WNBA champs, fans celebrate team's big feat
PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Mercury's slogan for the 2007 WNBA playoffs was "One team, one city, one goal."
On Tuesday, it was one big party as the new WNBA champions and about 1,000 of their fans celebrated at a U.S. Airways Center rally. A championship banner was unfurled as purple and gold confetti fluttered from the ceiling.
"You stuck with us through thick and thin, and there was quite a bit of thin," All-Star forward Penny Taylor told the crowd. "We fought for you."
Taylor wasn't kidding. She bore four bruises and an inch-long scratch on her arms, evidence of an intense, physical series with the Detroit Shock.
The Mercury have had a small but ardent fan base since their inception in 1997. Some of the rally's loudest cheers were reserved for Mercury assistant coach Bridget Pettis, who scored the first basket in team history.
"I feel that I'm asleep right now, and I'm having the best dream of my life," an emotional Pettis said.
It was a dream season for the Mercury, who scored a WNBA-record 89 points per game and became the first team in league history to clinch a title on the road.
Phoenix rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat Detroit in the best-of-five series. The final score of the clincher -- PHX 108, DET 92 -- flashed on a scoreboard above the dais.
Championships are rare in this city. Among the four major pro sports teams, only the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 2001, have brought a trophy to the desert.
Perhaps that why the rally stirred so many emotions. Arizona fans haven't been spoiled by success.
"From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much," All-Star Diana Taurasi said. "We're going to do it all again next year."
Before the 12:30 p.m. rally, the Mercury gathered on an underground practice court to have a team photo taken with the WNBA trophy.
The question is, how many of the faces in that picture will be back next summer?
Coach Paul Westhead, who has spent the last two years with the Mercury, is mulling an offer to join P.J. Carlesimo's staff with the Seattle SuperSonics. "I don't have any deal in hand," said Westhead, who is expected to make his decision in the next week.
Westhead, a 68-year-old basketball nomad, said this was one of the more enjoyable seasons in a long career.
"This is really special because I don't think I've ever been around a team that just collectively were so together in everything they do," said Westhead, who also won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980. "This might be the best team, meaning a collection of athletes who played together unselfishly, that I've ever experienced. Ultimately, that wins for you."
The Mercury may also lose Taylor, a free agent. She is a member of the Australian national team and might take next season off to concentrate on preparing for the Beijing Olympics.
Taurasi is a restricted free agent, and the Mercury is expected to match any offer from another team.
This is Taurasi's seventh title. She won three NCAA championships at the University of Connecticut, an Olympic gold medal and professional titles in Europe and Russia.
"It doesn't get old," Taurasi said. "This is the way I look at it: you master a craft. That's what winning is. It's really mastering something. And we did that this year. We figured out a way to master it and kind of mold it into what we wanted it to be. And that was the best thing about it."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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