Champions: Mercury Party Amid Questions

By Paul Coro
Updated: September 21, 2007

PHOENIX — Phoenix finally hung a championship basketball banner Tuesday afternoon. A limousine and red carpet delivered the WNBA-champion Mercury to a rally inside US Airways Center’s Casino Arizona Pavilion, where more than 1,000 fans celebrated the city’s first pro basketball title.

“These are 12 talented individuals who became the best basketball team in America,” Mercury coach Paul Westhead proclaimed during an hourlong rally.

He also cited a quote from legendary coach John Wooden: “Isn’t it amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit?”

Westhead is getting his share of the credit and now must decide whether to accept longtime friend and Seattle SuperSonics coach P.J. Carlesimo’s offer to join his staff.

Westhead said the topic has not been revisited, thanks to an agreement between the teams, since it was broached in the middle of the Mercury’s season.

Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale said she picked up the third-year option on Westhead’s contract and offered a one-year extension for 2009 to give him “the best contract in the WNBA.”

Despite that, Meyers Drysdale said she expects Westhead will leave, and she has a plan ready.

On Tuesday, fans at the rally did their part to entice Westhead to stay, and guard Diana Taurasi jokingly announced a five-year extension for him.

Westhead was not the only one being asked to remain with the team. The fans chanted, “Please come back,” as Taurasi went to her knees pleading for forward Penny Taylor to stay. She might remain in Australia next year to prepare for the Olympics with her national team.

“You made a difference, and I want you to believe that,” Taylor told the fans. “I’ve played a lot of basketball around the world, and it’s not easy to find a team like this with teammates like this.”

Taurasi set off the rally’s festive mood by entering with her arms crossed to represent Mercury fans, known as the X-factor.

Jay Parry, the club’s chief operating officer, and Drysdale also spoke. The microphone was passed to Westhead, players and assistants and original Mercury player Bridget Pettis.

“I can’t sleep right now,” said Pettis, later calling fellow alum Jennifer Gillom to the stage. “I’m having the best dream of my life.”

Taurasi also recognized another franchise original, Seth Sulka, an executive at the team’s inception who resigned as general manager a year ago.

“He may not be here with us physically, but he’s always with us in spirit and mind,” she said.

The rally was capped when team mascot Scorch let down the banner amid confetti while Queen’s We are the Champions played.

To many, an air-conditioned party with intimacy was better than a parade.

“The players could see how much we appreciated them, and we weren’t so spread out,” said Janet Cunningham, donning purple Mercury cowboy hats with sisters Susanne Fitch and Jennifer Reilly. “And it’s hot outside, dude!”

Other fans, such as Teri Surrell of Phoenix, said the title “put Phoenix on the map,” and original season-ticket holder Janet Webster of Mesa said the rally “was exciting, but the real joy was watching them all along.”

Westhead would concur. Before the rally, he talked about his strong feelings for the “great incongruity between the quality of play and the acceptance.”

The man with 40 years in coaching and an NBA title talked about how he has not had a team “so together in everything they do,” and that it was his most unselfish team.

“There’ll be an emotional connection whether I stay or leave,” he said. “In the best of sense, I love my girls.”


Both Taurasi and teammate Cappie Pondexter are on the U.S. team that will play at the FIBA Americas Championship, beginning Wednesday in Valdivia, Chile. The winner will earn the lone 2008 Beijing Olympic berth from the FIBA Americas zone. Pondexter was named the WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player. Others on the team are Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Rebekkah Brunson (Sacramento Monarchs), Swin Cash (Detroit Shock), Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), Courtney Paris (University of Oklahoma), Candace Parker (University of Tennessee), Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets). Candice Wiggins (Stanford University) is an alternate. Anne Donovan of the Seattle Storm is the coach.