Penny Taylor: Class, Personified

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Oct. 4, 2012

During the summer months, without thousands of screaming fans inside it on game days, the lower bowl of US Airways Center can be deafeningly quiet.

So silent that a pin-drop could be heard as it ricochets through the interminable halls.

This past summer, however, during Phoenix Mercury practice, there was an unmistakable, rhythmic beat that echoed outside the team’s weight room en route to the court.

dum……….dum……….dum……….dum……….

From about May to July, the beat was slow.

Steady.

Almost morose.

But it was always there.

Every. Single. Day.

“Hi, Ben,” said a voice, with an instantly recognizable Australian accent. Always friendly, she’d grin but her usual glow was tapered.

Genuine, but drawn back.

I’d smile and wave.

Total, the daily encounters lasted no more than 15 seconds. But even in that short amount of time, the pain on Penny Taylor’s face was visible – from both an emotional and physical standpoint.

After tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament on a non-contact play in a game vs. Turkish rival Galatasaray while playing overseas in the spring, the reality of Taylor missing not just the entire WNBA season but also the London 2012 Olympic Games was, perhaps, the toughest pill she’s ever swallowed.

dum…….dum…….dum…….dum…….

Truth be told, the only option she had was to heal – literally and figuratively. But the process and conscious methods in which healing takes place says a lot about a person – one’s true character is, ultimately, revealed.

Anyone can heal with time – effort and intentions aside. Taylor, however, handled her difficult situation with sincerity and class.

She must’ve been asked, “How’s your knee?” dozens of times each day. Or, how she felt about not being able to play for Australia in the Olympics. Both tender subjects. But her response would make people feel as if each question was unique and distinctive.

Never rude. Never annoyed.

That’s Penny, though. For as tough and implacable as she is on the court, she’s equally benevolent off it.

I remember a specific time during a pre-game meet-and-greet with three young fans where Taylor was scheduled only to take a quick picture. Instead, she essentially held a basketball symposium with the young ballers (all wearing #13 jerseys), smiling and answering every question they had for her (there were many).

“I love that…” said Taylor, delicately, beaming as she made her way back to the Mercury locker room.

dum…..dum…..dum…..dum…..

* * *

One day in August, the beat was noticeably more rapid.

dum..dum..dum..dum..

Penny was running.

You couldn’t help but feel immense joy for her. The simple act of being able to run again was a tremendous gift. Physical therapy can be incredibly tedious and repetitive – even more so when the team is struggling.

Yes, we’re talking about sports – not life or death – but Taylor’s attitude and mentality strikes a specifically optimistic chord with Mercury fans. She’s someone they have such high reverence for because of how hard she plays; if she could, she’d go out there with a broken leg.

In fact, describing Penny is eerily similar to how many would characterize the Phoenix Mercury – tough, unrelenting, altruistic, and cheerful. Conversely, if Penny wasn’t “Penny,” would Mercury fans have sympathized (or empathized) with her as much as they did this past season?

It was almost as if the X-Factor shared and/or felt her pain.

But because of the type of person Penny is, they also inherited her resilience.

How often does that happen in professional sports? Where an extensive fan-base adopts a player’s way of thinking, be it consciously or unconsciously.

I’d argue that it seldom occurs, if at all.

But the Mercury is more than basketball. It’s more than a sport. And the Mercury (and Penny Taylor) is helping to assist in the shifting of how women’s sports are perceived.

We’ve seen Penny’s amazing career unfold over the past eight years as a Mercury. But her greatest gift could be the example she continues to set as a human being.