PHOENIX – Diana Taurasi took a high screen, dribbled around a defender and stretched her long right arm out to lay the ball off the glass and into the basket.
The horn sounded, stopping the game, and players from both teams hugged and congratulated the Phoenix Mercury star. Former NBA great Kobe Bryant, there to watch Taurasi make history, stood and applauded as Mercury coach Sandy Brondello presented her with the history-making ball at center court.
With that one basket Sunday, Taurasi became the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader, adding another highlight to an already sterling resume while boosting her case as the greatest player in women’s basketball history.
But that’s a debate for someone else to settle. Brash and fiery on the court, Taurasi would prefer to defer when it comes to her place in the annals of the game.
“When you get to my age, you can’t look back, you can’t look forward,” she said Wednesday. “If anything, I’m pretty proud to play this much basketball well into my college and professional career. I’ve been really lucky: one, being really healthy and two, being around really good people. When I look at it that way, I feel like I’m the luckiest basketball player of all time.”
The case for best player of all-time is pretty strong.
Taurasi was one of the best players in NCAA history, leading Connecticut to three national titles. She was the WNBA’s rookie of the year in 2004, won three WNBA titles with the Mercury and was the finals MVP twice. Taurasi was the WNBA MVP in 2009, earned five scoring titles, was named to the all-WNBA team nine times and won four Olympic medals.
She’s also dominated overseas, earning five Euroleague titles while being league MVP twice and finals MVP twice.
Taurasi added another milestone Sunday in her hometown, eclipsing Tina Thompson’s all-time WNBA scoring mark of 7,488 points in Los Angeles to add another record to her long list of achievements.
“Diana is one of the best players to ever play the game and definitely one of my favorites,” Thompson said after Taurasi broke her record.
Taurasi figures to keep adding to the scoring record for several more years.
At 35, she’s still one of the WNBA’s best players, a heady scorer and playmaker who has a knack for seeing plays develop before anyone else. This season, she’s seventh in league scoring at 18.3 points per game and is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
Taurasi signed a contract extension in May that will take her through 2020, when she hopes to play for a fifth Olympic gold in Tokyo.
“When I signed the extension, it gave me a little bit of a schedule of what I’m thinking,” Taurasi said. “I just turned 35 and physically and mentally I feel great, but I’ve talked to a lot of older players and when you get to this age, every month feels like six months, every year feels like four years. I’m just going to play it by ear, hopefully help the Mercury win another championship and the national team is on the table and if I can contribute, I would love to do that, too.”
Even if Taurasi doesn’t win another championship or play for another gold medal, she has helped change women’s basketball, shaped the way it’s played and helped boost its popularity.
“The one thing I’ve always said is I want to be a good teammate,” she said. “To this day, I’ve been working on being a great teammate and that goes beyond going onto the court and playing hard, making sure you’re ready to play. That’s the one thing I learned from being at Connecticut and being around coach (Geno) Auriemma is to get the best out of yourself and the best out of other people.”
Taurasi has done that throughout her career and will likely keep doing it until it ends.
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