PHOENIX — Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi turned reflective Thursday when talking about what is likely to be the last time she’ll face her good friend, Seattle Storm star Sue Bird, on Friday night at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
It will be the 46th time the two will face each other, which will tie the WNBA record for most regular-season meetings between two players in league history. Facing Bird for the final time is something Taurasi has been thinking about more the last few days as the game drew closer and reality of the ide is starting to set in.
“I’m starting to feel closure,” Taurasi said. “It’s a bit sad knowing that it’s going to be Sue’s last regular-season game in Phoenix. We don’t know if playoffs or whatever might happen, but you know it’s gonna be a moment where all those memories kind of go in your head and take you back to the first time we played against each other in 2004 and all those things, when we played each other in the playoffs and had a great series.
“So, yeah, all those memories will go through my mind.”
Taurasi and Bird first met during Taurasi’s recruiting trip to the University of Connecticut. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma told Bird to make sure the prized recruit enjoyed herself. From there, they built a friendship that’s lasted more than 20 years. Taurasi, from California, and Bird, from New York, bonded through basketball.
“Looking back on it, it’s been incredible to be in a job with your best friend for 20 years,” Taurasi said. “You don’t get to do that, most people don’t get to do that in any job, let alone basketball. So, it’s been an incredible journey.”
The Mercury will honor Bird with a pregame video and a gift. Taurasi doesn’t think the two will have another jersey exchange afterwards, like they did last September after the Mercury knocked the Storm out of the playoffs en route to a WNBA Finals berth. Taurasi and Bird were supposed to get together Thursday to talk about what they’ll do after the game.
Taurasi said she’s proud of Bird for making the “big, big decision” to retire and knows Bird is at peace with it, which has started to get Taurasi, 40, thinking about her retirement, whenever that happens.
“Seeing how happy she is going through her retirement years made me really think about that long winter,” said Taurasi. “When the season ends, I’ll be a free agent and I’ll see what’s best for me. I don’t know what is right now.
“It’s always something that as you get older as an athlete, you start thinking about and you start really kind of bouncing off ideas on [wife] Penny [Taylor] and my close friends and people that I really respect and trust their opinion.”
Bird’s absence from the WNBA will be felt in more ways than on the court, Taurasi said. Bird, a vice president for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, was instrumental in getting significant changes made to the last CBA. Taurasi was known for being in Bird’s ear on major issues facing the players only to leave Bird to be the one at the table helping make the decisions.
“I always said I was the streets and Sue was in the offices, and I had to make sure I stayed on the streets because once you’re in the office, you can’t say what you want to say,” Taurasi said. “So I made sure I always told Sue what I thought, and the beauty about Sue is she’s able to take issues that we had as players, go into a meeting and put them in a way where we got things done and that was Sue and obviously [WNPBA president] Nneka Ogwumike.
“But Sue was the driving force and a lot of the issues that we thought as players were very unfair and that CBA has turned the way that we think about the future of the WNBA.”
Regardless of how Friday’s game goes, Bird will retire with the upper hand over Taurasi. Bird is 25-20 against her good friend heading into Friday’s game. But they’ve left their mark all over the WNBA record books.
Taurasi is the league’s all-time leading scorer and Bird is the league’s all-time leader in assists. They’re two of three players in WNBA history with 10 or more All-Star selections. They’re also two of three in WNBA history with 5,000 points and 2,000 assists.
Friday will be Taurasi’s 500th WNBA game, making her second player in league history to play in 500 or more games. The other is Bird.
If the two don’t meet again this season in the playoffs, and Friday’s game is the last in the Taurasi-Bird rivalry, it’ll likely be the final time they’re ever on a court together.
Taurasi said Thursday that the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 was the last time they will share the court on that type of stage, ruling out a return for the 2024 Paris Olympics and a run at a record sixth gold medal.
All of that will make Friday night bittersweet for Taurasi.
“It’ll be an end of an era on the court, but it’ll be the beginning of an era off the court,” she said. “And we’re excited for that, too.”