NEW YORK — Washington Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud called for a level of respect from New York Liberty fans packing Barclays Center for Game 2 of their first-round series after seeing video of a fan calling the Mystics “thugs” was aired on the ESPN broadcast Friday.
“New York does a really good job of packing this place, but also I know y’all saw that bulls*** the other night, too, so I hope we do keep it respectful,” Cloud said after shootaround on Tuesday. “We don’t have any room for racism, hate, any type of bulls***.”
A fan attended Game 1 at Barclays with a handmade “Maul the Misfits” sign that made its way to social media ahead of the hotly contested matchup. The Mystics and Liberty series was the most anticipated of the first round with an upset by the No. 7 seed Washington team highly probable.
When the ESPN2 broadcast sent the game to the halftime studio, cameras aired the man holding the sign. He was making a throat-slitting gesture and audio caught him yelling, “The misfits. They’re a bunch of thugs,” and calling for them to go back to Washington, D.C. He was on air for about 20 seconds while play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco set up the halftime show.
Fans were quick to call out the issue online. Indiana Fever guard Victoria Vivians posted it and tagged the league and WNBA Players Association accounts.
“I hope that New York controls that fan that they just let call us a bunch of thugs,” Cloud said. “All the racist bulls*** that is placed on Black people in this country, we don’t have any room for it here. You want to come, you want to support teams, you want to support the W, we love that. You want to come with that bulls***, you can definitely see me after the game. And you can tell the fan that, too.”
Cloud, an eight-year veteran, is one of the league’s most vocal players, particularly on issues of racism and social justice. For more than four years, she has pushed for gun reform and staged media blackouts in the past to speak solely about gun reform, rather than about the game itself. In 2022, she said she is considering a job in politics when her career is over.
The No. 2 seed Liberty won Game 1, 90-75, in another star-studded event at Barclays. Billie Jean King, a tennis legend and leader in equal pay in women's sports, and Malala Yousafzai, a human rights advocate for the education of women in children in her native Pakistan, were courtside.
“New York does a really good job of bringing people out and what I mean by people is like celebrities, influencers, all of the above,” Cloud said. “So that’s really cool to see at our games. I don’t think that’s really been done before in my eight years of playing.”
The Mystics face elimination in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). If they win, the deciding Game 3 will be played in Washington, D.C., on Friday night. The semifinals tip off on Sunday. The winner plays either the No. 3 Connecticut Sun or No. 6 Minnesota Lynx, who will play their Game 3 in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Cloud told Yahoo Sports watching the film of Game 1 was “humbling,” but also “exciting.” Washington went 2-2 against New York in the regular season. Their losses were by one point in an overtime contest and by nine points in July while without three starters due to injury.
“We can change the way that we played [in Game 1] and possibly change the trajectory of this game tonight by just simply allowing our defense to bring our offense,” she said.
The Mystics, when healthy, have one of the best defenses in the league. They’re still without center Shakira Austin, the team’s rim protector, but have Elena Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins back in the lineup and defense on the perimeter from Brittney Sykes and Cloud.
Cloud said she told the team Monday she was guarding Liberty sharpshooter Sabrina Ionescu, who hit a franchise-record seven 3-pointers that fueled a game-best 29 points in the win.
“I’m just gonna lead by example,” Cloud said. “That’s starting from tip. I’m in Sabrina’s ass and that’s, like, everyone wants it to be beef in the W this year, but iron sharpens iron. So as a defender, as someone that loves going against the best player every single night, I take opportunities to guard Sabrina. This is a really cool moment for me, a really great environment, atmosphere, but that’s my job tonight to take Sabrina out of the equation.”