On The Record podcast, Kelli Anderson reflects on the series of unfortunate events that nearly derailed Diana Taurasi’s career and her legacy in the sport of basketball.
It’s mid-July in Pamplona, Spain, and the city is set for the biggest party of the year. Boom! The race has commenced and the streets are filled with hundreds of men and women scrambling to find their footing. Not too long after, another boom! The bulls have been released and all that’s propelling people through the city streets is adrenaline—that and the warm breath of the bulls behind them. This is no place for cowardice and nerves have no home here.
Fast-forward 10 months ahead and 5,575 miles away from Pamplona, to Phoenix, Az., home of three-time WNBA champion Diana Taurasi, and you'll find a similar approach. The Mercury are set to embark on a new season, poised to make another title run. Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer sits on the bench prior to tip-off waiting to hear her name called. Relaxed in her demeanor, nerves are nowhere to be found before the first whistle.
Instead, the 14-year veteran feels like she’s gearing up for the running of the bulls and gears up for the action ahead. The national anthem plays, her name is called, the ball is tossed in the air. Then the switch goes off.
“I always say there’s a couple things that I look at when I’m playing basketball,” Taurasi said. “Do I enjoy going to the gym? Do I enjoy being in the locker room? When I get on the court do I still have that competitive fire to hate the person I’m playing against? All those three things—today I checked the box so I’m as hungry as ever.”
She is just as locked in as she was in 2004 when the Mercury took her first overall. Though her attitude toward the game remains the same, the 35-year-old approaches her offseason training with an increased level of seriousness after a series of injuries ended her EuroLeague season prematurely.
Taurasi has traveled overseas every year since she was drafted, playing 11 seasons in Russia and two in Turkey. This offseason, the California native spent time rehabbing, strengthening, and conditioning. She is interested in becoming a more consistent player on the court, even taking up a bit of yoga. She’s got her "Namaste with her all day," as she joked.
“I think I’ve gone full circle, you know when you’re young you really don’t have to worry about much, but now getting into the latter part of my career I’ve just taken the part of my diet, my sleep, my recovery,” she said. “Every part of the day is just another way to get better and to make sure I’m ready to be playing at a high level when I get on the court so I’ve changed a lot in the last three or four years, and being in shape and being fit is half the battle. That’s the one thing I’ve taken really really serious.”
Part of her training has also included changes in her pre and post workout regimen. Being an older player means it’s now more important to be mindful about what she puts in her body. On May 18, BODYARMOR Sports Drink announced its new partnership with Taurasi as she will play a major role in their first ad campaign for BODYARMOR LYTE this month.
Taurasi joins a host of other athletes in the BODYARMOR family, including fellow WNBA guard Skylar Diggins-Smith as well as the likes of James Harden and Richard Sherman among others. The Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant, is the third-largest shareholder in the fast-growing sports drink company and does voiceover for the ad campaign. Taurasi, who has not previous associated with many companies, expressed her support for the product.
“I think one thing that stood out was how serious they are about the product and going forward and making it different than any other sports drink out there, and I think that it’s something that’s been needed a long time in sports,” she said. “So I think it’s something that attracted us to get together to shoot a spot for the BODYARMOR LYTE and one thing that I’m most interested in being an older athlete—those calories and the natural sugars are something that I really looked after in my diet for the last couple years, so it’s almost a perfect match.”
The 6’0” guard and self-proclaimed “work in progress” strives to get better every time she steps out on the court, believing that there are only two things that happen between the first whistle and final buzzer.
“You get better or you get worse,” she said, “You have that choice to make everyday.”
For Taurasi, her approach to the game is simple. Focus on the task at hand and take advantage of every opportunity. It’s much more of a cerebral approach. An inner battle. A series of small goals that lead to better production. That’s her recipe for winning.
“Tomorrow’s not promised so you’ve really got to take advantage of what you have in the present,” she said. “I can’t worry about opening night. I can’t worry about World Championships in September. I can’t worry about hopefully the Olympics in Tokyo. I just worry about tomorrow we have practice at 11 and how am I gonna get myself ready to be on the court tomorrow at 11 a.m. And really it’s short goals like that that still motivate me.”
Even at 35 the star carries with her things that were instilled by the long list of coaches she has played for during her career. Her former UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, taught her how to compete and how to be a good teammate, which is still with her nearly 20 years after she arrived in Storrs, Conn., as an 18-year-old freshman.
Throughout her basketball career, Taurasi has had a front row seat to the evolution of the WNBA and women’s game. The league eclipsed 20 years in 2016 and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Taurasi remains optimistic about the state of the WNBA and lauds the 2018 rookie class.
“Oh, I mean, this class is tremendous,” she said. “You look at the draft, the top 20 players can all make an impact on their teams. You know, we got Marie Gülich from Oregon State. Just the first two days of training camp she’s been pretty impressive. I got to see Kelsey Mitchell at USA camp. I think that kid’s a pitbull. She’s got this competitive spirit about her that’s really great to see. And obviously A’ja Wilson is gonna be one of the top post players as a rookie. It’ll be interesting to see how it all translates in the WNBA, but I’m sure they’ll all be fine.”
Despite disputes about inadequate pay in the WNBA, the opportunity for players to expand their game both nationally and internationally remains the same. Young girls still aspire to play basketball professionally. Taurasi hopes that someone will step up and change the paygrade to encourage more women to pursue a professional career.
“I think when you have an opportunity to play basketball as a career, not only in the WNBA but overseas," she said, "I think you start making it a priority and I’m so glad the WNBA is still around. I’m so glad that overseas jobs are still available and kids should have an opportunity to make basketball their life. They’ve been playing it all their life and I’m just really happy that it gives these kids in college and in high school something to aspire to.”
No matter what happens with the WNBA, Taurasi’s legacy has been cemented into basketball history forever. Focusing only on the things she can control, she turns her attention to the court instead of looking ahead to consider her legacy.
“You know the funny thing about that question is I can’t control that,” she said. “I can say I want to be known as the prettiest player ever but I don’t control that, the people control that. So all I can do is show up to work every day and give my best.”
Until she’s subbed out for the last time, Taurasi is full speed ahead, ready for another Mercury season.