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Champions Return to Phoenix For Hometown Love

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Phoenix Mercury players Tangela Smith (left) and Temeka Johnson along with coaches Cory Gaines and Bridget Pettis were honored with a standing ovation during the Phoenix Suns home opener. (Photo by Max Simbron)
Phoenix Mercury players Tangela Smith (left) and Temeka Johnson along with coaches Cory Gaines and Bridget Pettis were honored with a standing ovation during the Phoenix Suns home opener. (Photo by Max Simbron)

The sellout crowd gave the Phoenix Mercury a standing ovation during a timeout at the Phoenix Suns' home opener on Friday night. Honored at center court and with a variety of media appearances were center Tangela Smith and guard Temeka Johnson along with coaches Cory Gaines and Bridget Pettis.

It was great to see Meek and Tang back in the Valley of the Sun for the first time since winning the the WNBA Championship in a thrilling series with the Indiana Fever.

It is not often you get to be in the presence of champions basking in the glow of their victory and both Smith and Johnson were clearly still enjoying their win. I spoke with both of them on the plaza outside US Airways Center just moments before they did an on-camera interview during the Sun's pregame show. They were each holding one of the Mercury's two championship trophies and were taking pictures with fans drawn to the winners who walked among them.

I asked Temeka if it was everything she thought it would be, "It's that and more to be honest. It's amazing what winning a championship does and I'm not just talking about how well we played together as a team and how we came together. What it's done for so many other people, that's what's important to me."

Johnson has spent the last few weeks in her home state of Louisiana where she's used the power of her victory to continue to raise money and help others through her HOPE Foundation.

Tangela Smith also talked about winning her second WNBA championship in terms of what it meant to those around her, "That first one is always the best -- you know I waited ten years for it -- but this one is even better seeing my teammates that didn't have a championship get one."

Smith hit two crucial three point shots late in Game 5 to help the Mercury win the title. She said that she's received a lot of congratulations and comments from people on those shots but at the time in the game she wasn't aware how big they were, "I didn't even notice it was tied at that point and now looking back, I'm like 'wow'. I'm really blessed that I hit those shots."

Smith hasn't decided if she will play overseas this winter and said that things will be up in the air until after the Christmas holiday. She is under contract and looking to return to Phoenix next season.

Johnson is a free agent and hopes to return to the Mercury where she thinks the team can repeat, "Why not? Of course I do. You know what, we keep the core together and continue to get better individually I think we have a chance."

Smith and Johnson are touring local YMCA's this weekend meeting with kids and sharing their experiences and providing inspiration. The pair will be named honorary Captains at the Arizona Cardinals football game on Sunday.

 

Tangela Smith

 

Temeka Johnson