Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute 2012
The settings provided by the Phoenix Mercury team provide for all involved to experience some form of family. Whether among the team itself or the families who attend, a close-knit community is formed.
For some of the Mercury players like Alexis Gray-Lawson, No. 21, Alexis Hornbuckle, No. 14, and Dewanna Bonner, No. 24, the familial atmosphere stems from long lasting relationships between the players.
“My favorite thing about basketball is hanging out with my teammates,” Gray-Lawson said. “Me and Sammy (Samantha Prahlis, No.99) are really close. Me and Lexi (Hornbuckle) grew up together. And I’ve known D.B. (Bonner) since I was 11-years-old.”
Gray-Lawson, in particular, has played on two professional teams. She started at the Washington Mystics, but soon was signed to Mercury. Gray-Lawson has been playing basketball as long as she can remember with her nine siblings.
“I have nine siblings and everybody plays basketball so, for me, I wanted to be like my older siblings,” Gray-Lawson said. “I dreamed about being here, I always wanted to be in the WNBA. I’ve always played, ever since I was little.”
After playing on many teams growing up, Gray-Lawson recognizes that the environment is a key factor for the team. Head Coach and General Manager Corey Gaines regards the family atmosphere as a prominent value in the team.
Gaines said, “It’s a family with the players. It’s great to have a group of players that appreciate and love the game.”
Though they have invested relationships with returning members from the team, the dynamic of the team changes with every incoming rookie. Gray-Lawson shares that the new team tends to be on the wilder side because of the new personalities.
“It’s always different because they (new players) all have different personalities,” Gray-Lawson said. “Last year, we were a little bit older and more mature players. But this year, we have more of the crazy kids.”
One difference from college or even high school level teams is that professional players are not forced to interact outside of the gymnasium. However, the Mercury makes a conscience effort to spend time with one another and truly knowing each of their teammates.
“This is actually the first team where I had a choice to be close to my teammates,” Gray-Lawson said. “We choose to be with each other. It’s a good decision we made because it helps with the chemistry.”
With a mindset to include the fans as much as possible, Gray-Lawson often tweets to her fans to make herself more personable.
“All lot of our fans are sports fanatics, so they have their kids grow up in sports,” Gray-Lawson said. “I think it brings everyone closer together. We are a lot more touchable than the NBA (National Basketball Association), so we talk to our fans a lot. I talk to them on Twitter all the time.”
Gray-Lawson appreciates the encouraging environment, as she believes it’s essential for the players to keep a positive attitude.
“It’s (the encouragement) good for every team,” Gray-Lawson said. “Especially for us, since we’ve been losing some games. If we can keep a positive attitude, things will get better. We just take one day at a time. We try to cheer on our teammates during the games to make each other feel better.”
~Tynin Fries, Photo Editor