When Phoenix became one of eight cities (Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento and Utah) awarded a women�s professional basketball team, the organization was not aware of the overwhelming amount of support the team would receive. The city of Phoenix welcomed the women�s team with open arms and showed their support by making Phoenix one of the top cities in attendance averaging 13,000 plus fans the first season. The spark was lit when one of the greatest pioneers of women�s basketball, Cheryl Miller, was named Head Coach/ General Manager of the Phoenix Mercury. With the allocation of Jennifer Gillom and Michele Timms, Miller led the Mercury to a winning record of 16-12, the Western Conference title and a playoff birth.
In the elite draft, two more key players were drafted by the Mercury, Bridget Pettis and Nancy Lieberman-Cline who added depth to the Mercury roster. The final roster included 10 active players and two developmental players. The Phoenix Mercury played their inaugural game on June 22, 1997 and defeated the Charlotte Sting 79-59 at America West Arena in front of a crowd of 16,102 fans. Gillom stepped it up and took control of the Mercury leading the team in scoring averaging 15.7 ppg for the season and ended the season being tied for fifth in the league in scoring and being named to the All-WNBA second team. Timms led the team in assists (5.1 apg); while, Foster led the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg). Pettis was second on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and ranked 12th in the league.
It didn�t take long for Phoenix to make their mark in the WNBA. The first ever WNBA player trade was made on July 31, with the Mercury obtaining Mikiko Hagiwara from Sacramento for future considerations. Phoenix led the league in forcing their opponents to turn the ball over, with opponents averaging 21.4 turnovers per game. At the same time, the Mercury had the fewest turnovers in the league, averaging 17.0 turnovers per game. The Mercury also led the league in rebounding percentage with .508, as well as holding their opponents to a scoring low, an average of 65.2 points per game. Phoenix was tied with Los Angeles for the most steals in a single game (20) and was second behind Cleveland, for the most offensive rebounds in a single game (22).
There was one team that the Mercury fought against all season, the Los Angeles Sparks. In three meetings, the Mercury went into overtime twice and had a buzzer beater victory once. Toni Foster hit the only buzzer beater shot of the season on July 13 at Los Angeles in a 57-56 victory. In the final game of the season on August 24, the Mercury had a sellout crowd for an overtime victory of 73-68 against Los Angeles, which advanced Phoenix into the playoffs.
Phoenix made the playoffs and faced the New York Liberty in the semi-final game (single elimination game). Phoenix fell to New York, 59-41, in front of their home crowd of 16,751 at America West Arena. Gillom and reserve Marlies Askamp each posted 9 points and Gillom grabbed 7 rebounds.
The second WNBA season got even hotter for the Phoenix Mercury. With the expansion of the league from 8 to 10 teams (Washington and Detroit) and a longer playoff series, Phoenix took their game all the way to the WNBA finals. Under the guidance of head coach Cheryl Miller, the team posted a 19-11 record and a second trip to the playoffs. The Mercury ended the regular season on a positive note posting a 7-2 record for the month of August, with a 4-0 record at home. Jennifer Gillom made two buzzer beater shots that not only led Phoenix into overtime victories, but also helped the Mercury advance to the playoffs. In June and July the Mercury posted a winning record of 12-9 with Gillom leading the way in scoring and rebounding. She was also named Player of the Week for the week of July 12th.
The 1998 Phoenix squad featured seven international players. The Mercury drafted the talented 6'8", 19-year-old Russian, Maria Stepanova, in the first round (8th pick) of the 1998 draft. Three players were from Australia (Michelle Griffiths, Kristi Harrower, Michele Timms), one from Slovakia (Andrea Kuklova), Germany (Marlies Askamp) and Japan (Mikiko Hagiwara). Hagiwara, Kuklova and Stepanova all had traveling interpreters during the season.
Gillom became the second player in WNBA history (behind Cynthia Cooper) to surpass the 1,000 point mark in her career and ended the season with 1,064 points. She finished the season ranked second in the league in scoring, fifth in rebounding, sixth in three-point field goal percentage and tenth in steals. Gillom was named to the All-WNBA first team and led the team in scoring for the second straight season, averaging 20.8 ppg.
Phoenix faced the Cleveland Rockers in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. The Mercury finished the semi-final series with a 2-1 record. The Mercury defeated the Rockers in game one of the semi-finals in front of their home crowd (78-68). Phoenix had a heart breaking loss in game two in Cleveland by one point (67-66). In game three, Bridget Pettis led all scorers, recording 27 points and 11 rebounds and helped secure the Mercury win (71-60). Gillom led the series against Cleveland averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg. The Mercury advanced to the WNBA Finals where they faced the defending World Champion Houston Comets. The Mercury were victorious in game one at America West Arena (54-51). Michele Timms turned up the heat in game two of the Finals at Houston and led the team with 21 points (7-18 FG, 2-8 3-pt FG, 5-5 FT). The two teams went into overtime but the Comets came away with the win (74-69). The Comets won game three (80-71) and walked away with the WNBA Championship title. Gillom led the team in scoring and rebounding in the playoffs, posting an average of 17.0 ppg and 7.8 rpg.
The Mercury had arguably the best bench around the league. Phoenix was 11-2 when their bench scored 20+ points in a game. The bench posted an all-time high 47 points in an 88-59 victory vs. Washington on 8/4. Marlies Askamp led the bench during the season in scoring and rebounding, averaging 5.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg.
The Mercury fans filled the stands and kept Phoenix ranked in the top three in the league for attendance, averaging 13,765.
Whitney Houston sang the national anthem as all the stars came out in New York for the Inaugural WNBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden. Jennifer Gillom and Michele Timms were selected to play in the inaugural WNBA All-Star game on the Western Conference team on July 14 in New York. With Van Chancellor coaching the Western Conference team, the West defeated the Eastern Conference team, which was coached by Linda Hill-MacDonald, 79-61.
With an overall record of 15-17 and Cheryl Miller re-signing a multi-year contract, the Mercury heated things up in the second half of the season. If the season had been decided on second half performance alone, Phoenix would have fared much better than their fourth place Western Conference finish. Based on the last 18 games of the season, the Mercury would have ended the season with an 11-7 record placing themselves in second place in the Western Conference. In the last 18 games the Mercury averaged 68.1 ppg, 39.6 rpg, 16.4 apg and 7.7 spg while in the first half of the season they averaged 67.6 ppg, 32.2 rpg, 15.3 apg and 6.5 spg and a record of 4-10. Phoenix also ended the season holding three WNBA single game records. They had the most field goal attempts (79), the most three-point field goal attempts (29) and the fewest free throw attempts (4). The Mercury won 11 consecutive home games, from 7/17 through 8/17, which set a new franchise record and ranked Phoenix second in the WNBA record books (behind the Houston Comets) for the most consecutive home games won.
Gillom became one of two players in the league to record 1,500 career points (behind Cynthia Cooper) and led the team in scoring for the third straight season (15.2 ppg). Gillom also scored in double figures 82 out of 90 regular season games in the last three seasons. She also recorded her 550th career rebound vs. Utah on 8/20. Gillom became the only Mercury player to have started and played in every game (90 games) in the last three years. Timms was a close second, having not played in three games and not starting in one game.
Maria Stepanova stepped it up off the bench and recorded career-high numbers. Her 62 total blocks landed her ranked second in league for blocks per game (1.94 bpg). She had a streak of at least one blocked shot (41 total blocks) in 18 straight games from 7/17 through 8/20. Her career-high six blocks on 6/26 at Detroit was a Mercury franchise record for the most blocks in a single game. Stepanova recorded four consecutive double-doubles and ended the season with six double-doubles.
With the Mercury bench having so much depth, they outscored their opponents bench 19 out of 32 times and 12 out of 16 times at home. Maria Stepanova led the bench in scoring (7.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.1 rpg).
Once the American Basketball League (ABL) closed its doors, many of those talented players joined the WNBA and heated up the competition. With the competition fierce, America West Arena had no problem packing the house and maintaining Phoenix�s top three ranking in the league for attendance.
Phoenix hosted the second annual WNBA All-Star Game on July 17, and Brandy Reed represented the Mercury on the Western Conference team that bested the East, 73-61.
The Mercury finished the season with a franchise-best 20-12 record and their third playoff berth in four seasons.
At the start of the season, the Mercury put together a franchise-record four-game road winning streak (6/13-6/24), and the team continued its winning ways by tying a franchise record with four consecutive overall wins from July 7-13. In August, the Mercury shot a scorching WNBA-record 63.6 percent from the field vs. the Seattle Storm.
Phoenix also secured a mention in the record books by holding the Miami Sol to a 2000 WNBA season-low and Mercury franchise-low 44 points, while limiting the Sol to a franchise-low 22.6 percent from the field.
Despite the injuries the team faced, many Mercury players excelled individually as well. Reed finished the season ranked third in the league and first on the team in scoring (19.0 ppg), while Jennifer Gillom (12.5 ppg) had the second-best scoring average for Phoenix. Reed (5.8 rpg) and Michelle Griffiths (4.0 rpg) were the top Mercury rebounders. The Mercury accomplished these milestones in spite of the numerous injuries to key players. Michelle Cleary, Maria Stepanova and Michele Timms all suffered season ending knee injuries, while Gillom and Griffiths each missed time due to sprained ankles. To compensate for these injuries, Phoenix signed guards Dena Head and Nicole Kubik mid-season.
The 2000 season was one which saw Reed return to Phoenix through a trade after spending one season in Minnesota, and finish the year ranked third in the WNBA in free throw percentage, third in scoring, fifth in steals and tied for 15th in rebounding. Also, Michelle Cleary set a new franchise record for individual assists in a game with 12 assists on 7/19 vs. Utah, and Tonya Edwards was nominated for the second annual American Express Small Business Services WNBA Entrepreneurial Award. Edwards has a snack vending business out of Columbus, Ohio. In addition, Gillom set a new career high and also tied the Mercury�s all-time record for most free throws in a game by shooting 12-12 from the line on 6/14 vs. Portland, and Lisa Harrison finished second in the league with a 1.36 steals-to-turnovers ratio. �The Sparkplug� Bridget Pettis kept her streak alive of consecutive games played with 122. Finally, rookie Adrian Williams was one of only two Mercury players (Reed is the other) to record a double-double this season.
Phoenix�s impressive finish led the team to the playoffs for the third time in its four-year existence. In the First Round of the 2000 Playoffs, the Mercury faced the league�s top team, the Los Angeles Sparks, and fought hard, but lost both games to their Western Conference foe.
The WNBA welcomed four new teams (Indiana Fever, Miami Sol, Portland Fire and Seattle Storm) to the league and the Mercury won all nine games against the 2000 expansion teams.
The 2000 season also featured the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Four Mercury players joined their national teams in Sydney for the Games. Trisha Fallon, Michelle Griffiths and Michele Timms suited up for the host Australian National Team, and won a silver medal, and Maria Stepanova played for the Russian National Team.
The 2001 season marked the fifth anniversary of the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA. One of eight inaugural members of the league, the Mercury has seen the league raise the level of competition and expand to 16 teams over the years. Phoenix boasts and 83-71 overall record and captured a Western Conference title in 1997 and a trip to the WNBA finals in 1998.
On January 8, 2001, the Phoenix Mercury named Cynthia Cooper the second head coach in franchise history. Cooper, winner of four straight WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and two-time league MVP, took over for Cheryl Miller, who resigned following the 2000 season. Cooper guided the Mercury to a 13-19 record and a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
As a team, the Mercury enjoyed the longest winning streak in franchise history from July 14-27, where they won five games in a row This included two game-winning shots by fifth-year veteran Jennifer Gillom, who hit buzzer-beaters to defeat Detroit and Seattle during that streak. Another highlight saw all five starters score in double figures for the first time in Mercury history as Phoenix downed Minnesota on 7/14/01. Eight different players led the team in scoring throughout the year while ten different players led in rebounds.
Individually, Maria Step nova (.507) and Trisha Fallon (.490) ranked among league leaders in field goal percentage while point guards Kristen Veal (4.3) and Michele Timms (4.1) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, among assist leaders. Veal also ranked first among WNBA rookies in the assist category. Lisa Harrison ranked eighth among WNBA free throw shooters with a .864 percentage.
Three of the original Mercury members, continued to make headlines in 2001. Bridget Pettis saw action in all 32 games in 2001, extending her streak to 154 games played over five seasons in the WNBA. She joins a select group of just six players who have appeared in every game in WNBA history. Jennifer Gillom notched her 2,000th career point on 6/10/01, becoming only the third player in WNBA history to reach this milestone. Michele Timms capped off her professional career and the 2001 season on �Michele Timms Night� by hitting a three pointer with 7.5 seconds left in the 56-38 victory over Houston on 8/14/01.
Off the court, the Mercury continued their strong showing in the community with various appearances and programs. Mercury players volunteered their time at events such as spaghetti dinners, hospital visits, book drives, kid�s clinics and Boys and Girls Club visits. For the month of July, Michele Timms was named the WNBA�s Hometown Hero, honoring a player who donates time and energy to their local community. A $5,000 check was presented in her name to the Mary Cobb �Building Dream� Foundation, a program created by Cynthia Cooper that raises funds for breast cancer patients.
The 2002 season marked the sixth year for both the WNBA and one of its original eight teams, the Phoenix Mercury. In six seasons, Phoenix owns an overall record of 94-92. The �Mighty Mercury� won the Western Conference Title in 1997 and earned a trip to the WNBA Finals in 1998. 2002 could only be described as a frustrating year for the Mercury. In the first few days of training camp, the club learned that 6�8� Russian center Maria Step nova would miss the season due to pregnancy. Rebounding from the loss of Step nova, the team came out of the gate quickly, winning four out of the first five games. Soon after the hot start, things began to change. On June 26, Head Coach Cynthia Cooper resigned from her position to spend more time with her family and Assistant Coach Linda Sharp was named Interim Coach for the remainder of the season. When Cooper left, the team held a 6-4 record. The Mercury responded by winning their first game under Sharp, knocking off the Seattle Storm 62-53.
After a home loss to the defending champion LA Sparks, the team embarked on a five-game road swing. The road would prove to be a thorn in the Mercury�s side all season, as they endured a 15-game losing streak on the road. The team finally earned a win in Portland on August 11, the last road game of the year, beating the Fire 73-70 to finish the season 1-15 away from America West Arena.
On August 7, the Mercury honored an original member of the team by retiring Michele Timms� jersey. �Timmsy�s� #7 was sent to the rafters in front of 10,286 Mercury fans, the largest crowd of the season. After the halftime ceremony, the X-Factor was treated to a 59-57 Mercury victory.
The 2002 Mercury finished with a record of 11-21, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. On October 23, 2002, the Mercury announced the hiring of John Shumate as the club�s third head coach in franchise history. Shumate joined the Mercury with a wealth of basketball knowledge having played in the NBA for several seasons before joining the Toronto Raptors coaching staff as an assistant and then the Phoenix Suns scouting staff.
The 2003 season marked the seventh anniversary for the WNBA, and one of its charter franchises, the Phoenix Mercury. Under the direction of first-year head coach John Shumate, the 2003 Mercury finished the season with an 8-26 record. Although not the season they had hoped for, the record was certainly not indicative of the effort put forth both on and off the court by the Mercury.
The Mercury had the fourth pick in the 2003 Draft, the club�s highest draft pick to date, and selected 6�2� forward Plenette Pierson from Texas Tech. The Mercury also added veteran leadership at the point guard position by selecting Tamicha Jackson in the WNBA�s Dispersal Draft. After all their preseason moves, the Mercury found themselves with one of the youngest rosters in the WNBA.
With a new coach in place, and just four players returning from the 2002 squad, the 2003 Mercury spent the majority of the season trying to implement a new defensive style, as well as jell together as a team during the short 34-game season. Not an easy task for such a young squad.
On July 2, 2002 veteran forward Adrian Williams was named to the 2003 WNBA All-Star Team, the first Mercury player to be named to an All-Star Team since 2000. Williams joins Michele Timms, Jennifer Gillom and Brandy Reed as representatives of Phoenix in the All-Star Game. In her All-Star debut, the 6�4� Williams saw 19 minutes of action en route to nine points, six rebounds and two steals as the West defeated the East 84-75.
Signed by the Mercury as a free agent in April, Anna DeForge quickly stepped up as the Mercury�s on-court leader. Returning to the league after a two-year absence, DeForge finished the season as the Mercury�s leading scorer (11.9 ppg) and finished among the league�s top ten in three-point shooting (.412). A strong candidate for the WNBA�s Most Improved Player Award, DeForge led the Mercury in scoring on 14 occasions.
While the Mercury managed eight victories on the season, the club lost 17 games by nine points or less and eight games by less than five points. On July 15, the Mercury battled the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Sparks to double-overtime before falling one point shy of the victory. Phoenix would see another double-overtime contest August 3 at Washington, this time emerging victorious in the extra sessions.
Off the court, the Mercury continued their strong support within the community by making numerous appearances through team and league programs. Mercury players volunteered their time to assist Valley children in the WNBA�s Read to Achieve Program and also visited numerous schools, YMCAs and other venues for basketball clinics and camps. For her off-season dedication to the community, forward Kayte Christensen won the WNBA�s Community Assist Award in May for all of her efforts across the Valley.