Phoenix Mercury give back to a game-changer on Penny Taylor Day

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 23: Penny Taylor
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 23: Penny Taylor /

PHOENIX–Penny Taylor, whose ring was retired by the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night, does not call buddies “mate” like most Australians. Her parents were English, having emigrated to Australia to follow her father’s career, and so certain customs never wore off on them. As fate would have it, one growing trend in Australia did reach its hand to Taylor, the first in a set of events that would go on to change women’s basketball across the world.

Though they have become almost inseparable, Taylor is a legend across two spectrums of women’s basketball: the Australian national program and the Phoenix Mercury in America. A professional in Australia as a teeneger, Taylor was mentored early on by a veteran Aussie guard named Sandy Brondello. The relationship would develop into friendship and then eventually sisterhood as the two arranged their lives and their relationship around basketball.

It was Brondello who, while speaking at Taylor’s jersey retirement ceremony on Sunday night, shared with the crowd that Taylor never called her colleagues “mate” like her fellow Aussies.

Brondello also put into perspective the profound impact her new colleague (Taylor is the Director of Player Development for the Mercury and a member of the Australian Opals’ coaching panel) has both on and off the court: “She is not on my coaching staff on both teams because she’s my mate, she’s on my staff because she’s great at what she does”.

There’s something chilling about hearing someone praised so simply. Simple and effusive praise were the theme of Penny Taylor Day in downtown Phoenix on Sunday night.

Jim Pitman, the Mercury General Manager for four seasons, had several complements to pay Taylor from the podium. After calling her the heart and soul of the Mercury organization, Pitman went on to tell the 9,413 assembled fans that Taylor’s basketball IQ is second to none, but is matched by “her commitment to making the world a better place to live”. Few people have the confidence to try and affect lives on such a grand level.

Taylor, who received several heartfelt gifts from the Mercury organization in addition the unveiling of her number in the rafters, has succeeded in affecting her teammates and their organizations. The team made a donation of $10,000 to the American Cancer Society in honor of Taylor’s parents, who both passed away in the span of two years as a result of cancer. They also gave Taylor the first copy of a children’s book commissioned by the team featuring Taylor and the team’s mascot teaching a group of playground kids to love basketball. The fans gave their love.

As the ceremony came to a close, Diana Taurasi took the mic. Taurasi is Phoenix’s star and now, Taylor’s wife. Generally quiet and determined, Taurasi allowed herself to live in the moment, and it produced the most touching moments of the evening.

Diana Taurasi looks at Penny Taylor during Taylor’s jersey retirement ceremony in Phoenix.
Diana Taurasi looks at Penny Taylor during Taylor’s jersey retirement ceremony in Phoenix. /

Describing the cool and confident Taylor entering the Mercury system the same way Brondello described her starting the Opals’ camp, Taurasi looked back. “Penny was smart, Penny was beautiful, Penny was calm and cool, and I was none of those things”. The fans roared; love is what they were there to see.

Next: Takeaways from Mercury victory on Penny Taylor Day

Looking back on Penny Taylor’s career and seeing the wonderful things she inspired her city and team to do, it’s clear the she’s on the short list of women who have truly changed the sport of basketball. The biggest and most lasting impact is the way that she encouraged others to use their power within the sport to inspire a community. So on Sunday night in Phoenix, retiring Taylor’s number and flooding the court with gifts simply felt like giving back, the way she would.