By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine
It’s no mystery that making it to the highest level of women’s basketball takes determination, strength, and hard work. But exactly what does it feel like to be one of a very select few to wear a WNBA jersey? And what lessons do these leaders have for entrepreneurs?
Three of the Washington Mystics, and Mystics COO Greg Bibb, share some words of wisdom.
Crystal Langhorne, #1, Forward/Center
Now in her fourth season with the WNBA, this 24-year-old from New Jersey played college basketball at the University of Maryland. She says that her goal is not just to win.
“It’s a fantastic thing to be a professional athlete,” she says. “I have dreamt of doing this since high school. My goal is just to get out on the court and play as hard as I possibly can and outplay the other team.”
Outworking others, she insists, is the key to success.
“You can’t be afraid to be a leader,” adds Langhorne, who has spent the last several winters in Russia and Spain playing for other women’s basketball teams. “If you want something, you have to go for it. You have to be aggressive.”
Post-professional basketball, Langhorne says she’s considering becoming a sports commentator, or maybe an interior designer. “It’s a field that I have loved for years,” she shares. “When I’m finished with this career, say in my mid-30s, that business seems like a good next step.”
Kelly Miller, #2, Guard
With 11 seasons under her belt in the WNBA, Kelly Miller was the high scorer against the Connecticut Sun, with 19 points. But then Miller, who has been playing on overseas teams for eight years in between WNBA stints, says practice makes perfect.
“Playing year-round does take its toll on your body eventually,” she admits. “But to make a good living and stay at the top of your game, you just have to keep at it.”
Of course, playing for coach Trudi Lacey makes it a little easier, she adds. “I played with Trudi before, and I really like her positive attitude. She brings out the best in her players, and makes us all push that much harder so that we can achieve the best of our abilities.”
Born in Minnesota, Miller wasn’t alone in her quest for WNBA greatness. Her twin sister, Coco, played for the Mystics until 2009 when she was signed by the Atlanta Dream.
The twins went to University of Georgia, where they both majored in biology and won a series of awards, including the James E. Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete. They earned that award in 1999, becoming the first pair of twins to earn the award, and joining such luminaries as track-and-field stars Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, diver Greg Louganis, pro-basketball players Bill Walton and Bill Bradley, gymnast Kurt Thomas, and swimmer Janet Evans as recipients of the award.
As for what it takes to make it to the top of a competitive profession, Miller mentions hard work, dedication—and sacrifice. “Playing sports, as a kid and as an adult, takes up a lot of time, so you have to love it. But that’s what makes it so great. If there’s something you absolutely can’t live without, then it just makes sense to work as hard as possible to achieve your goals.”
Matee Ajavon, #22, Guard
Since graduating from Rutgers four years ago, Matee Ajavon, 25, has been in the WNBA. This is her third season with the Mystics, and the woman who was born in Liberia has dreamed of becoming a professional athlete since she moved to the United States in 1992.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she says, noting that the only down side to all of her success is that she’s often far from her family and that takes a toll. “I love living in DC, and exploring all that the city has to offer. I just may live here eventually. But you never know what life will bring.”
Ajavon says that her advice to others is that no matter what you choose to do with your life, always put your all into it.
“Get off the bench and go for it,” she insists. “And do come out and support the Mystics. We have a great fan base, and it gets bigger and better every year. We love our fans, and want more people to come watch us play. It’s a lot of fun, and the excitement is contagious.”
Behind the Scenes: Greg Bibb, COO of the Mystics, and executive VP of Business Operations for the Washington Wizards
Now in his fourth season at the helm of the Washington Mystics as the team’s chief operating officer, Greg Bibb’s responsibilities with the Wizards and Mystics include overseeing all business functions for the organizations, including communications, community relations, game operations, marketing, new media, and the camps/clinics program. He also oversees Verizon Center’s CCTV department, the in-house television production unit for the venue.
Under his leadership, the Mystics has experienced a tremendous amount of business growth. The team consistently ranks near the top of the WNBA in attendance through innovative programs and offers.
The Mystics has also extended its reach into the corporate community. Most recently, Bibb played a leading role in the development of the Mystics’ marquee partnership with Inova Health Systems. The relationship is the team’s most comprehensive corporate partnership to date and one of the largest team deals in WNBA history.
Two years ago, shortly after Bibb took over as COO, the DC Chamber of Commerce recognized the Mystics, naming the team the 2009 Emerging Business of the Year. The Hershey, PA, native was also recently named one of the Washington Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.
A veteran of the sports industry, Bibb spent two years as the president of Hantz Group Sports & Entertainment, where he was instrumental in launching the Detroit Ignition of the Major Indoor Soccer League. He has also served as the executive vice president and general manager of the Philadelphia KiXX soccer team. Prior to joining the KiXX, Bibb was the director of Public and Media Relations with the Major Indoor Soccer League.
He currently sits on the boards of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance as well as Most Valuable Kids, an organization dedicated to providing sports and entertainment experiences for underprivileged and underserved children. Bibb is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He graduated magna cum laude from Marist College in 1996, and today the avid runner enjoys jogging 30 miles a week.
No stranger to thinking big, Bibb’s goals for the future of the Mystics are threefold: “I want to see the team be more successful on the court, I want to see attendance hit 10,000 fans per game, and I want to see us form more partnerships so that we can make an incredibly positive impact on the community.”
As for what it’s like to work around all those women—including Mystics co-owner Sheila Johnson—Bibb says it’s an inspiration.
“I have a little girl myself, and it’s great to watch these powerful women on the court,” he shares. “It’s great to watch the little girls look up to these athletes with awe. They really are role models. Our dream is to win a championship, and knowing what I do about these athletes, and the skill and leadership of Trudi Lacey, I predict that it won’t be long before we accomplish that.”
Check out the Mystics for yourself!
Click here to buy tickets for upcoming Mystics games.
Note: Games played in DC are listed below in bold.
Sunday, July 3 vs Seattle, 4 PM
Tuesday, July 5 at Chicago, 8 PM
Saturday, July 9 at Indiana, 7 PM
Tuesday, July 12 at Seattle, 3 PM
Friday, July 15 at Phoenix, 10 PM
Sunday, July 17 at Los Angeles, 8:30 PM
Wednesday, July 20 vs Atlanta, 11:30 AM
Tuesday, July 26 vs San Antonio, 7 PM
Thursday, July 28 at New York, 7 PM
Friday, July 29 vs Indiana, 7 PM
Saturday, August 6 vs New York, 7 PM
Tuesday, August 9 vs Atlanta, 7 PM
Friday, August 12 vs New York, 7 PM
Saturday, August 13 at Connecticut, 7 PM
Tuesday, August 16 at New York, 7 PM
Thursday, August 18 vs Minnesota, 7 PM
Saturday, August 20 vs Chicago, 7 PM
Sunday, August 21 at Indiana, 6 PM
Tuesday, August 23 vs Los Angeles, 7 PM
Friday, August 26 at Chicago, 8:30 PM
Sunday, August 28 vs Phoenix, 4 PM
Tuesday, August 30 at Minnesota, 8 PM
Thursday, September 1 vs Atlanta, 7 PM
Friday, September 2 at Atlanta, 7:30 PM
Sunday, September 4 vs Connecticut, 4 PM
Wednesday, September 7 at Indiana, 7 PM
Saturday, September 10 at San Antonio, 8 PM