I took a brief break from my soccer obsession tonight to stop by Verizon and watch the Mystics beat the Detroit Shock to move to 11 and 9 for the season. Despite the fact that there seems to be an unwritten iron law of pop culture that the WNBA cannot be mentioned without simultaneously denigrating the league and its players, I can't help myself: I love going to games. From the moment we sat down in the first quarter to the moment we walked out as Kristen Mann thanked the fans and encouraged attendance Tuesday night, I had a smile plastered on my face (with brief exceptions resulting from witnessing some truly awful play at the point... which was subsequently wiped away by a phenomenal pass disruption after Lindsey Harding lost her footing at a crucial Shock possession in the final minute).
Mystics games are nothing if not a low-intensity party. While fans laugh and dance at other sports venues (causing purists to grumble), almost every fan in the seats at a Mystics game laughs and dances. The atmosphere is infectious. And wholly unexpected. We sat in a section tonight surrounded by (1) young, obviously gay, African-American males; (2) older, but just as obviously gay, white females; and (3) families of all races with young kids. Throughout the game, regardless of background, people chatted amicably with each other about the players' performances, the dancing trombonist, and the superb Mystics Mayhem. One young man listened intently as I obnoxiously pointed out to my companion that Marissa Coleman's defense and focus improved dramatically in the fourth quarter as she became the "help" defender -- Coleman was always aware of where her player was and, at the same time, quickly closed in to double any Detroit player that made a move into the paint (in two straight possessions, Marissa quick movement disrupted the Shock's offense and helped win possession back for Washington). That led to a short conversation which was the most genial one I can remember having with a stranger in a stadium in quite some time. The organization seems to be fully aware that its fans are what energizes the stadium and do quite a bit to integrate those fans into the game. The result is magical -- bliss attached to a competitive sport that would normally engender stress and tension.
But talking/writing about the environment can feed directly into criticisms regarding the quality of the sport played. I certainly don't agree with such criticisms and find, as a general matter, that the quality of women's basketball has vastly improved since the advent of the WNBA. And regardless of what might be taking place in the stands, Alana Beard on her own is worth the price of admission. Ms. Beard is a leader on the floor whose intensity is clearly and unquestionably unmatched. She is a gifted scorer as well as very good on the ball, but, even with those obvious observations noted, what stood out most from tonight's game was Alana's defense.
All in all, a great time had by me. Not sure that I'll be ready to adjust to Rick Mahorn, women's basketball coach by Tuesday and it may be a bit before I am back again. But when I do go, it will be happily and willingly, because, every once and a while, its nice to have something that can make you smile from ear to ear for two hours.