How the Mystics and the Sun celebrated birthdays in the WNBA bubble
A welcome respite from the grind of basketball and life
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By Jenn Hatfield and Natalie Heavren
The Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Sun competed in an epic five-game WNBA Finals last season, and they had their first rematch of the 2020 season on July 28. But they were matched up again on Sunday, when they held dueling birthday parties in the WNBA “bubble,” or Wubble, in Bradenton, Florida.
Who had the better party? We’ll let you be the judge.
Sunday was an off day for the Mystics after four games in eight days, and head coach and general manager Mike Thibault told the media on Saturday that he planned to hit some golf balls before meeting his team for a birthday dinner. Guards Essence Carson (July 28) and Ariel Atkins (July 30) as well as assistant coach Asjha Jones (August 1) all had birthdays this week, and Carson and Atkins each got a Mystics win on their special day.
The players got the party started en route to dinner, courtesy of Kiara Leslie and her boom box:
The party had several competitive elements, including Jenga, card games, and a challenge involving stacking paper cups. Tianna Hawkins’ young son Emanuel was particularly proficient at Jenga, much to the chagrin of several players, while Emma Meesseman was less successful.
From left: Atkins playing Jenga; Carson stacking cups; and Leslie, Leilani Mitchell, and Meesseman attempting the Oreo challenge. Screenshots courtesy of Shey Peddy and Alaina Coates’ Instagram stories.
The players and coaches also attempted the Oreo challenge: moving an Oreo cookie from their forehead to their mouth using only their facial muscles and gravity. Thibault came extremely close a few times, shaking his fist in exasperation when the cookie fell just past his mouth to the floor, but it was Hawkins who eventually pulled off the feat.
Thibault owned his Oreo Challenge failure when asked about it on Monday, in a Zoom with reporters.
“Well, it was a low light that I couldn't win it,” Thibault said. “I really wanted to win that… We just have a good group of people. They like each other… We had the Vegas game on in the background, they played all sorts of different games. We had dinner for everybody. This is just part of having an experience here.”
For dessert, the Mystics shared an elaborately decorated cake (waving a hat to blow out the candles) and cookies from Sweet and Lowe Bakery, a Tampa-area bakery run by former college softball player Madison Lowe.
The Mystics celebrated three birthdays with cake and cookies. Screenshots courtesy of Shey Peddy and Aerial Powers’ Instagram stories.
“I've told our team that one of our goals should be, besides playing hard and doing all the basketball things, is that we should enjoy this time together,” Thibault said. “Three months of doing this can get tedious at times and so every opportunity we get to break that boredom and enjoy each other and do things that we should do, whether it's with the staff or without the staff. And so we're gonna try to provide opportunities as we go through to do things that would be fun."
On their off day, Sunday, the Connecticut Sun came together to celebrate Diona Holmes’ 2nd birthday. Baby D, as she’s known to her many fans on social media, turned 2 on Wednesday but likely had her celebration delayed by her mom’s (Bria Holmes) game schedule.
However, it appears as though the party was worth the wait. There were streamers, balloons and a sparkly Minnie Mouse theme.
Jasmine Thomas appeared to be part of the setup committee, posting this picture of the pink, gold and black decor, complete with a miniature castle turret and a giant Minnie Mouse.
Screenshot courtesy of Jasmine Thomas’ Instagram story.
“The hard part about basketball is you never can get away from it,” Sun coach Curt Miller told reporters Monday. “Like it's a day off and I probably watched eight hours of film, the assistant coaches are grinding watching film and creating an individual film to have individual sessions with the players…. so to take their minds off the basketball, be able to have a birthday party and see all these fun little princess things bought for a two year old —I've never seen so much Buffalo Wild Wings food in my life. And, then a truly gourmet cake that was made and was pretty special.”
The Minnie Mouse cake and surprisingly on-key singing were prominently featured on social media by Bria’s teammates, who gathered in her villa to celebrate.
Screenshots courtesy of Jacki Gemelos’ Instagram stories.
According to the team, Theresa Plaisance won the best gift award, gifting a play cube that Baby D will surely be climbing through long after she leaves the bubble. Miller described Plaisance’s gift as “like a hamster contraption for a child” with no small amount of jealousy in his voice.
“Like literally there were tunnels and there is one bigger section here,” Miller continued. “And then you crawl through the tunnel to another section there, and one section led to an entire, it looked like Chuck E Cheese's [ball pit].”
Screenshot courtesy of the Connecticut Sun’s Instagram story.
Thought and strategy went into Plaisance’s gift plan, she revealed Monday.
"Baby D had a lot of pink going on,” Plaisance said. “So I just like decided to mix it up. I was like: maybe she's sick of seeing pink. So what I did was I bought a ... pop up tunnel, and spaceship-type tent. [And] it's a ball pit. And I honestly wanted to keep it for myself, keep it in my room for all my reading needs or whatever the case may be, but I thought Baby D could get better use out of it… I was honestly kind of jealous."
With DeWanna Bonner and Beatrice Mompremier both August birthdays, expect more #wubble parties. For Plaisance, who recently lost her grandfather, the ability to celebrate through her grief helped manage the challenges of the emotional space she’s in.
“It was definitely a really nice distraction,” Plaisance said. “Ever since I heard the news, everybody's really been there for me. From late-night texts, to making sure that I have food, one of my teammates definitely had my back for the whole process and yesterday being able to celebrate Baby D's birthday was a really nice distraction. Just anytime we get to spend time together and crack jokes and form our bonds off the court is really nice. Especially during this time, of all times.”
For an afternoon, all the frustration over a slow on-court start, having to choose her profession over coming home for her grandfather’s funeral — all that got put aside.
“The birthday party was really fun, Baby D had a really great time, we had some good presents and ate cake,” Plaisance said. “We really can't ask for anything more from a Wubble birthday party."