Honoring heritage: Mercury’s Diana Taurasi pays homage to roots on Dia Latina amid skid-snapping win

Phoenix Mercury Diana Taurasi hit seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 31 points against the Los Angeles Sparks at Footprint Center. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — On the table at home after game night, Diana Taurasi sets a glass of wine. If the Phoenix Mercury guard had a choice of her favorite childhood home-cooked meal to complement her drink, she’d request her mom’s milanesa or ensalada de mozzarella. But the Argentinian desires nothing more than Lili Taurasi’s empanadas de pollo.

Lili is from Argentina, and her husband Mario was born in Italy but primarily raised in Argentina, where he became a professional soccer goalie. The couple gave birth to their second child, Diana, in Los Angeles but prioritized her immersion in Latina culture.

During Sunday’s 87-68 victory against the Los Angeles Sparks at Footprint Center, the Mercury celebrated Dia Latina or Latina Day. The organization honored members of the Latina community in Phoenix, from local artists to members of their own hip-hop dance squad.

For Taurasi, the theme of the afternoon hit home, making her reminisce on life growing up in a Latina household.

“Tonight’s pretty cool,” said Taurasi about Dia Latina. “Obviously, I’m an American, but I lived in an Argentinian household, and sometimes I’d leave the house, and I thought I was in a foreign country. We grew up in a strong Argentinian household, from the language, the music, and to the food, sprinkled with some Italian from my dad. So a night like this where we are honoring what makes this city and this country, in many ways, what it is, it’s special.”

Taurasi has played in the desert for her entire 19-year WNBA career. Growing up Latina instilled a common cultural trait in the three-time WNBA champion that kept her settled and content in the Valley.

“If anyone has Spanish family or friends, you know loyalty is number one,” Taurasi said. “I have a lot of tio’s (uncles) and tia’s (aunts) that aren’t related to me, but they might as well be my blood, and that’s how I treat this team, this city. Every time I put this jersey on, that’s the feeling I get.”

Taurasi exercises loyalty by providing guidance and demonstrating faithfulness toward her teammates in the most desperate of times. The Mercury went on a four-game losing streak before Sunday’s victory to improve to 4-5. Through the early season trials, Taurasi has been the team’s glue, averaging 17.8 points per game on 40.8% shooting from three.

“She’s been our consistency,” Mercury guard Natasha Cloud said Sunday after the game. “That’s who she is. Even when things weren’t going right on the road, she’s been the poise we needed and kept our energy up. Not only does she show up on the stat sheet, but she also shows up when the stat sheet doesn’t show up.”

Taurasi showed up on the stat sheet Sunday en route to a 31-point performance on 77% from three. She channeled the signature Michael Jordan “shoulder shrug” after draining a three to cap off a personal 9-0 run early in the third quarter following an and-one the prior play.

“To have a big night paired with tonight (honoring Latina heritage), it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Taurasi said.

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, from left to right, Sparks general manager Raegan Pebley and Mercury strength and conditioning coach Annalise Pickrel converse Sunday at Footprint Center. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, from left to right, Sparks general manager Raegan Pebley and Mercury strength and conditioning coach Annalise Pickrel converse Sunday at Footprint Center. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

Cloud assisted on Taurasi’s trey ball for one of her 12 assists to go along with 21 points for her third double-double of the season. Cloud’s groove didn’t start on the court, though.

The afternoon started with Cloud dancing to Kirk Franklin’s song, “I Smile,” before Mercury DJ DJ Javin played a slew of Jamaican music. The song transition led to Taurasi singing along in warm-ups. Ultimately, Spanish music had Cloud’s “hips moving,” as she called it postgame.

“It’s essential for us (Mercury organization) to make sure everyone feels loved, so for the Latina community, it was that today,” Cloud said. “To be able to go out and get the win for them and emphasize a Latina community that is so strong and beautiful, that’s who we want to be. We want to be a beacon of light for the Latina body in Phoenix.”

Forty-three percent of Phoenix is Hispanic, according to datausa. Puerto Rican Alexandria Soto Benavides is a second-year Mercury Hip Hop Squad dance member but doesn’t take for granted what Dia Latina offers.

“It’s so special we can have this one night to celebrate and connect with our people,” Benavides said. “I see all the fans from my background, and we can share similar stories … I’m just so proud.”

Competing in front of the Valley’s strong Hispanic population has served as a consistent motivation for the two-time Finals MVP.

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“It’s huge (to play in a city with a heavy Hispanic presence). There’s a bond when you know you’ve gone through the same thing,” Taurasi told Cronkite News after Sunday’s postgame presser. “Whether it’s an immigrant family or being in a city where you might not know the language, we rely on each other to care for one another.

“Being in Phoenix for 20 years and LA for my first 20, there’s always that bond among the Latina community. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Argentina, Guatemala, or Mexico; there’s this common bond we can all relate to, and to me, that’s why I love this city so much.”

Another love of hers is a sport that brings the Hispanic community together throughout the year – soccer.
Whether a local visits Arizona Sports Complex just northwest of Phoenix or glances at Verde Park on East Van Buren Street downtown, they are bound to witness an influx of Latina players screaming “man on” in Spanish as they knock the ball around.

One probably won’t see Taurasi there, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love the game. She fell in love with the “Beautiful Game” because of her dad and developed an admiration for Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona.

Taurasi’s Argentina aims to follow its 2022 World Cup title with the Copa America championship this summer. The United States will host this year’s Copa America tournament, featuring Mexico and Ecuador, in addition to Argentina and 10 other Hispanic nations.

Before returning to the locker room after the Mercury’s victory on Sunday, Taurasi expressed a darn-it-like reaction when she realized she most likely wouldn’t be able to attend the Copa America games due to Olympic responsibility.

However, she couldn’t contain her excitement when she remembered the bigger picture: an international soccer competition dominated by Latina countries is coming to U.S. soil this summer.

In the hallway of Footprint Center, a 41-year-old Taurasi smiled like a little kid who had just eaten empanadas de pollo and watched Maradona score the “Goal of the Century” in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal while discussing the different groups in this year’s tournament.

As for who she thinks is winning this year’s Copa America tournament, there’s only one answer.
“Oh, for sure, Argentina (is winning). You know we taking that s—,” she told Cronkite News.

Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Joshua Heron expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Heron served as a sports reporter for The Hilltop, Howard University News Service, and social-impact brand FISLL as an undergrad at Howard University. He also worked as a freelance reporter for Capital News. His interview series, “Wagwan In Life,” hosts people across multiple professions. Heron produced “Championship Culture,” a documentary highlighting the Howard women’s basketball team. He was a 2023 National Geographic HBCU Media Scholar and former My Brother’s Keeper Fellow.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Shirell Washington expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Washington has worked for Virginia Wesleyan University Athletic Communications and Arizona State University Stream Team.