WNBA star Diana Taurasi aims for fifth Olympic gold in Tokyo
Posted On July 20, 2021
PHOENIX – The road not taken by Diana Taurasi could have been basketball.
Taurasi “retired from basketball” as she describes it, in fourth grade because she was not having fun and wanted to play football, coming from Italian and Argentinian parents who were passionate about the sport. “It’s what we love, it’s our passion.”
It was 1991-92 when there was no professional women’s basketball in the United States, but USA Soccer’s Michelle Akers and then 19-year-old Mia Hamm were in high profile in November 1991 when the Americans won the first Women’s World Cup.
Taurasi was still playing basketball, but not on a travel team or with long-term intent. That is, until 1996, the summer she turned 14, when USA Basketball and the NBA’s one-year investment in the Women’s National Team paid off with a medal of gold and a foundation for the launch of the WNBA in 1997.
“It was a while, I went to my sister’s training and I said, ‘I think I want to play again,'” said Taurasi. “I joined his team. When I was a freshman in high school, basketball and football are in the same season and I had to choose. I chose basketball because there was just lots of energy in 90s basketball. I fell in love with it. “
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Three women made 5 US Olympic basketball teams
Even the impetuous Taurasi could not imagine in 1996, when “Space Jam” with Michael Jordan was all the rage, that she would become so transcendent in basketball that LeBron James would come calling her to play White Mamba (his nickname) in it. summer “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
Or that she, along with her former University of Connecticut teammate Sue Bird, would play at an elite level long enough to form five US Olympic teams, previously accomplished by a single American (Teresa Edwards).
It’s still largely unprecedented territory for a female athlete to turn 39 and play at a level where even back, hamstring, hip and sternum injuries – costing her 43 regular season games. WNBA since 2019 – fail to even make it sound like the end is near.
She was the first All-WNBA team in 2018 and second team in 2020, out of 14 such caps in 16 seasons, and when in good health she shows no signs of falling far below the standard that set him up to become the WNBA’s career scoring leader four years ago. surpass 9,000 points in his first comeback from a broken sternum on June 27.
In her combined ABL / WNBA career, Katie Smith has scored 7,885 points in 17 seasons. The closest active WNBA player to Taurasi is Candice Dupree with under 7,000.
“Longevity with Diana is no coincidence,” said Zach O’Brien, player development coach for Phoenix Mercury, in his third season with Taurasi. “There is such consistency in doing what she needs to do to prepare her body. She comes in with such commitment and energy, it allows me to make sure I’m on top of my game. that aspect of her. “
Taurasi has played his entire WNBA career with the Mercury, which picked their first overall in the 2004 draft after three straight NCAA titles at UConn. It was the same year the Arizona Cardinals made wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald their first-round pick (third overall).
The two are among Arizona’s professional Mount Rushmore athletes and are undoubtedly Hall of Fame members in their sports, with an even deeper connection given Fitzgerald’s minority stake in the Phoenix Suns. Taurasi also sees a future after gambling in property, something that just becomes more realistic for women.
“Everyone’s like, do you want to be a coach or a general manager? No, I want to own it,” Taurasi said during a four-hour marathon on Instagram Live with his wife, Penny Taylor, and now the power couple. Bird and Megan. Rapinoe in April 2020. “There comes a time when you have to take initiative and it’s not anyone’s responsibility. That’s what we do as women. The NBA for me is not the pinnacle of everything. We’re still a stepping stone, and that’s not where I want to be. “
Bird, 40, and Taurasi are the oldest players in the WNBA. Both become five-time Olympians, which is extremely rare in basketball. Only four men and two women can say the same and only Edwards has four golds to show for his five appearances.
Taurasi and Bird are undefeated in 32 Olympics, part of a 49-game winning streak in the United States since 1992. The Americans are the favorites to win a seventh straight gold in Tokyo (they were bronze medalists in 1992).
Staley: “She’s a killer”
Dawn Staley played on the 2004 Olympic team, Taurasi’s first, and is now the head coach of the United States. She was also an assistant coach for the 2008 and 2016 teams.
“Watching her first Olympics and watching her now, she’s in constant motion,” Staley said. “She doesn’t stay still even when the game breaks. Here’s the problem. She can go 0-for-8 to start a game, all the right moves, and end up hitting the shots that give us the lead over and over again. and time after time His timing is impeccable.
“She beats you physically and mentally. That’s what created her advantage. You pass her, she gives you a little push. All of her faults are useful, keeping you from scoring and letting you know not to do that. Physically she’s lost some because she’s 39, but mentally that more than makes up for it. She’s a killer. “
Jim Pitman, general manager of Phoenix Mercury since 2013 and with the Suns / Mercury throughout Taurasi’s career, believes if she wasn’t as needed as a goalscorer (career 19.5 points per game) she would be closer to Bird as a WNBA career leader. (Taurasi is # 5 on this list). With the Olympic team, Taurasi is often content to be a playmaker given all the talent around her.
“He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever known,” says Pitman. “Her work ethic is second to none. She expects a lot of herself and goes out of her way to make it happen. She works hard to make sure her body is able to succeed because She’s determined to be the best. She wants to be the best player on the pitch at all times. That’s what sets the big guys apart, and she’s the biggest. “
Taurasi and Taylor went vegan in 2016 – Taylor’s last season as a player – and then married in May 2017 and now have a 3-year-old son, Leo. These somewhat disparate life changes help keep Taurasi healthy and happy, especially as she has persevered despite her recent injuries.
“If it weren’t for Penny, I probably wouldn’t be playing basketball right now,” Taurasi said. “She’s the kind of person who makes everyone around her better. We always talk about character and (being) honest and truthful. A lot of people like to say these things, but she actually lives by it. C is what I have always admired. she is so. It is never about her. Not only that, she is the best mom ever. The way she takes care of Leo is second to none. any mother on this Earth. “
Taurasi promises to throw a party for herself if she hits 10,000 career points, which would likely take two healthier seasons (she is signed with the Mercury until 2021). Taj McWilliams-Franklin was the oldest WNBA player to date at age 41 in 2012 (aside from a brief signing of Nancy Lieberman at age 50 in 2008).
The burn is also in Taurasi for a fourth WNBA title to go with his 19 Olympic, World Cup, EuroLeague and NCAA championships in Tokyo.
Nothing at these Olympics, with its COVID-19 protocol restrictions, will match 2008 when Taurasi cornered now NBA commissioner Adam Silver to help him with an introduction to Argentine football legend Diego Maradona.
“It’s the only time I’ve been hit by a star,” says Taurasi. “I never ask anyone for anything, I just don’t do it. Luckily I was escorted up there (into the stands) and had discussions with him. I always admired him for being a human being. He never tried to be perfect, but he was always truthful. “
So what’s Taurasi’s version of the truth about how good she could have been at football?
“I always joke with Sue and Megan, give me six months and I’ll be in the national team. I’m a big 9 (center-forward). Just put me on top and I’ll shake things up.”