How Diana Taurasi Became the GOAT of Women's Basketball
No basketball player in history — man or woman — can match Diana Taurasi’s resume of individual and team accomplishments on the collegiate, international and professional stages. They include three NCAA national championships at the University of Connecticut, four Olympic gold medals and three WNBA championships.
Along the way, she’s racked up a bevy of individual records that makes the case for her as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of women’s basketball.
At age 36, the 6-foot guard continues to cement her legacy in the sport with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, where she has spent her entire career after being taken with the first pick in the 2004 WNBA draft. The intensity she’s shown on the court since her playing days at Don Antonio Lugo High School in Chino, California, shows no signs of waning.
“I always say that I know I’ll be done playing basketball when I stop fighting on the floor," she told Deadspin in 2018. "If you don’t play with that edge or that competitive spirit, you’re just another player out there. I can only speak for myself, but when I don’t play with that fight, then I’m just ordinary."
Here’s a closer look at what’s made Taurasi the GOAT of women’s basketball and a champion on and off the court.
The Fans' Choice
In 2015, espnW decided to let fans settle the question of the greatest women’s basketball player in history with an NCAA tournament-like bracket, asking them to cast votes from among 12 all-time greats. In the end, Diana Taurasi prevailed over her former UConn teammate, Sue Bird.
Taurasi’s journey through the bracket started with a victory over the legendary Nancy Lieberman, followed by wins over Maya Moore and Sheryl Swoopes, before triumphing over Bird in the final round.
In celebrating the honor, Taurasi paid tribute to the legends of the sport who had paved the way for her generation to excel on a professional stage.
"I've had the good fortune to play for and learn from some great coaches and to play with teammates who have made me better — I hope I have done the same for them," she said. "I'm particularly grateful for the influence and impact of greats on this list like Cheryl Miller and Annie Meyers, who elevated our game.
"They're the reason the rest of us have the opportunity to be a part of a bracket like this."
She's a Scoring Machine
Beyond the adulation of fans, the case for Taurasi as the sport’s GOAT is made all the more compelling by the litany of records she’s set during her remarkable career. In this case, the numbers speak for themselves.
In 2017, she became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in only her 377th career game, passing Tina Thompson, who had set the previous mark of 7,488 points in 496 games.
"It just shows you that if you put a lot of hard work into it, and you have great people around you, it’s about your teammates and how can you make them better, and good things will happen for you," she said after setting the career scoring record. "I’ve been really lucky to be in Phoenix my whole career and be around great players and great coaches."
In 2014, she became the all-time leading scorer in WNBA Finals history with a 24-point performance, including the game-winning basket, in a Game 3 victory over the Chicago Sky that clinched the title.
Taurasi also is the league’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals and the only woman ever to top 1,000 3-pointers for a career. In addition, she is the league record-holder for 3-pointers in playoff and finals history.
Need more? Taurasi is the first player in WNBA history to reach 7,000 career points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,500 assists, and was the fastest player ever to score 7,000 career points. In addition, she’s the only player in league history to score 600 or more points in six consecutive seasons (2006-2011).
Just Call Her 'The White Mamba'
A longtime fan of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, aka "The Black Mamba," Taurasi has embraced the much-deserved moniker of "The White Mamba." And Bryant has been more than willing to anoint her with the honor.
"She came up to me ... and said, 'I’m the White Mamba,' " Bryant recounted. "I said, 'Yes you are,' and she has every bit the temperament."
It’s no surprise that Taurasi adopted Bryant’s nickname for her own, given the degree to which she’s modeled her own game after his.
"He’s the one guy I watched more than anybody else," she said. "I loved his determination and his ability to get better every year. His ability to do anything to win was the one thing I kind of fell in love with Kobe as a basketball player."
The admiration between the two basketball legends is mutual.
"To be that great for so many years, it’s a testament to her work ethic, to her commitment for the game, her intellect and sacrifice," Bryant said. "Just a phenomenal athlete."
Setting the Stage at UConn
Taurasi’s collegiate career at the University of Connecticut under legendary coach Geno Auriemma signaled the greatness that lay ahead. But success didn’t come easily.
"My transition from high school to college was really difficult," Taurasi said in a video documentary. "We got to the Final Four (my freshman year) and played Notre Dame. We were up by 18 at halftime, and we ended up losing that game. Personally, that was probably my worst game of all time. We all walked out of that locker room so angry that we just started the mission for the next year right there."
That mission led to three consecutive NCAA titles to finish her collegiate career, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that she did so with completely new starters her junior and senior seasons.
"What she did her junior year and her senior year, there’s no one that started a whole new starting lineup from the year before and has taken their team and won a national championship, and she did it twice," Auriemma said. "That is as great a feat as has ever happened in college basketball."
But it was Taurasi’s success in the classroom that she considers her greatest accomplishment.
"Graduating from college was something that was very special to me," she said. "It was a very hard time in my life, four years of playing at the highest level, having to do school."
Coming Through in the Clutch
The loss in the Final Four as a freshman clearly left a deep impact on Taurasi, because she’s rarely come up short in big games since.
In addition to never losing an Olympic gold-medal game, Taurasi had a 13-0 record in win-or-go-home WNBA playoff elimination games before her streak was snapped in 2018 by the Seattle Storm, led by her former UConn teammate Sue Bird. But that wasn’t before the GOAT hit an incredible 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 2 of the semifinal series to force overtime in a game the Mercury won.
"A lot of it is luck. A lot of it is having great teammates," she told reporters after running her record to 13-0 in winner-take-all games with a 27-point performance in the Mercury’s 96-86 win over the Connecticut Sun. "You don’t do it alone in this sport. We relish these moments where it’s up to you if you want to keep playing."
Counting NCAA tournament games, Taurasi is 33-2 in winner-take-all elimination games.
She Picked the Right Sport
Taurasi’s first big decision in her athletic career was which sport to dedicate herself to pursuing. She was a standout soccer player as a youth, and the sport was a passion of her Italian-born father.
"That was actually probably one of the toughest times for D," said her sister, Jessika. "She really just knew she had to make a choice, and she just wasn’t ready to give up soccer yet. She didn’t want to let my dad down."
Ultimately, though, both Taurasi and her family both knew that basketball would the right choice.
"Soccer was becoming really popular, but I think there was more of a future in basketball," Taurasi said.
Nevertheless, the soccer experience paid dividends for Taurasi on the basketball court, particularly with her feet.
"When you watched her play as a sixth grader, seventh grader, right in that age group, her feet were unbelievable," said Lou Zylstra, her AAU coach. "She played basketball like she was a soccer player."
Family Inspired Her
Taurasi often credits her immigrant parents (father from Italy and mother from Argentina) with instilling in her the fierce determination and work ethic that have been a hallmark of her professional career.
The example set by her hard-working father while she was growing up in the blue-collar Southern California city of Chino always has stayed with her.
"Dad went to work every single day 6 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon, even when he was dog tired or sick" she said. "He would cut a finger off at work, the next day he would go back to work. He’s not just doing that because it’s fun. There’s nothing fun about that.
"That always resonated with me, that no matter what happens, you go to work."
It’s not surprising, then, that when asked to name her biggest fear, Taurasi answers, "Knowing that the day’s ended and I didn’t work hard enough. That’s why I’m in the gym every day. I want to know that when my career’s done, I put everything into it."
Still a Chino Girl
Taurasi takes special pride in her Southern California roots, particularly in Chino, where she first rose to athletic fame as the national high school player of the year.
"We go to a lot of kids’ homes, and where you grow up does have a tremendous amount of influence on who you are," Auriemma said.
"Growing up in Chino was home, and it still is," Taurasi said. "I still drive out there. I still once in awhile spend the night in the bedroom that I grew up in. There is a certain pride of being from there and making it. I make sure to always mention it because that place shaped me."
A Hot Temper
Taurasi’s passion for the game has resulted in a reputation for outbursts on the court that often have led to confrontations with officials and opponents. Her propensity for racking up technical fouls led to suspensions in 2013 and 2016.
Taurasi admits that her temper can often get the best of her, listing the trait as the one she dislikes most about herself.
"I’m hot blooded. I live in the moment," she said. "Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness."
Game Like Cousy, Robertson, Archibald and Harden
Taurasi’s greatness on the court may be best illustrated by her ability to pick apart defenses shooting the ball and passing it. What often gets lost in her long list of scoring records is the fact she’s also among the best in the game when it comes to assists.
In 2013, she became the first player in WNBA history to finish in the top two in scoring and assists. For comparison, only four NBA players have ever accomplished that feat: James Harden (2017), Nate Archibald (1972), Oscar Robertson (1963, '66) and Bob Cousy (1952).
And in 2015, she led the league in assists at 5.2 per game, becoming the first player ever to claim both single-season scoring and assist titles (whether in the same or different seasons).
Her no-look pass in the first round of the 2018 WNBA playoffs was one for the highlight reels.
Pure Bliss on the Court
Taurasi may be the embodiment of the old adage, "If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life."
For Taurasi, happiness in life has always been synonymous with spending time on the basketball court "with teammates and coaches I love to be around."
This inscription on her website probably says it best: "The game, the court, the locker room, being a teammate. I love every aspect of it. I don’t just live it when I’m in the gym. I live it everyday. It’s a part of me."
Finding joy on the court made it easier for Taurasi to dedicate herself completely to the sport at a young age.
"When I first arrived at UConn, I told myself I was going to dedicate my life to basketball," Taurasi told Deadspin. "And when you do something like that, you alienate a lot of other things in your life that most people think are normal things to do. For me, that was the best decision I’ve ever made, to put a 100 percent of everything I have into it, and it’s treated me really good."
Finding Love Off the Court
In recent years, Taurasi has discovered happiness off the court to match the joy basketball has brought to her life. In 2017, she married her former teammate Penny Taylor. And in March 2018, they became parents to a son, Leo.
"I actually was of the thinking that I was never going to get married and never have a family, to tell you the truth," Taurasi told Deadspin. "I was just always kind of a free spirit with a wild side, but when you a meet a person that just makes you better and makes you better at life, your mindset changes.
"The day that we went to the hospital was just a day of the unknown. When you get into that car and you’re driving home and you have a little human being in the backseat, you’re just like life has completely changed in so many ways and it makes everything else kind of secondary. You know, you have to care for this little child. And it’s been really great."