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Sheila Johnson talks Mystics playoffs, rebuild and the search for a jersey sponsorship

With her team set to begin the playoffs on Wednesday, Mystics managing partner Sheila Johnson held a conference call with reporters to discuss the success of the team that she vowed to make a winner two years ago.

For those who don't remember, in the middle of the 2008 WNBA season Johnson, who is a vice chairman for the newly created Monumental Sports and Entertainment, vented her frustration with the Mystics' pattern of hapless play and stated that the organization would rebuild with a new era of accountability. She promised to build a vision for the franchise, but never guessed the overhaul would show these types of results so quickly.

"To be very honest I'm pleasantly surprised," Johnson said Tuesday. "I thought maybe next year it might happen. I have been very determined to stay on the path to making sure this was going to happen. I felt the pressure on me and the organization from our fans ..."

"I'm so happy that I hired the right people that could really understand my vision, understand what we have been through and where we needed to go," she said. "We meet regularly and we have worked so hard at trying to build the best operation in the league from the court to the administration and we're starting to see the fruits of our labor."

When asked about how the Mystics have managed to put together the winningest regular season (22-12) in the franchise's 13-year history without Alana Beard, Johnson reflected the same mantra the players have stuck to all season. This year -- and since the rebuild -- is about the group as a whole.

"First of all I don't have any "superstars." I have really good solid players ... we don't have the ego involved," Johnson said. "This team is so special they operate as a team, they have respect for one another, they love one another, there are no cliques within the team and they learn from each other."

Johnson, who took the trip to Atlanta for the regular season finale with the team, has worked to get to know the players off the court, inviting the team out to her farm in Virginia. After years of turmoil in the Mystics front office that led many to question the dedication to the franchise, Johnson wanted to make sure that in this latest rebuild the team didn't doubt her commitment and bought into the overall goal. The first step was establishing stability.

"Everyone knows that we have not had consistency from the top down," she said. "We just didn't have a focus or a goal and I think more than anything ... that that was at the top of my list. I had to bring in the best coaching talent and best administrative talent, so they're there for the long run. Sustainability is key so the players know who's going to be in that front office and who's going to be coaching them year after year after year."

So what does she think about the second-year coaching efforts of Julie Plank and assistants Trudi Lacey and Marianne Stanley, who is in her first year during this go-round with Washington?

"I feel as though I have the finest coaching staff in the history of the Mystics," Johnson said. "I've observed in the past that there's always an assistant coach who didn't have an open line of communication and this staff has no lines of division. They're able to negotiate plays and air out their differences in a cooperative way."

Although she admits she is still "learning the whole thing about basketball," Johnson knows how important every milestone the Mystics reached in the regular season is to the team's overall development. She wants to stay humble about the accomplishments, though, and see how the rest of the year pans out, and ultimately make sure that the team knows she remains in steadfast support.

"Sometimes after a loss when I go in the locker room there would be a couple players whose backs were to me and their heads were down in their lockers," she recalled. "They'd say 'We didn't want to let you down.' And I just let them know you can never let me down. I think they all want it so badly, but they know even though there's pressure there, my feelings as an owner and hopefully as a mentor will never change. Win or lose I care about them and this organization. If we can go forward with that kind of survival attitude with the security of the Mystics organization behind them we can accomplish so much."

On a note unrelated to the playoff discussion, I asked Johnson if she and the franchise have explored the possibility of entering into a jersey sponsorship agreement to join the ranks of Phoenix (LifeLock), Seattle (Bing), Los Angeles (Farmers' Insurance) and New York (Foxwoods).

Johnson said despite actively pursuing potential jersey sponsorships, which she added would make the Mystics solvent, a deal has not come through yet.

"I have been working so hard on this," Johnson said. "I must have gone on about eight sponsorship calls ... trying to really build our case for the need of a jersey sponsor. If we can get that we are solvent. It would be a miraculous help for the Washington Mystics and we would take every step to promote it and they would get their money's worth. We're very grateful to every one of our sponsors but a jersey deal would be great for the franchise.

"I can't say why the deals haven't worked out, but every time I think we're right at that touchdown line [on an agreement] it just falls apart," she said. "It's been a strange year and a half as we've been chasing that, but we're working on it."

By Katie Carrera  |  August 24, 2010; 4:35 PM ET
 
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Comments

It seems to me if the Mystics can win the whole thing, a jersey sponsorship would be long in following.

Posted by: adhardwick | August 25, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

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