Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi: Dynamic Duo Ready for Possible Fifth Olympics
The longtime teammates and rivals hope to win a fifth gold medal with the U.S. later this summer in Tokyo.
It is a friendship that has endured for half of their lives. Borne of collaboration, strengthened through the crucible of competition. Tested through rivalry, enhanced by teamwork.
A mutual dedication to the sport of basketball has bonded Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi for two decades. Heading into what is likely their final Olympics this summer in Tokyo, their respect for the game and each other remains as strong as it was at the start.
“I remember when we first met,” Bird said. “She was already very similar to the Diana we know today. Very charismatic, lots of fun. Right from day one.”
Taurasi also recalls their initial meeting during a recruiting visit to Storrs, Connecticut. She said when she returned to campus months later as a freshman, her friendship with the junior point guard soon blossomed despite their different personalities.
“I remember her being very reserved — that’s just the way she is,” Taurasi said with a laugh. “She gets to know people and figures them out a bit before she opens up. I’m the polar opposite. I give you all of it from the very beginning.”
The differences between the two are most evident on the court. Bird, a native of Syosset, New York, is calm and collected as she directs the game with precision and efficiency. Taurasi, who grew up in Chino, California, is brash, feisty and fearless, the type of player whose confidence is only matched by her talent.
However, the mark that each has made on the advancement of the women’s game worldwide has been paramount. Their track record of success on the court — both together and separately — has been rivaled by few. Each player’s résumé includes multiple NCAA championships at UConn, at least three WNBA titles with their respective pro teams, and a long history of success overseas playing in Russia.
Their most prominent achievement is the four Olympic and three World Cup gold medals they’ve won as teammates on the USA National Team. Their golden run began at the Olympic Games Athens 2004, and the pair has stood at the top of the medal stand at every Olympic tournament since.
As they prepare for a possible fifth-straight gold medal for the pair — and seventh-consecutive Olympic gold for the U.S. — Taurasi said that having shared the experience with Bird “means more than anything.”
“Sue joined the national team at the 2002 World Championship, and I joined in 2004. We were the young kids in Athens,” she recalled. “It’s very special to have gone through it together, because we went through the same experiences at the same time.”
While the two have a storied history as teammates, they’ve been conference rivals in the WNBA for even longer. Bird was selected No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm in the 2002 WNBA Draft. Taurasi had the same honor when the Phoenix Mercury made her the top pick in 2004.
Their teams have been two of the most successful in the league the past two decades, and usually Bird and Taurasi have to go through the other on their way to the WNBA Finals.
“We’ve had our battles with Seattle and Phoenix. I’ve always enjoyed her success as my success,” Taurasi said. “I also feel that coming from her when we win. It just comes from knowing how much we love to win and how much each of us puts into that. It’s not about how well we do individually, but about the team winning. When you see that in someone else, there’s a respect that goes along with that.”
Bird agreed with her friend and USA teammate, saying, “Diana is the best teammate to play with, but the toughest competitor to play against. Either way, we always go out to dinner together after.”
Bird and Taurasi are keenly aware of how far the game has come on the world stage over the past 25 years. They each took on the mantle of role model over that time and can proudly look back on how far the game has advanced in their generation.
Bird recalled not having much in the way of female basketball role models as a child, noting that the players she looked up to were all male until the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 provided a platform for a talented U.S. team. Suddenly she had the chance to watch stars such as Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Sheryl Swoopes — athletes she had only seen snippets of in the past — in prime time on national television.
“I knew of them, but women’s basketball wasn’t readily available in that way before that point. That changed everything,” Bird said. “That’s why I take great pride in playing now and using this platform, because little kids do deserve to have role models that they can watch growing up,” Bird said. “Not just little girls, but little boys too. It’s important for them to see female athletes on their TV screens and in the media. I take that very seriously, because I did not have that growing up.”
This summer, a quarter century after that 1996 team gave the U.S. its third gold medal in six Olympic tournaments, the national team will seek its ninth overall gold and seventh in a row. This team, coached by three-time gold medalist Dawn Staley, will likely feature Bird and Taurasi for the final time in a playing capacity. However, neither Bird, 40, nor Taurasi, 38, have spent much time thinking of this as a farewell to the red, white and blue.
“I haven’t made any final decisions on my retirement. I don’t really operate that way,” Bird said. “For me personally, I don’t like to think of things like ‘this could be my last time practicing, this could be my last time putting this jersey on.’ I don’t operate that way and think that would really affect me mentally if I did. If I approach things the way I always have, those questions about retirement will get handled on their own.”
Taurasi was succinct in her thoughts to any question of hanging up the USA jersey after Tokyo: “There’s always the world championships in Australia next year.”
Tom Carothers is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.