‘Philly Special’: Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper’s hometown grit reshaping Phoenix Mercury’s culture

Natasha Cloud (left) and Kahleah Copper congratulate each other after combining for 56 points during Sunday’s victory against the Los Angeles Sparks. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Mercury)

LOS ANGELES – Kahleah Copper held on to Natasha Cloud’s arm, bowed her head and shared a laugh with her teammate Sunday as they arrived at Crypto.com Arena and approached the visiting locker room. It’s a common off-the-court moment for the two Phoenix Mercury guards. But joy soon turned to aggression on the court, and the “Philly Sisters” served the Los Angeles Sparks a “Philly Special.”

Copper and Cloud combined for 56 points on 51.5% from the field to lead the Mercury to an 84-78 victory over the Sparks, despite the absence of Diana Taurasi due to a leg injury. Cloud led the team with a career-high 31 points and added nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a stellar all-around performance. Copper finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Copper and Cloud, both Philadelphia natives and former teammates on the Washington Mystics during Copper’s rookie year in 2016, believe their pre-existing connection impacts their communication on the court, leading to Sunday’s successful outing.

“I know just down the stretch when we mess stuff up, I know I don’t have to change how I talk to Tash … I can straight up go there and be like, ‘This is what it is,'” Copper said. “Just us understanding the love that we have for each other, and it’s just a mutual thing. We both want to win and we both (are) like super competitors. Knowing that I got a real soldier, that’s what I like to have on the court.”

Mercury coach Nate Tibbetts acknowledged the distinct chemistry.

“They’re like two peas in a pod, now,” Tibbetts said. “They’re connected at the hip, and it’s pretty cool to see, especially both of them from the Philly area.

“They both took a chance coming here … and for them to have that close relationship is really special. You see those guys talking at different points before the game or at halftime together. (Natasha) talks to everyone, and (Kahleah) will listen. But (Kahleah) is a little more quiet; she picks and chooses, but you can see her, she’s got a ton of faith and belief in (Natasha), and that’s what it’s about – relationships when you’re on teams. That’ll be a bond that they have for the rest of their life, and I’m happy for both of them that they have each other.”

The Mercury acquired Copper via trade on Feb. 1, five days after Cloud signed with the team in free agency. The reunion has reshaped the culture for the Mercury, who are now 11-10 after finishing last season 9-31. The Mercury are currently sixth in the Western Conference.

Natasha Cloud (left) and Kahleah Copper (right), both Philadelphia natives, celebrate a pivotal moment Sunday in the Phoenix Mercury's 84-78 victory against the Los Angeles Sparks. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Mercury)

Natasha Cloud (left) and Kahleah Copper (right), both Philadelphia natives, celebrate a pivotal moment Sunday in the Phoenix Mercury’s 84-78 victory against the Los Angeles Sparks. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Mercury)

“I think the Philly-ness that me and (Kahleah) bring is just gritty … all we know is how to work and to bring our grit and tenacity with us, and I think that’s what we bring (to Phoenix),” Cloud said postgame. “Whether we have a full roster or not, we still have to be who we are for this team, and what better place to do it than the house that Kobe built.”

Kobe Bryant played high school basketball at Lower Merion in Philadelphia. He later coined the term “mamba mentality,” and wrote an autobiography on the mindset that’s synonymous with perpetual effort and diligence. His approach stirred some and surprised others.

Like Bryant, Copper wants her team’s tenacious attitude to instill fear in their opponents.

“When we talk about our culture and what we want to do consistently every night, we want to bring that toughness, that competitive spirit, and we just want to get after it,” Copper said. “We want teams to really feel us when they play us. When teams talk about us, we want them to be like, “d—-, we have to play Phoenix.”

Alex Woods often crossed paths with Copper as a member of the boys basketball team when they both attended Prep Charter School of Mathematics, Science, and Careers (Philadelphia).

“Kahleah was the best girl HS (high school) basketball player that I had ever seen,” Woods said. “She was just way better than everyone on the floor; I’m talking about both teams. She played with such tenacity and was able to score at will. Whenever she played, you had to watch.”

Woods’ description of his former schoolmate resembled Copper’s description of Cloud when asked what would expose Cloud’s Philadelphia roots if she didn’t already know her.

“She’s just a dog,” Copper said. “I’ve had teammates match my energy but (Natasha), she match my s—. I can just look at her, and she (is) like … ‘I got you.'”

Cloud praises Copper’s determination consistently, so she took a different route when answering the same question.

“She loves glizzies (hot dogs),” Cloud said immediately. “I don’t know how her stomach be handling that.”

Copper didn’t deny Cloud’s claim. Instead, the two Philadelphia natives ended the night how they started – sharing a laugh.

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.