Bringing it home: Washington Mystics earn first WNBA crown

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Elena Delle Donne felt cursed. Every time she made it to the game’s biggest stage, she was hindered by injuries.

This time around it was three herniated disks in her back. The league’s MVP wouldn’t let that keep her from her first WNBA championship.

Emma Meesseman scored 22 points and Delle Donne added 21 to help the Washington Mystics beat the Connecticut Sun 89-78 on Thursday night in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Finals.

“Every time I get the Finals, something happens,” Delle Donne said. “I think I pissed the basketball gods off when I decided to step away (in college). I hope this ends the drama that I’m having in the Finals.”

It was the first title in franchise history.

“It feels phenomenal, my goodness, feels so good. Hard to put it into words,” said Delle Donne, who fell short in two previous Finals appearances. “To win it with such a great group of people. We wanted to win it for the person next to us. We’ll remember this season. I’m kind of sad the season’s about to be over. My goodness, we sure ended this on a high note.”

It was a fitting conclusion to an entertaining series and WNBA season. This was the seventh series in league history that had gone to a deciding Game 5, and the home team has won five of them.

Delle Donne scored four points during a decisive 8-0 run that gave the Mystics an 80-72 lead with under three minutes left. But it was Meesseman, the soft-spoken Belgian who unveiled a new, aggressive “Playoff Emma” persona during the title run, who was named MVP of the Finals.

Meesseman missed last season while playing with the Belgian national team.

“I don’t think I’m the missing piece. I’m their teammate (and did what) I need to do help my team win a championship. This is my family right here,” she said.

Delle Donne, a seven-year veteran and two-time MVP, came to Washington three years ago in a trade from Chicago, hoping to get the Mystics their first title. She grew up about an hour from the city in Delaware and wanted to be closer to home.

Delle Donne sat out a year in college when she transferred in the summer before her freshman season from UConn to Delaware to be closer to her sister Lizzie, who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy.

“Lizzie has been my journey, and some people have never understood my decisions. Others have. But she’s been my path, and somehow she’s gotten me to this moment,” Delle Donne said. “You know, it’s been a crazy journey. It’s been my own path. It’s been different from everyone else’s. I’ve just kind of believed in it, and you’ve got to follow your heart, and I’ve always trusted in her. Another reason I can battle through injury is like she’s been dealt the worst cards possible with her disabilities, and every day she gets up, she smiles, she laughs, she loves. So she’s always just been my inspiration.”

Delle Donne has battled injuries and illnesses all season, breaking her nose early in the year. She still wears a mask to protect it. She also wears a knee brace on her right knee after suffering a bone bruise in last year’s Finals.

Coach Mike Thibault earned his first WNBA championship. The league’s all-time winningest coach had reached the Finals three times in his career — twice with Connecticut — and last season with Washington, but fell short each time.

The game got off to a slow start with choppy play, but it picked up during a back-and-forth second half.

The Mystics trailed by nine midway through the third quarter before rallying within two at the end of the period. The teams traded the lead in the final period until Delle Donne hit a tough fadeaway midway through the quarter. After a Connecticut miss, Kristi Toliver — the only player on either team who had won a title before — drove down the lane and hit a beautiful finger-roll layup to give the Mystics a 76-72 lead.

Delle Donne added another basket, and Meesseman capped the run with a jumper.

“Emma went to work inside. Elena does what she does. You have to beat them by defending them. All the players stepped up in the fourth quarter when we needed it,” Thibault said.

Connecticut could only get within six points the rest of the way.

“They were just better down the stretch,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Defensively, it wasn’t anything more than they were really physical. They were the physical team down the stretch when they needed it.”

Delle Donne got the final rebound and hugged her teammates at center court as the final buzzer sounded.

Jonquel Jones had 25 points for the Sun and Alyssa Thomas added 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Delle Donne said the team was aware that the only thing missing from its coach’s resume was the championship and was thrilled to help give him his first.

The two shared a long embrace at center court as confetti rained down after the game.

“I said I was very happy that I am one of the players and this team was able to bring him something that he hasn’t done yet,” Delle Donne said of their postgame celebration.

Meesseman got rolling when the Mystics desperately needed her, with Connecticut leading by nine. She scored 11 points in the third period on array of post moves and outside shots to get the Mystics within 64-62 heading into the final quarter.

Meesseman said her motivation was simple.

″“The trophy,” she said. “It’s a championship game. That’s all I need. I’m just playing basketball. Today I just shot my shot.”

ALL RISE

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was in the crowd. Thibault met her once on a flight and the two struck became friendly. The Mystics visited the Supreme Court in June.

3-POINT STRUGGLES

After being the best 3-point shooting team during the season, the Mystics couldn’t hit many shots from behind the arc on Thursday night. They were 4-for-19.

TIP-INS

Game 5 held to form with the other four as the team that led after the first quarter went on to win. Washington led 23-20 after one period and Connecticut led by one at the half. … Mystics assistant coach Eric Thibault, Mike’s son, is getting married next weekend. … Connecticut lost in the Finals for the third time. They did it under Mike Thibault in 2004 and ’05.

Mark Cuban says no Mavericks player will wear No. 24 again in honor of Kobe

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Kobe Bryant never suited up for the Dallas Mavericks, but his impact on the NBA and Mark Cuban is undeniable.

As a tribute to Kobe — who died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others — the Mavericks’ owner announced that no player will wear No. 24 for the Mavericks again.

Kobe was a nemesis of the Mavericks — back in 2005 he scored 62 points on them in three quarters, outscoring the entire Mavericks’ team’s 61 points — but had earned the respect of their players. And owner. Cuban was part of a league-wide outpouring of both shock and love for Bryant upon the news of his untimely death.

Five Mavericks players have worn No. 24 before: Mark Aguirre (1982-1989), Jim Jackson (1993-1997), Hubert Davis (1998-2001), Pavel Podkolzin (2005-2006), and most recently Richard Jefferson (2015).

He will be the last.

Shaquille O’Neal says he’s ‘SICK’ over losing his brother, Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will always be linked – as champions, as enemies and eventually as friends.

The historically great combination led the Lakers to a threepeat from 2000-2002. Their egos were too large for one team and, eventually, they broke up. But later in life, their bond – built through shared experiences – prevailed over distant grievances.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, O’Neal shared his sorrow:

These photos span 17 years. Bryant and O’Neal went through so much together.

They were just settling into the next phase of their relationship – poking at each other while knowing an underlying affection existed. Disagreements had become more fun than biting.

It’s such a shame their ever-evolving relationship gets undercut so soon.

Michael Jordan: ‘Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe’

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
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Kobe Bryant grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. Bryant styled his game after Jordan. Bryant even wanted to sign with Jordan’s Wizards. Though they never became teammates, Bryant still developed a brotherly relationship with Jordan.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, Jordan shared a heartfelt message.

Bryant once said he wanted Jordan or Phil Jackson to present him at the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s unbelievably sad Bryant’s impending induction will come posthumously. But Jordan would be such a fitting speaker about his brother.

Kobe Bryant, daughter die in helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant, the legendary Laker star who was saluted by LeBron James on Saturday night, has died in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northwest of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant, and where he was reportedly headed to coach his daughter’s game.

The crash killed nine people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

His death sent waves of sadness and shock around the NBA and beyond.

Bryant starred for 20 years in NBA

Kobe had a 20-year NBA career that will send him to the Hall of Fame (once he becomes eligible). He was a five-time NBA Champion, a 15-time All-NBA player, NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Medalist for Team USA, and a player who influenced a generation who came up after him. His work ethic was legendary and was part of what rubbed off on LeBron and many others.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

He stepped away from the game and focused on storytelling, which helped him win an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe became synonymous with the Lakers and their brand — the loyalty Kobe generated with his fans was unmatched in the modern NBA.

Kobe’s death came just a day after LeBron passed him for third All-Time in NBA scoring.  LeBron talked about how he had grown up idolizing Kobe and the influence Kobe had on his life. Kobe’s last Tweet was about LeBron and, appropriately, the future of the game.

More details on the crash

From the AP story on his death:

Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about an acre (.40 hectares) of dry brush, said Art Marrujo, a dispatch supervisor with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.

“They will look at man, machine and environment,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter-crash litigation.

“They will look at the pilot – was there any indication of fatigue, any indication of a training issue?They’ll scour his or her record,” Robb said. “They will look at this helicopter from stem to stern. They will take the engine to the NTSB metallurgical laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and examine it to see if there was something that malfunctioned in flight.”

Investigators will also consider what role might have been played by weather, terrain, radio towers or bird strikes, he said.

Robb said he has handled many cases involving Sikorsky S-76 crashes and regards the machine as having a good reputation.

“It is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” he said, “but parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”