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December 27, 2019 | Drew Hansen, Washington Business Journal

As we unveiled last week, we picked the Washington Nationals and Mystics winning their respective league championships as our No. 1 local business story for 2019.

Why? It’s simple, really. The titles helped transform our town, spurred some serious spending and created moments many of us will never forget.

We reached out to Mark Lerner, the managing principal owner and vice chairman of the Nationals, and Ted Leonsis, the chairman, principal partner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment — the entity that owns the Mystics — to share their memories of their teams’ respective championship runs.

Here are their answers, edited for space and clarity:

MARK LERNER, Washington Nationals managing principal owner and vice chairman

What will you remember most from the championship celebrations?

Celebrating my father’s 94th birthday on the field at Nationals Park after winning the National League Championship Series, surrounded by family, friends and Nats fans is something I will never forget.

What was the first thing you did after the initial celebrating ended?

I went home and pinched myself. I still am! Seriously, I still can’t believe we are World Series Champions! Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent many hours re-watching highlights from the postseason.

If you could spend a day with the Commissioner’s Trophy like NHL players do with the Stanley Cup, where would you take it?

As soon as we returned home from Houston, we started working on bringing the World Series trophy to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It was a very important visit for me. That day was filled with memorable moments as Ryan Zimmerman and I shared the trophy with all of the military families and the amazing medical and support staff at the center.

What made this Nationals team different than others?

This was a group of guys who just would not give up. They were a cohesive team who all knew how to have fun and enjoy the good moments, while not dwelling too long on the disappointments. The perfect mixture of veterans and young players.

What makes the Nationals different from other organizations?

We didn’t have baseball in D.C. for so many years that there’s a whole generation who missed out. So, our fan base is still growing and maturing. Now our fans are able to experience baseball in their backyard, with multiple generations building memories together. Fans who were just kids when the Nats started in 2005, are now driving to the ballpark and experiencing the game alongside their own kids.

Who’s someone in the Nationals organization — player, coach or staffer — that hasn’t gotten enough credit for the team’s success this year?

I think all of the coverage has been consistent in focusing on how this championship was truly a full team effort. While I can’t say enough about how important Davey Martinez’s positive, “Let’s go 1-0 everyday” attitude was in the clubhouse, and we obviously had amazing and important moments from several specific players during the postseason, none of it would have been possible without the contributions of every single member of the roster, all of the coaching, scouting and medical staff, our minor league system and the front office.

How is Washington different than other sports towns? Is there anything that makes it unique?

People always point out that there is a lot of fluidity to the DMV community. But I was born and raised here, and I strongly believe that this is less true these days as more and more people are coming to D.C. and putting down permanent roots.

What’s your go-to restaurant in the D.C. area?

My favorite restaurants are The Prime Rib and Fiola Mare.


TED LEONSIS, founder, chairman, principal partner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment

What will you remember most from the championship celebrations?

For me, the most memorable part of both the Mystics and Nationals championships was the fans. I’ve always believed that nothing brings a city closer together than a winning sports team. At their very best, sports teams weave themselves into the fabric of a community. They become part of our shared identity. They transcend our divisions. Our fans came together in celebration of community — a celebration of something that we all, collectively, together, have a stake in. And we all had a stake in the both the Mystics and Nats championships. It was amazing to witness.

What made this Mystics team different than others?

The Mystics have such amazing star power. Time and time again, Elena Delle Donne has showed why she is the league’s Most Valuable Player and one of the top athletes in the world and already one of the most decorated players in WNBA history. Mystics center Emma Meesseman became “Playoff Emma” following her incredible postseason performance; and this season, Natasha Cloud made history to become the Mystic’s all-time leader in assists.

I could list the entire roster as throughout the season and during the playoffs, every player on our team has stepped up and made key plays to help us win our first championship. And I can’t forget to mention Coach Mike Thibault for having coached the Mystics to one of the best seasons in WNBA history. The commitment that Mike and his family has made to our organization and our city has meant so much. Having earned three WNBA Coach of the Year awards in his 17 years in the league and the distinction of being the WNBA’s winningest coach – Mike is a true legend.

What makes the Mystics different from other organizations?

What great ambassadors the Mystics players are of the city and our community. There isn’t a league in the world whose world-class athletes are as accessible to their fans as WNBA players. Our players have always been dedicated to giving back to the community and now with the success of this season and winning the WNBA championship, the entire world knows some of the great stories behind this great team.

Who’s someone in the Mystics organization — player, coach or staffer — that hasn’t gotten enough credit for the team’s success this year?

Our business operations group has worked tirelessly to make our first season at the Entertainment and Sports Arena a memorable one for our fans. Our sales group led by Richard Lintker in particular have been on the front line working with our fans to ensure that the transition was as seamless as possible.

How is Washington different than other sports towns? Is there anything that makes it unique?

The Greater Washington region is the third-largest regional economy in the U.S.; and the seventh-largest on the planet. We are home to world-class universities and three international airports. We are multicultural — people here speak 200 languages — and our workforce is one of the most educated on the planet. D.C. is a true “Super City” and a place where sports and entertainment can play such a unique role in our economic development. Sports is a platform that generates significant economic activity — but it also generates community pride in a way that almost no other entity can.

What’s your go-to restaurant in the D.C. area?

Cafe Milano is where we always celebrate championships.


Washington Business Journal

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