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WNBA superstar Tina Charles and the Phoenix Mercury agreed to a mid-season "contract divorce."
Hours later, news broke that Charles would sign with a conference rival — the Seattle Storm.
Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham celebrated the team's win that night by yelling, "Fuck Tina Charles!"
A tough year just got tougher for the Phoenix Mercury.
Against the backdrop of superstar center Brittney Griner still being wrongfully detained in Russia, Phoenix has struggled to compete with the league's best teams and has fallen far short of the expectations that came with having two former WNBA MVPs and a half a bench of All-Star-caliber players at head coach Vanessa Nygaard's disposal.
With less than half of their season left to play, the Mercury sit well below .500 and could very well find themselves missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. And as of this weekend, one of their stars has decided to abandon ship.
Eight-time WNBA All-Star and 2012 league MVP Tina Charles struck a deal for a "contract divorce" from Phoenix just 16 games into her Mercury tenure, the team announced Saturday. General Manager Jim Pitman called the move "best for both parties" in a statement, but reporting from ESPN suggests that Charles initiated the split with Phoenix due to continued discontent with her offensive role.
According to league sources who spoke with The Ball Out Media and The Next, Charles is expected to sign a deal to complete the 2022 season with the Seattle Storm — a Western Conference rival of the Mercury with hopes of chasing a title this year.
That news didn't seem to sit well with Charles' former teammates — particularly Phoenix guard Sophie Cunningham. After the Mercury pulled out what Nygaard called "a super gritty win" against the Dallas Wings in their first game since Charles' departure, Cunningham seemed to celebrate at her former forward's expense.
According to reporter Landon Thomas, the fourth-year sharpshooter yelled, "Fuck Tina Charles!" for everyone at College Park Center to hear, including the cameras that caught the expletive on tape:
—Landon Thomas (@sixfivelando) June 26, 2022
Representatives for the Mercury did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the incident. The WNBA declined to weigh in.
Though she wasn't nearly as explicit as her fiery guard, Nygaard admitted that her team's come-from-behind victory offered "a little relief for some of the adversity we've been going through." She also hinted that Charles had "elected not to play" in games she missed earlier in the season with a purported shoulder injury.
Now, Cunningham, Nygaard, and company are headed back to Phoenix for back-to-back games against the Indiana Fever — one of two teams in the league with a worse record than the Mercury.
Phoenix will host the Storm — and likely Charles, who could join Seattle as soon as Monday — at Footprint Center July 22. While the highly anticipated contest will be billed as the final regular-season meeting between league legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, it'll also almost certainly serve as a grudge match between the aggrieved superstar and the team she left behind.
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