June 21, 2022
Past, present and future collide as the Mystics celebrate their Hall of Famers
‘It means a lot to know you're not forgotten'
WASHINGTON – Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault had been waiting for Sunday for a long time, and not just because the Mystics hadn’t beaten the visiting Connecticut Sun in nearly two full years. The Mystics got the 71-63 win, but more significantly, the franchise inducted three former players into its inaugural class of Hall of Famers on the anniversary of its first-ever WNBA game in 1998.
“This was something I wanted to do when I came here [in December 2012],” Thibault told reporters pregame. “And it took a while to kind of organize things and we had intended to do it two years ago and then the pandemic hit. … It was a way to honor those who got this franchise started with our first class. But, in general, it was a way to connect our fans and our players to our history as a team.”
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The Mystics’ first class of Hall of Famers consisted of forwards Vicky Bullett, Chamique Holdsclaw and Murriel Page, who were all teammates for three seasons in Washington and led the team to its first two playoff appearances. Page was the first player the Mystics ever signed — “the original,” as play-by-play announcer Meghan McPeak said during the induction ceremony. Page played a franchise-record 259 regular-season games over eight seasons with the Mystics and averaged 6.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
“Being a part of the very first team to play here in Washington, D.C., it means a lot to know you’re not forgotten and that the fans still love us, D.C. still loves us,” Page told reporters pregame. “And to honor us is really special.”
Bullett joined the Mystics via trade in 2000, two years after Page, and started all 96 regular-season games in her three seasons with the franchise. She averaged 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game and has the fifth-best career defensive rating in WNBA history (90.6).
Holdsclaw was the Mystics’ first No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999, and she remains the only No. 1 pick in franchise history after the team traded its No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft this offseason. She lived up to the hype, winning the 1999 Rookie of the Year award and garnering three All-WNBA selections in six seasons with the team. In 162 regular-season games for the Mystics, she averaged 18.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists, and she still ranks second in franchise history with 21.6 win shares.
The trio lifted a franchise from a 3-27 record in the inaugural 1998 season, to 14-18 with a playoff appearance in 2000, to 17-15 and another playoff appearance in 2002. In the early years, Page recalled, the team was so bad that it was mocked around town.
“There was a moment there where we would go around the town and the city and everyone would call us the ‘Mistakes,’” she said. “I mean, that hurts. … They still came to see the Mistakes, but that’s not what you want to hear.”
But the Mistakes cleaned up their game and became the playoff-bound Mystics, and Holdsclaw looked back on the 2000 postseason fondly despite how it ended, a two-game sweep by the New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The first game was at home, and when the team took the court, Holdsclaw said, “It was like a haze in the air. It was just so much excitement, so many people, [that] the air, it was kind of just foggy … We were excited. We were so geeked.”
The fans and the Mystics organization were similarly thrilled to honor Holdsclaw, Page and Bullett over the weekend. Page and Holdsclaw attended the team’s practice on Saturday, and the current players thanked the legends for setting the direction of the franchise.
“This organization is what it is today because of them,” two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne told reporters on Sunday. “So the moment they step foot in this place, you want to impress them, you want to hold yourself to the highest standard possible.”
The soon-to-be Hall of Famers were also the guests of honor at a dinner on Saturday that several Mystics coaches and other former players attended. The next morning, they met with the franchise’s “Founding Fans,” who have been season ticket holders since 1998 and helped the Mystics lead the WNBA in attendance from 1998 through 2000.
“We were growing; we weren’t the best team. But the fans, the city came out … It was always packed for us,” Holdsclaw said. “And today, we went out there for our fan event before this, and there’s people that were fans [and] season ticket holders from back when I played! Husband and wives, couples — now they’re getting old; they got their walking sticks and stuff. But it’s just like, ‘Oh my god, I remember you!’ It was like yesterday. And I think we really appreciated that.”
Sunday’s game took place at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, not the Hall of Famers’ former stomping grounds, the MCI Center, several miles north. (In the 17 years since the final member of the trio left Washington, the MCI Center has changed names twice and is now known as Capital One Arena.) But the trio seemed to soak up the fans’ love and feel at home all the same, sitting courtside in coordinating pastel colors.
Fans wore vintage blue and gold Page and Holdsclaw jerseys and new throwback blue Holdsclaw No. 23 shirts, and one brought a white and black handmade “Vicky Bullett” sign. Bullett high-fived and sat with several kids in the stands for much of the fourth quarter, and she talked at length after the game with a fan wearing a faded blue Bullett No. 40 T-shirt and a white bucket hat. Page and Holdsclaw greeted fans, too, as they departed after the Mystics’ win.
During the first three timeouts of the game, the Mystics played tribute videos for each inductee, and a video of the trio talking about how much the honor meant to them played during a subsequent timeout. Bullett teared up as her tribute video played, and Page, sitting beside her, rubbed her back as Holdsclaw reached over to pat her teammate’s knee.
Bullett would wipe her eyes again during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at halftime. Fittingly, Page was inducted first, followed by Bullett and then Holdsclaw. There was a highlight video for each player, and each got flowers and glass trophies from two executives from Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the Mystics’ ownership company. The induction closed with a lengthy standing ovation for the three Hall of Famers.
Holdsclaw’s day wasn’t done, however, as she was then interviewed on CBS for much of the third quarter. And the Mystics weren’t done, either, pushing a 16-point halftime lead to as many as 22 and hanging on for the victory.
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“You always have in the back of your mind when you’re playing for something more, and I think when you’re thinking about the history of this team and this franchise and what they’ve been able to do, it’s [big],” center/forward Elizabeth Williams said. “I’m glad to be part of it. It’s part of why I signed here; there’s a lot of history here. And so I think we did have it in the back of our mind to prove something for them.”
The Mystics committed only 10 turnovers and held Connecticut to season lows in field goal percentage (36.7%) and points (63), prompting Thibault to call his defense’s performance “special.” Offensively, Delle Donne led the way with 15 points and six rebounds, and guard Ariel Atkins had 12 points, six assists and two steals.
“Some of these shots Delle Donne made today, I’m like, ‘Oh my god,’” Holdsclaw said live on CBS. “She is a problem.”
“It always feels good when you can give a show to the people that you are glorifying that night,” Atkins said, “and … show them that you don’t take it lightly that you get to wear this uniform.”
Delle Donne and Atkins shrugged off the suggestion postgame that they could follow Page, Bullett and Holdsclaw into the Mystics’ Hall of Fame one day. But they, along with former Mystic Emma Meesseman, are well on their way to being all-time Mystics greats. Meesseman ranks first in franchise history in win shares with 23.6, followed by Delle Donne in fifth (21.0) and Atkins in ninth (11.5), and all three were mainstays on the Mystics’ lone championship team in 2019.
Another player, rookie center Shakira Austin, is also drawing comparisons to the Hall of Famers. She has a chance to follow in Holdsclaw’s footsteps by winning Rookie of the Year, as she ranks fourth in the WNBA in field goal percentage and third in defensive rating. In addition, Austin had five points and eight rebounds on Sunday despite battling a non-COVID illness. That extended Austin’s streak of games with five-plus rebounds to seven and tied her with Page for the fourth-longest streak among Mystics rookies, according to Mystics PR.
Both Thibault and Williams emphasized the importance of honoring former players’ legacies and discussing their accomplishments as the Mystics and the WNBA enter their next 25 years. By inaugurating their first Hall of Fame class on Sunday, the Mystics paved the way to honor many more players who helped the franchise shed the “Mistakes” tag and develop into a champion.
“This league has been around for not a long time, but kind of a long time,” Williams said. “But players like that, I think the league is old enough where we have watched enough players and seen how they impacted [their teams] from college into the league. So for them to be here and just talk about that and also be recognized for that, I think is really important for the growth of the league going forward.”
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 and FanSided.