Basketball is a star driven game. There is no other major American sport where one player can have the sort of impact they do in the NBA, the WNBA, or even men’s and women’s college basketball.
FiveThirtyEight did a study on this back in 2015, and their findings indicated just this, with the exception being how important a quarterback is in football. And while this study was primarily focused on a player’s affect on his/her team’s success in the win column, there is no doubt that a star can positively influence fan interest as well. I think we can all agree that a team led by John Wall rather than Nick Young and Andray Blatche is far more intriguing.
The Washington Mystics are not exactly star-less, as they do have a very promising young player in Emma Meesseman. She is a legitimate perimeter threat at 6’4 and already made the 2015 All-Star game at just 22 years old.
The recently traded Stefanie Dolson was no slouch either, as she too made the 2015 All-Star game after helping lead the Mystics to a fourth place Eastern Conference finish two seasons ago. And Tayler Hill had a career season last year where she finished as the runner up in the Most Improved Player race.
Meesseman, Dolson, and Hill have all established themselves as high-level performers heading into this season. But none of them come close to bringing the sort of star power that the recently acquired Elena Delle Donne does.
Delle Donne was the 2015 WNBA MVP, and is the only WNBA player to average 20 or more points in each of the last two seasons. She is averaging well over 20 points for her career on efficient 45/38/94 shooting splits, and is second in WNBA history with a career PER of 28.2 (!!). Delle Donne is 6’5, with a deadly perimeter jumper and the ability to play both inside and out.
If there’s an NBA player who Delle Donne can be compared to, she’s kind of like a female Kevin Durant. Like Durant, she has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. She also has the length to defend post players when needed. This combination of skills and size make her a nightmare matchup.
The impact she will have on the Mystics is obvious given her consistent domination of the WNBA since entering the league in 2013. But Delle Donne also provides a much needed jolt of energy into the Washington Mystics’ fanbase.
Despite hanging “attendance champions” banners from 1998-2000 and 2002-2004 (which were eventually taken down), their attendance has been trending downward in recent years. After going from an average of 7,838 fans in 2013 to an average of 8,377 in 2014, they dipped back down to 7,710 for the 2015 season and fell below 7,000 in 2016. This is especially concerning given the fact that 2016 was the highest overall attendance the WNBA has seen since the 2011 season, where the Mystics led the league averaging more than 10,000 fans per home game.
What Washington has been missing more than anything is a star player that fans will come out to see. Last year’s WNBA attendance leaders featured teams that all had some of the top names in the league. This included the Phoenix Mercury (Diana Taurasi & Brittney Griner), the New York Liberty (Tina Charles), the Los Angeles Sparks (Candace Parker & Nneka Ogwumike) and the Minnesota Lynx (Maya Moore). The Mystics now have someone in Delle Donne who stands toe-to-toe to with them as one of the faces of the WNBA.
In all of basketball — on the college and pro levels — there are maybe 10 or so players that I will stop what I am doing to watch anytime of the day. In the WNBA these players include Taurasi and, as you could probably guess at this point, Elena Delle Donne.
As a D.C. sports fan, the summer months have often been reserved for watching the Nationals build up momentum during the regular season before crashing and burning in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, with a player like Delle Donne set to suit up for them this season, D.C. should be keeping a closer eye on the Mystics than ever before.