Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi on rivalry with Sue Bird — ‘Been an incredible ride’

PHOENIX — Nearly 25 minutes after Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi sent her best friend, Seattle Storm star Sue Bird, into the sunset of their own personal rivalry, they navigated the underbelly of the downtown Footprint Center on Friday night and attempted it find out where to go.

After sharing the post-game press conference — a first for both of them, which was a rare feat to find something neither had done after almost two decades in the WNBA — they walked out, left the stage, and never left from the side of the other. They walked down the corridors flanked by cameras, security guards and executives. They turned corners. They backtracked. Then it went on. Laughing like old friends, the recent pang of defeat for Bird and the pride of one last triumph over her best friend for Taurasi were nowhere to be found. They thought about their plans for dinner.

People who lingered after the game waved and took photos. Others emerged from closed doors to point and stare, their phones on the hook the entire time.

Whether Taurasi scored 28 points, or had six 3-pointers, or that Bird scored only two points and had only five assists, or that the Mercury won 94-78, didn’t seem to matter.

The day, the game, the atmosphere revolved around Taurasi and Bird playing each other for the last time of the regular season before Bird retires at the end of the season.

“I’m kind of glad it’s over,” Taurasi said after the game.

It was their 46th time they had faced each other, tying the WNBA record for most encounters between two players. But for Bird, No. 46 wasn’t much different publicly than the first 45.

“There was nothing special about it,” Bird said. “I consider this to be another game in the history of our WNBA, such as. B. Rivalry. And I see it more as a celebration.

“I don’t think beyond that. Maybe this is one of those moments where you talk about the last one in a couple of years — although I have a feeling I won’t talk about it.”

When Bird went to Taurasi’s home Thursday night to see Taurasi’s wife, Penny Taylor, and their two children, they chatted. But not about basketball. It was an evening of family and memories.

“It’s exciting to start a new chapter off the pitch with our families and create different memories in a different way,” Taurasi said. “And the basketball part will always be there. That’s the one thing we’ve dedicated our entire lives to.

“So, those memories stay close to my heart, whether we played against each other or together. It’s been an incredible ride and you know, in any profession, if you can do something with your best friend for 20 years, life is good.”

Looking back is something Bird does, just not publicly. She tries to leave it at home or in her hotel room. The court, the arena, the gym – they’re for basketball.

But on Friday afternoon, as she sat in her room at the Hotel Palomar across from the arena, a program on ESPN discussed her and Taurasi. It’s times like this when Bird privately indulges in the emotions of facing her best friend for the last time of the regular season.

“Well, it’s difficult,” Bird said. “There are moments when emotions get the better of me, but you’re also trying to play a game of basketball, right? You’re also trying to compete in a season, you’re trying to peak at the right time and make the playoffs and all those things. So personally I really need to monitor that and control that a bit and find the balance to enjoy those moments.

“You’re special, right? But also not letting myself be overwhelmed in a way that will take me out of the game.”

There’s a chance Bird and Taurasi will meet again in the playoffs, especially after Phoenix jumped to eighth and final playoff spot with Friday’s win. But that could change in the next game. Nothing is guaranteed. Taurasi and Bird have learned this countless times in their careers.

Regardless of whether they meet in the postseason, Friday night was all about Taurasi and Bird.

During a pre-game ceremony that included a video tribute, Taurasi presented Bird with a pair of custom Jordan 1s honoring Bird and her career.

Taurasi, as she is known, also pulled in a final rib.

“It’s time for you to go,” she said with a wink at the big screen that loomed over the court.

Their sincere affection for each other was hard to miss throughout the evening. As always, it was on display whenever they were on the pitch together before tipoff.

Their hug, before the pair sat down for a TV interview about an hour before the tip – which featured more smiles and laughs than questions – was the kind of hug you see from two best friends who haven’t seen each other in a while have seen minute.

After Bird’s warm-up, she stopped to sign autographs on her way to the dressing room. Within seconds, a crowd rushed her as she wrote her name on everything from mini basketballs to jerseys while signing in a full 360. It didn’t matter if she was the visitor or even a rival to the West. She was embraced and feted by a mix of Mercury and Storm fans.

In 2019, while speaking about being hated by fans on the street, Taurasi wondered why Bird didn’t get the same reception she did.

“I know sometimes we introduce ourselves and ‘Sue Bird…'” Taurasi said before mock applause. “I’m like, ‘Guys, we’re in Phoenix. Would someone please boo her? S—. Why the fuck are we clapping for Sue Bird?’ And I go up there and they throw toilet paper at me, holy water.”

The bird’s salute was no different on Friday night. Unless it was better. She received a standing ovation upon receiving Mercury’s gift and another cheer upon being introduced – just as Taurasi was complaining. However, this was justified.

For 17 years, fans in Phoenix watched their future Hall of Famer take on their best friend, another future Hall of Famer. They appreciated what was in front of them on Friday night.

Bird jerseys in Seattle’s trademark yellow and green contrasted with the purple and black Mercury threads. There was more than one of Birds UConn jerseys in the crowd and a handful of Birds Team USA jerseys.

They complemented the plethora of Taurasi’s Mercury and Team USA jerseys that littered the crowd.

Still in their own jerseys, tucked under shooting shirts, with Nikes still tied, Taurasi and Bird were still together as they turned toward a security door. They were led through and then they were gone. Leaving to be even more best friends, the night and hype over, another memory written for the two of them.

“Hopefully we’ve put on some good shows over the years,” Bird said. “I think we did everything right.”

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34283139/phoenix-mercury-diana-taurasi-bests-seattle-storm-sue-bird-rivals-last-game Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi on rivalry with Sue Bird — ‘Been an incredible ride’

Emma Bowman

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