-old Dolson told The Next.

Richards had a little more enthusiasm for the choreography. “I love Big Mama’s [handshake],” she said, using a nickname for Dolson. “I wish that y’all could see when Big Mama has her real high ponytail. I’m gonna tell her to wear it. … She does this little head turn. It’s my favorite thing.”

Edwards, a rookie out of UConn, has had a smooth adjustment to the WNBA, even starting eight games in place of Austin, who is still managing her recovery from offseason hip surgery. Hearing her name called in lineup introductions feels surreal to Edwards, even though she started 106 games in college and has played internationally for Canada.

“It still surprises me every time,” she told reporters. “… It’s kinda like, whoo, take a little breath before I walk out there and do the handshake.”

The handshake is new to Edwards, too: At UConn, the Huskies huddled as a team during introductions rather than dancing. But she didn’t have to think long to choose a dance move with the Mystics.

“I love to Dougie. That’s my go-to move,” she said.

“Aaliyah is a TikToker. A TikTok star, by the way,” Richards said. “And … every TikTok I see her in, she’s Dougieing.” All Richards needed to add was a brief hand clap at the beginning.

Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards smiles widely as she claps hands with forward Aaliyah Edwards.
Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards (left) and forward Aaliyah Edwards clap hands as Edwards is introduced as a starter before a game against the Chicago Sky at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 6, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Atkins, one of the Mystics’ longest-tenured players, has been a mainstay in the starting lineup since her rookie season in 2018. She opts for a simple high five, despite Richards’ attempts to convince her to jazz up the routine.

“Not happening,” Atkins told The Next. “I’d just rather do a high five, keep it pushing, so she can have time to dance with everybody else.” (Atkins has typically been introduced last this season, but that hasn’t always been the case in previous years.)

Though Atkins prefers an understated introduction, it’s still meaningful to her to hear her name called.

“It’s definitely exciting,” she said. “I’ve dreamed of doing this for a really long time. I take pride in what I do. … Not everybody gets to do this, and to actually work for something, dream for it and then to be able to achieve it and do it every day, I mean, I can’t put it into any other words. I’m thankful for this opportunity every single day because it could be so different.”

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

What all the handshakes and dance moves have in common is that they’re personalized for each player. “I think the most important ingredient is finding something that complements you,” Richards said. “And … it’s either gonna have to be girly, [be] dancey or have something to do with your name.”

Starting lineup introductions are undoubtedly fun, but in Richards’ view, they also have an important role to play — especially for a Mystics team that started this season 0-12.

“I think it lightens the mood,” she said when the team was 0-9. “… Yes, we’re focused; yes, we would love to get a win. We’re itching for a win. But it can easily get real tense in the locker room, real tense in games because you want to win so bad and you’re feeling so much pressure to win.

“I think just bringing light to anything you can can honestly release [tension]. Like, someone needs to fart or something, make somebody laugh or something, you know? Just have some fun and don’t forget that this is still a sport that we enjoy.”

Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards and center Stefanie Dolson face each other, stick out their tongues, stick their right hips out and slap their butts.
Washington Mystics wing DiDi Richards (right) and center Stefanie Dolson dance as Dolson is introduced as a starter before a game against the Chicago Sky at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 14, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

The lineup introductions also provide a glimpse of the impact Richards is having for Washington even as she’s averaging just 6.6 minutes per game. Just like she shows in those introductions, Richards’ teammates gush about the positivity and energy she brings to the locker room every day.

“She reminds us that we’re gonna have fun no matter what. … I forget I’m in a bad mood if I ever am in a bad mood around her,” Walker-Kimbrough said.

When Richards arrives each morning, she often greets her teammates with, “Buenos dias” — two of the perhaps 50 words of Spanish she knows. She has nicknames for every teammate. She is also frequently singing, whether that’s launching into opera in the morning, singing during an ice bath or replying to teammates in song.

“She’s authentically herself every day,” said Atkins, who has known Richards since they played AAU together growing up in Texas. “… And her excitement for just pure life, it’s just something that I love being around.”

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Richards’ demeanor was something Mystics executives recognized in free agency and a key reason why they wanted to sign her. As a bonus, they got the starting lineup introductions taken care of, too.

“Day in, day out, she comes and brings energy and kind of brings the best out of you, energy-wise. And I just love to be part of that,” Edwards said. “I love to have her as a teammate.

“But [lineup introductions are] just the perfect job for her because that’s what she does. She always is trying to hype someone up [and] go out of her way to make someone else feel special, feel loved, feel happy.”

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.