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Diana Taurasi: Legacy of a Legend

In sports, we often use the word legacy when talking about a players’ contribution to their game. Generally, this is speculated on just before or after retirement. Too often, we mistakenly consider the athletes stats as their legacy, which is an incorrect usage of the term. The stats are the resume, the CV, the bona fide of the player. The usual tools that earn them Hall of Fame honors. But a legacy is a palpable something that is handed down, passed on, and left for others to benefit from. Not just numbers to chase, although that is a part of the equation.

So how does that all stack up when we look at the continuing career of Diana Taurasi?

In her last game Tuesday night, she dropped 29 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had five assists in a tough home loss to an increasingly dominant Washington Mystics team. Those five assists move DT (as she is known literally throughout the world) a bit closer to second place on the all-time WNBA list. She currently sits fourth, and along with Minnesota legend Lindsey Whalen, will move up the list and finish the season second or third on that list.

Averaging over twenty points per game this season, Taurasi ranks third in league scoring, and is the only “non-big” in the top five. And those twenty-nine points she scored just add to her league record all-time points total. Same thing with the three point shots made, which just add to her WNBA record, and her made free throws move her closer to first all-time from her current position in second. Playing primarily at guard, and as  a six footer in an increasingly taller, stronger and more athletic league she ranks twentieth all-time in rebounds and has blocked over 400 shots. She is in the top ten in every measurable category among active players. She is third in all-time play-off points and assists, and could move into first place in the scoring column with a good run by the Mercury this post season.

Also, there are the awards: Multiple NCAA, WNBA, European and Olympic MVP awards, and all-star recognition both here and abroad. The WNBA plays essentially a summer schedule, so several star players like Diana can get paid up to ten times their WNBA salaries to play in Italy, China, Turkey and Russia, among others. Diana has played many years in Russia, and in fact they paid her one million dollars extra to sit out a WNBA season a few years ago to keep her fresh.

So keep in mind, all the stats and records are minus a full WNBA season in her prime, and of course do not reflect her numbers from her overseas years.

(Photo by Ralph DePiro – Double G Media)

Looking back a little further to her collegiate career, her coach, Gino Auriemma (a legend among coaches) once summed up what DT meant to their program in one sentence. When asked about UConn’s chance’s of going into the NCAA tournament one year, he said simply, “We have Diana, they don’t.”

Diana has self described herself as “Just a kid from Chino,” a reference to her childhood roots in that California city outside of LA. Perhaps that is a good place to start to discern her legend and her legacy.

Most fans, to one degree or another, are just kids from our own version of Chino. Or like to see ourselves that way. We’d like to see ourselves as Diana on the court too, but few of us have ever matched once, what she has done year after year, game after game for so many years. We admire the numbers, skills, and accolades, but we embrace her flaws and shortcomings, because they are often our own. 

Taurasi has said of herself that she was not always nice to those around her, and who among us ever really is? She gave entertaining and often humorous interviews, but could be brutally honest and was bleeped often enough. Among her records in the WNBA is the record for personal fouls, several of which had technicals attached, and she continues to be as combative with the refs as she is with her opponents. Yeah, we’ve all lost our tempers and aid and done things we’ve regretted. But it was because of the passion we felt for something, and we see that passion in DT every game.

She is not an impressive physical specimen in the league at six foot as we mentioned. But her passion fuels her crashing the boards as well as shooting threes, racing down on a fast break to receive an assist as well as dish one, sacrificing her body not just for the game, the team, the league and the sport, but for the play. We have seen and felt the same thing in “meaningless” games in the playgrounds from North Philly to, well, Chino. No aspect of time on a basketball court is insignificant to her.

Taurasi has said that, “If you spend an hour practicing, you either get better or you get worse.”

We like to think you can get to where you need to be by dint the sweat on our brows. Diana is our proof and patron saint. Her greatness comes from work, as does anyone who reaches a professional level in sports. But for some, like Diana, it evolves to a point where basketball is life and vice versa. We can seldom accomplish that ourselves, probably a good thing, but we find it inspiring and compelling. Especially when it results in a Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi had a well publicized DUI arrest years ago, and has put that behavior behind her, but it is there, a part of her. We all have skeletons in our closets for some type, but we are not under the scrutiny a pro athlete endures. We struggle, and identify with her struggles. She is not perfect but has overcome problems of her own making to succeed. It is often more difficult to do this than to hurdle barriers someone else erects.

Despite her entertaining interviews, a lot about Diana’s personal life was not revealed to us. Almost like the fact that her “basketball is life” mantra were true. But we knew it wasn’t, and last year she ended years of speculation about her sexuality by marrying former teammate Penny Taylor. Just this winter they became mom’s.

In these times of continued controversy surrounding LBGTQ issues, this still is not a simple thing. No marriage and child raising commitment has ever been, but Taurasi seamlessly incorporated it into her basketball life. We would like to think we could all do the same with any major change in our lives, but we often can’t.

Diana has leaned out and became more wiry and less bulky, as has former UConn teammate Sue Bird, to continue to play the game she loves at the level she desires. DT, fresh off another start in the WNBA All-Star game, is remarkably averaging a little better than her career points per game average. It seems like years now that media have questioned how long she might continue. And before this season began, Taurasi gave the same answer she always has, but with a telling twist. She said she has no set date or plans to retire and will play as long as she can produce. But she then added, “I can tell you this, I am not going to be some forty-year old coming off the bench. That’s just not me.”

So there it was, the reason we love her, and the statement of her legacy in a nutshell. Taurasi has done it her way, as much as any athlete ever, and will play until that is no longer the case. The drive and determination and mental toughness of someone who sought just to become themselves. Who dreamed the dream, and achieved it on her own terms. Just a basketball player from Chino whose strangely relatable journey towards legend, is the truest legacy of Diana Taurasi.

Wayne Heinze
Wayne Heinze

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