Mercury Bask in Victory Celebration

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Sept. 18, 2007

Diana Taurasi recalled a story that NBA legend Bill Russell passed along to the Mercury a few weeks ago. The Hall of Famer said that euphoric feeling of winning a championship lasts for three weeks. And as Taurasi said after Game 5 in Detroit, "Let the feeling begin."

Taurasi and Co. kicked off the festivities Tuesday with a rally to celebrate their 2007 WNBA Championship at US Airways Center. Filling the Casino Arizona Pavilion to the brink of capacity, the loyal fans of the Mercury cascaded through the doors to cheer on their favorite team.

As the Phoenix Mercury Hip-Hop Squad set the tone for the jubilation with one of their patented dance numbers, the Mercury players made their introductions into the pavilion via an elongated red carpet.

The players filed into their seats on stage and Vice President of Game Entertainment Kip Helt introduced Mercury President Jay Parry.

Parry noted that the season was chock full of firsts. It was Phoenix's first-ever 23-win season, regular season Western Conference Championship, Game 5 Finals road victory and, of course, WNBA Championship. She also brought up the fact that Head Coach Paul Westhead, as well as General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale, took a lot of heat for being the first team to trade away their No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft.

In exchange for the top selection, the Mercury received Tangela Smith, the perfect center for an up-tempo squad. Smith's ability to rebound and hit the 3 as a trailer proved to be the missing ingredient that the team needed to secure its first title.

Meyers Drysdale followed with a speech that emphasized how close the players were as a unit. Despite being a part of many championship clubs through her storied basketball career, the Mercury GM stated that this team was the closest she's ever seen on and off the court. It was a sentiment echoed later by many of the women.

Coach Westhead, who received a myriad of pleas from Taurasi and the crowd to return as head coach, evoked the words of basketball legend John Wooden.

"Isn't it amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit?" he said.

Westhead's fast-paced style of "Paul Ball" was doubted as the type of play that could deliver championship titles. Now he can add his WNBA Finals hardware next to the Larry O'Brien trophy on his mantle from the 1980 Championship Lakers.

"It was believed that running teams couldn't win Finals games because the game slowed down," Westhead said, "We were hell-bent on that win or lose. We weren't going to slow down. I always told my team that we are the enemy, not the other team. And if we continue to push ourselves and get out and run, we'll get easy open looks."

Finals MVP Cappie Pondexter credits her coach for the team's turnaround over the last two seasons.

"We believed in this man from Day 1," she said. "He brought a work ethic and focus everyday that allowed us to be great."

Westhead was not the only person to receive chants from the electrifying crowd. First-Team All-WNBA forward Penny Taylor, who might have to fulfill a commitment to the Australian national team next summer, was also showered with pleas to return.

"You were with us through a thick and thin, and there were a lot of thin times," said Taylor. "But you had a huge influence on us. Believe that."

Taurasi was the most colorful in addressing the fans, joking that Westhead signed a five-year extension that morning.

"I'm not going to be modest today," she said. "It's hard to get great individual players to take a backseat and mesh together as a team. But we found a way to do it, and it was worth it."

Current assistant coach Bridget Pettis was the last to speak and delivered the most emotional speech. Pettis, who has been with Mercury since their inaugural season, illustrated how the team transcended individualism and banded together to accomplish a common goal. She also praised the fans (known as the "X-Factor") who have been there since she was a player.

"You've been with us for 11 long years," Pettis addressed the crowd. "You deserve this!"

After former player, Jennifer "Grandma-ma" Gillom sauntered to the stage at the behest of the "X-Factor," the team gathered together to watch the unveiling of the championship banner.

As streamers exploded through the air, the celebration was concluded with Gillom leading the crowd in a rendition of the "Mighty Mercury" theme song. As the pavilion rocked with the singing of one final chorus, one began to wonder how long the ecstasy would last.

"Three weeks," according to Bill Russell. But for the Mercury fans that have waited over a decade, he might have underestimated that figure.