Mercury Inspire at Ak-Chin Indian Community

By Ben York,
Posted: August 6, 2011

“Diana Taurasi just signed my jersey!” I remember hearing a young girl, maybe ten-years-old, tell her mom Friday afternoon. The expression on her face was classic and her beaming smile lit up the entire gym.

On August 5, the entire Mercury team traveled to the peaceful Ak-Chin Indian Community for a special open practice which included Scorch and members of the Hip Hop Squad. This unprecedented event marked the first time a tribal entity in Arizona has hosted a professional basketball team’s practice.

For those who don’t know, the Ak-Chin Indian Community isn’t exactly just around the corner. Located about forty miles south of Phoenix near Maricopa, the community is nestled in the gorgeous Santa Cruz Valley and totals nearly 1,000 members.

Arriving at about three in the afternoon on Friday, the team was introduced by Kip Helt to a thundering applause from the crowded and excited gym. Prior to taking the court, a few of the tribal members performed a ceremonial welcome dance for the team who watched captivatingly from the sidelines.

Though, from about 3:30 – 4:45, it was all business.

Phoenix focused primarily on conditioning drills, running through offensive sets, and working on weak-side defense and rotations. In between drills, the crowd was entertained by the Hip Hop Squad and Scorch with contests and giveaways.

After practice, the team and staff were treated to a traditional Ak-Chin meal complete with homemade tortillas and a slow-cooked roast (multiple members of the team thanked the chef profusely afterwards). Each member of the Mercury sat at a different table while children drew numbers out of a hat to see which player they would sit and converse with.

This was, perhaps, the most significant portion of the unique outing. Having the opportunity, at a young age, to talk directly with a professional athlete is extraordinary. For the members of the Mercury, they were just as excited to chat with the kids as the kids were with them.

Prior to digging in, the team was greeted with a warm welcome by tribal representatives including a pre-meal prayer which was spoken in their beautiful native language. It was a touching moment to see so much diversity in the room and how quickly everyone came together.

At first, the children were a bit shy (understandably so) but the players’ warm personalities instantly remedied that. Candice Dupree was even kind enough to wait until the kids at her table were served their plates of food before she began to eat her meal. For anyone that knows or has met Candice, this probably comes as no surprise.

The players began to ask the children questions about their community, school, their favorite sports, and basically anything the kids wanted to talk about. Being an observer of the event, you couldn’t help but have a huge smile on your face watching how these kids looked up to the players and how the players reciprocated their appreciation.

As the dinner came to a close, the kids had such a memorable time that they didn’t want the players to leave. Who could blame them? Imagine being able to have an extended conversation, as a child, with your favorite WNBA player…priceless!

One, in particular, took a liking to DeWanna Bonner (which isn’t hard to do). The young boy thought the Mercury was leaving to play a basketball game and he wanted to go with.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we have to go home,” DeWanna Bonner said with a heartfelt smile. “Actually, I might go to the nail salon. But I bet you wouldn’t want to go there…”

The boy (wearing a fedora by the way) thought for a moment...

“Sure,” he said with a serious face while shrugging his shoulders. “I’ll go if you’re going!”

DeWanna burst out laughing and gave the boy a big hug.

Just another way the Mercury makes a positive impact in the Arizona community.