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It was Sunday morning in Uncasville, Connecticut when the Phoenix Mercury were having shootaround and Diana Taurasi saw her. And the sight of DeWanna Bonner in a Connecticut Sun jersey stopped Taurasi in her tracks a moment.
“We just had shootaround and she was up on the scoreboard,” Taurasi said. “She still looks weird in that jersey to me.”
As the Mercury prepare for their first home game of the 2021 season, they’ll be hosting Connecticut and Bonner, who will be playing in Phoenix for the first time after spending 10 seasons with the Mercury. Bonner opted to join the Sun in the 2020 offseason and Phoenix and Connecticut arranged for a trade to get her there at a full max contract.
While the Mercury and Bonner faced off twice in the 2020 bubble season, being back in the building where she played 10 seasons and was a part of the franchise for 11 years will undoubtedly be special.
”I’m really excited,” Bonner said. “The fans here are amazing and I’ll always hold a special place in my heart [for them]. So many memories — so many wins, ups, downs, losses, championships. It’s going to be a lot of emotion but I’m excited to be back.”
For her longest-tenured teammate, the shared experiences — not just the championships but also entering motherhood — will always be a bond between them.
“I’ll always have a spot for DB in my heart,” Taurasi said. “We spent 10 years together on the same team, we’ve won two championships together, we’ve gone through ups and downs. We’ve had families simultaneously. We’ve been through a lot, on the court and off. I’m just happy that she’s happy. When it comes down to it, you want to be in a place where you enjoy playing basketball. And when I watch her, she’s enjoying basketball again. And for me, that’s number one.”
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello added, “She’s so versatile — she can do it all over the court. Not just on offense, playing inside and outside, but on defense, too. She’s a great defensive player, she’s very versatile. I’m obviously very proud of her. She’s got twins, too, and she’s a mother and how she handles it all. She’s a winner, and that’s why she’s brought a lot of success to this team and I know she’ll continue to do so as she moves forward.”
Friday’s game will come just five days after Bonner lit up the Mercury for a game-high 27 points — and added five rebounds (four on the offensive end), four assists, two steals and a block — in leading the Sun to an 86-78 win. Brondello said her impact on the game was “massive” but reminded her of many previous performances for the purple and orange.
“DB, she’s a superstar. That’s what she is,” Brondello said. “A lot of the action is obviously run for her. And in their big lineup — and it hurt us. She’s 6’4. She made some tough shots, we left her open a little too many times, and she doesn’t miss many when you do that. You’re obviously motivated against your old team. Great game, but I’ve seen that before, so no surprise.”
Taurasi added, “We know how tough of a matchup DeWanna is, especially when she’s at the 3. She’s tough to stop when she’s playing aggressive like that, free and loose. She had a great game. I think we did a little bit better of a job in the second half, but I think it’s not enough.”
The Mercury will get another shot against Bonner on Friday night, a night that will already have so much going on for it: the first home game in Phoenix since their final regular season game of 2019 (621 days ago), the first home game in the league’s and the Mercury’s 25th season, the first home game in the newly-renovated Phoenix Suns Arena and the first time fans in Phoenix can see the team’s new superstar, Skylar Diggins-Smith, play for the Mercury.
But Brittney Griner knows that the homecoming aspect for her former teammate and frontcourt mate will be important for the Mercury to consider.
“Anytime you see a player that’s been somewhere for a long time, or was drafted somewhere and then they go to another, when they come back, there’s always a little more in them, to want to do even better against the team they were always with,” Griner said. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on DB. She’s already a great player on the court, so we’ll definitely keep that in mind and try to make sure she doesn’t have a coming home big game or anything.”
For Bonner’s sake, the game in Phoenix coming in May allowed for much more pleasant return to the Valley of the Sun’s desert climate than if the game was happening in July or August.
“When I stepped off the plane and I felt that nice dry heat, I was like, ‘Ahhh I missed this,’” Bonner said. “I’m really excited to see everyone and [reconnect with] all the friendships I made out here.”
And for those friends in Phoenix, 20 months after she played her final home game for the Mercury, it’ll finally be a chance to say thank you to a franchise legend — who recently was named as the third-best player in franchise history by the team. When you see all she helped the Mercury accomplish over the years, it’s easy to understand why.
“DB’s going to always be a part of the Phoenix family,” Taurasi said. “She spent 10 years of hard work, winning championships, and really entrenched herself in the community. We love DB and we always will.”