Taurasi has not been savior - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Taurasi has not been savior

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Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 12:44 am | Updated: 8:10 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Diana Taurasi was fitted for a pair of cement shoes the day the Mercury drafted her.

Not because she was unwilling to deliver the goods, but because she was unable. The asking price was too high.

Officials from the team shop, the ticket office and even the WNBA front office anointed her the savior of a franchise and a league.

“She gets that Joe Blow off the couch,” Mercury co-owner Anne Mariucci said last season. “The guy who says he won't go watch a women's basketball game, he'll go watch Taurasi.”

If only it were that simple.

Taurasi sparkled in her maiden WNBA voyage, earning Rookie of the Year honors. This season, she is fourth in league scoring, eighth in steals and ninth in assists. Yet, the former University of Connecticut star has not been the cure-all the league or franchise had hoped.

With Taurasi making her WNBA debut, league attendance hit an all-time low last season and so did the Mercury's.

Following an 8-26 campaign in 2003, Phoenix improved by nine wins in 2004 but still missed the playoffs. And this year's club is off to an ominous 2-6 start thanks to the early-season absences of Penny Taylor and Kamila Vodichkova, an injury to Plenette Pierson and a road-heavy schedule that will see the Mercury play 13 of their first 18 games away from America West Arena. “It hasn't exactly gone according to plan," Taurasi said.

How could it have?

Declaring Kobe Bryant or LeBron James the next Michael Jordan is silly. Asking one player to save the WNBA is outrageous.

While the NBA has an established fan base of men, who make up a disproportionate percentage of sports' spectators, the WNBA is still seeking acceptance from a society where women aren't always taught to head for the playing field and men aren't always interested in following them there if they do. “This is a very rich, white-man dominated world," Taurasi said. “You start with two strikes as a woman, so you have to work that much harder to get where we are today. “We have to overcome stereotypes and a lot of other stuff because a lot of people still have those biases in this country. As soon as they can get over things they don't like about the WNBA or women's sports or women even having an opportunity to do something bigger than just cooking at home, then I guess we'll have an equal opportunity."

Don't get her wrong. Taurasi is thrilled to have this opportunity.

“Whenever you get to play basketball for a living, it's wonderful and I've enjoyed every moment of it," she said.

But Taurasi never has viewed herself as a savior.

“They can put as many expectations and hopes on me as they want," said Taurasi, who never fails to answer the league's or the team's calls for her time. “But I can only be who I am. I'm just one player in a league with a lot of great players."

One player in a 9-year-old league whose main benefactor, the NBA, will take a long, hard look at the financial viability of this venture when commissioner David Stern's 10-year trial window has closed.

Taurasi has done what she can. Mercury general manager Seth Sulka said overall team revenues were up 20 percent last season from the previous year.

Taurasi's jersey remains a hot seller, she still draws the biggest cheers on the road and who knows how many little girls she has inspired to take up the sport.

But even if she leads the Mercury to a WNBA championship, it still will be difficult for her to register more than a minor impact on WNBA attendance and the American sports conscience.

“What Diana was when she came into the league was a highly visible women's basketball player that transcended the women's basketball sports page and was as familiar to society as just about any woman athlete. That's what she brought to the table," Sulka said. “But it's never fair in these situations to place the kind of expectations on someone that she has had to face.

“She brought a real buzz to our team and we are moving in the right direction, but whether that will translate into a savior formula, I just don't know.

“It's unfair to expect that in a team sport and it always was unfair."

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