Rivals and BFFs: Inside the ‘Special, Unique’ Sue Bird-Diana Taurasi Friendship

He is one of the great friendships in sports. But the longest rivalry between best friends in WNBA history is coming to an end. Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, in her 19th and final WNBA season, and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, in her 18th season, meet Friday (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Phoenix for what will be the last time, unless their teams meet in the playoffs.

It will be the 46th time they have met in the WNBA regular season, with Bird leading 25-20. That ties for the most regular-season meetings between players in the league. Tamika Catchings and Swin Cash and Lindsay Whalen and Candice Dupree also met 46 times.

Bird and Taurasi have met 14 times in the postseason, with Taurasi holding an 8-6 lead. Bird and the 41-year-old Storm have won four WNBA titles, while the 40-year-old Taurasi and the Mercury have won three. Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assists leader, has played in 570 games, a league record. Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer, will appear in her 500th game on Friday. They are the only players in WNBA history to reach the 500 mark.

The Escorts grew up on opposite coasts: Bird from Long Island, New York and Taurasi from Southern California. Their first official game together was 22 years ago on the same team: on November 12, 2000, in Hartford, Connecticut, when her UConn Huskies beat the Georgia Lady Bulldogs 99-70. Bird was a junior who had helped lead UConn to the program’s second NCAA title seven months earlier. Taurasi was a freshman prodigy who early in college made a speeding layup with a spin and transition move that left Bird thinking, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Bird had 11 points and three assists in that first game, with Taurasi coming off the bench to score eight points. They would go to the Women’s Final Four twice and win a national championship in 2002. Taurasi would go on to win two more NCAA titles before following Bird as the first pick in the WNBA draft in 2004.

In their first game as WNBA opponents, they each scored 22 points as the Mercury beat the Storm 84-76 on May 28, 2004. Later that summer, they would win the first of their five Olympic gold medals as teammates. of USABasketball.

In Russia, they won five EuroLeague titles together. In all, they have spent more than two decades as rivals, teammates, friends and icons of their respective WNBA franchises.

“I can’t think of another like it,” former WNBA and USA basketball coach Dan Hughes said of the Bird-Taurasi sports relationship. “You can look at the NBA side and see some of that, but not to the depth that these two have experienced things together, going back to college.

“It’s special, it’s unique and it’s something that we really need to study. Because I think there are things that we can all apply from the friendship and the history that they have had with each other.”

Teammates and coaches share Bird and Taurasi’s perspectives, their friendship and what they’ve brought to the game, as they told ESPN.

‘True friendship’

Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes was a teammate of Bird’s on the Storm team that won the WNBA title in 2004 and was there for the first matchup between Bird and Taurasi in the WNBA that season. She was also a long-time broadcast analyst for Storm and is good friends with both players.

“I don’t even know how they keep doing it. I’d die to keep working out like they do. The way their bodies look… I mean, they’re stronger and in better shape now than they were in their first few years in college.” Maybe they’ve slowed down a bit, but they’re in really good shape and they’ve gotten smarter every season, so it’s like they haven’t missed a beat.

“Diana is someone who will talk a lot on the court. Not even in a rude way or talking nonsense. She just talks. And the thing I love most about watching her and being around her for years is the way she makes everyone else better. Encourages people. Can make the 12th person on the team feel important and would give them advice. Gives confidence to everyone.

“When you see her personality on the court, she can come across as impulsive. And she’s not afraid of anything. But she’s one of the best teammates you’ll ever have. She’ll tell people, ‘Hey, you got this.’ she plays two minutes a game, and she passes the ball to them and tries to make that person feel good.

“Sue makes people feel better because she’s so in charge and has a calming effect on everyone. Diana is more outgoing in the way she motivates people. But they’re both great at it.”

“And it’s always been a fun, healthy rivalry. They’ve always fought, and they can be irritated on the court and argue about something for a second during games, but then they were able to hang out.”

“Because they have a real friendship. I loved seeing that relationship, because I’ve never really had anything like that. I’ve never had someone that I’ve known since college, where you compete with and against them at the highest level, and yet you have such a relationship. close off the pitch. It’s very exceptional.”

‘A fascinating journey’

Dan Hughes coached Bird and Taurasi during his time in the WNBA, managed Bird with Seattle to the 2018 WNBA title, and was an assistant for USA Basketball during his time with the national team.

“The best example I can give you of them as competitors was the 2018 WNBA semifinals, where we played Phoenix. It’s probably the best series I’ve ever been involved in; I think a lot of people would say it’s the best in the league in general.

“They both had their moments. Diana took some shots where we did everything right defensively, and she still scored. How we studied her, prepared for her and executed on the floor — we did it perfectly, but it didn’t work. The helplessness you feel as a coach is immeasurable.

“But Sue, in the fourth quarter of Game 5, she scored 14 points and we won. It was the deciding game, we had lost a lot of the way. It was the last act of a great series with great players. And it’s really one of the defining moments. in Sue’s career.

“The thing that stood out to me the most was when the game was over. I watched the two of them and you could see that it was all part of the same story of greatness as competitors and together. I could literally feel it too. great competitors, but there was something deeper there.

“I had to train against many of my former assistants and former players. You compete with everything, you want to beat them, for sure. But when the game ends, there is something else in that moment. That’s what I felt from Diana. It was not the typical disappointment after losing. She was a great player realizing that another great player had just had an unforgettable match.

“Fast forward to the 2021 Olympics. Sue came out of the gold medal match and gave everyone a hug, and I was looking at both of them again. And it was a similar look between them, this time as teammates. team. And I thought, ‘Isn’t this a fascinating journey that those two have had with each other?'”

‘I was sitting there with…two GOATS’

Jewell Loyd was Seattle’s first pick in the 2015 WNBA draft. He won league titles with Bird in 2018 and 2020 and is a Storm All-Star this year. Loyd won an Olympic gold medal in 2021 as a teammate with Bird and Taurasi and remembers being in her first USA Basketball camp with them.

“I came back from overseas after my rookie season and still felt like a rookie. I was nervous about being on the national team; you don’t know what to expect.”

“We were all at the hotel, and Sue and Diana were going to get food. I was going to my room. And they stopped me, like, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m just putting my bag away.’ And they said, ‘You’re coming to eat with us, we’ll meet you down here in five minutes.’

“At the time, I only knew Sue from my freshman year on the Storm. Diana didn’t play in the WNBA in 2015 and I didn’t really know her. So that was the first time I interacted with Diana. They invited me to dinner and we sat down. there for hours, and they remembered so many stories. They hugged me and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. That was amazing.

“I was sitting there with two Hall of Famers, two GOATS, the youngest player learning all kinds of knowledge from the get-go. Since then, both of them have always taken care of me and made sure I was doing well. , and they kept cheering me on. I’ll always remember being the rookie who sat there with two legends.”

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Rivals and BFFs: Inside the ‘Special, Unique’ Sue Bird-Diana Taurasi Friendship