Phoenix is a basketball town. Always has been. Always will be. We crowd-sourced, pre-social media, more than 300,000 for a parade to celebrate a Finals run in 1993 that we didn’t even win!
The Phoenix Suns were the valley’s first pro sports team among the four major men’s sports (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL), joining the league way back in 1968. They hired the league’s first full-time team mascot. Yes, I know a Gorilla has nothing to do with a flaming sun or basketball or even domestic civilization, but when you delight the crowd with a singing telegram you gotta stick with what you’re good at.
The Suns have made the league’s playoffs 30 times in 54 years, going all the way to the Finals in three of those years, which includes the present year 2021. They are among the league’s top 10 winningest franchises, building memories that span four generations of basketball fans.
But that does not compare to the success of their less-heralded building mates.
Phoenix brought women’s professional basketball to the valley in 1997, becoming home to one of the eight inaugural WNBA franchises. Yes, the Phoenix Mercury have been playing basketball in the same building as the Suns for the past 25 years.
In those 25 years, the Mercury have made their league playoffs 15 times, made their Finals 5 times (second-most of all WNBA teams), and so far have taken home three league championships. Their 5th Finals is unfolding right now, series tied 1-1 after last night’s thrilling win, and could result in their 4th title.
Suns and Mercury both in the Finals in 2021.
The last time a men’s and women’s pro team made the Finals in the same city was all the way back in 2002, when the LA teams — Lakers and Sparks — made their league Finals.
Now you can add Phoenix to that rare list.
With their incredibly gritty, resilient win on Wednesday night, 91-86 over the Chicago Sky, the Mercury only need two more wins to take home the WNBA championship.
Diana Taurasi played like the G.O.A.T. in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 14 points in the game’s most pivotal moments. Britney Griner played like her All-Star self all game, with 29 of the Merc’s 91 points overall. And fellow All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith set a Mercury all-time record for assists in a Finals game with 12, one more than... you guessed it... Diana Taurasi’s 11 in 2014.
Devin Booker took a picture for posterity.
(People telling on themselves in the replies to this tweet is... well, it is what it is)
What did the Merc stars do on the post-game podium? Tell us how great their teammates were, of course, while criticizing themselves for not playing better than they did.
The game was a classic. I hope you caught a glimpse!
We don’t cover the Mercury enough in the valley, including on this here friendly neighborhood blog. We have tried in the past, most notably in the Kris Habbas and Brendon Kleen contributor days, but the reception among our community has been tepid at best. It seems the Venn diagram of men’s basketball fans and women’s basketball fans has very little overlap.
Let’s hope that changes sometime soon. Men’s basketball did not really take hold of generations of fans until they reached their third decade. The Phoenix-area fan base of men’s basketball in the 1976 run to the Finals was glorious but does not compare to the size of valley fan base in the 1993 Finals run, which does not compare to the size of the base in the mid-2000s Seven Seconds or Less runs. Generations build upon generations. Let’s hope the same comes true for the WNBA.
Phoenix, you’ve had the greatest women’s basketball player of all time in your midst for the past 18 years. Diana Taurasi is the G.O.A.T. of the WNBA after being the G.O.A.T. of college basketball at UConn. The WNBA logo is her profile! She’s been a Phoenix Mercury her entire career. 18 years. Three championships brought home so far (2007, 2009, 2014) and a fourth in the works.
Kobe Bryant had love for both Booker and Taurasi, who’s been labeled the Kobe of the NBA.
Now I like to think of our young Devin Booker as the Diana Taurasi of the NBA.
If the sweet-shooting Booker is the Diana of the Suns, then Deandre Ayton is the all-world Britney Griner. Supremely talented, Griner helped DT make and win the WNBA Finals in 2014 and they’re still together through weird ups and downs, ins and outs, seven years later to do it again. Why the 7-year blip? The WNBA is not an easy league to thrive in. To this day, 18 years into the league, DT still makes less money per year than an NBA two-way player does. And she’s just about the highest paid player in the WNBA, which means they have to play year-round to make comfortable money, increasing the likelihood of injury and the need for sabbaticals. Griner has had her own ups and downs. The ups are way up: 7x All-Star, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, one time WNBA Champ. She’s also won 5 titles oversees during WNBA off-seasons.
Booker and Ayton are babies compared to DT and Griner. They can only hope to have the same resume when their careers are winding down. Make sure you catch a glimpse of their older counterparts before they fade away for good.
The Suns players certainly are supporting the Merc, and always have been. Most of the team stayed to watch the Merc after their 40-point win over the Blazers earlier in the day.
Inspired by 39 year old Diana Taurasi’s four three-pointers after the start of the 4th quarter, the Merc overcame a big deficit on Wednesday night to save the Finals series from going down 0-2. And they did it in front of a raucous crowd that reminded me of the Suns Finals just two months prior.
Thank you for waking up to this moment, Valley.
There’s still not much more overlap on the ol’ Venn diagram of men’s basketball fans and women’s basketball fans, but the overlap is growing ever so slightly. My Suns fan timeline on twitter had more Mercury mentions than I’ve ever seen over these past few weeks and I love it!
Those in the middle like me, fans of both, are having the year of their lives being able to truly enjoy two Finals runs in the span of three months.
Go valley basketball!