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The legend of Diana Taurasi: WNBA players on the one-of-a-kind trash-talker and champion

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Diana Taurasi doesn’t mince words on the basketball court. She’s known to say things — anything — to get a rise out of opposing players, coaches and even referees.

During the third quarter of a game against the Minnesota Lynx last year, the Phoenix Mercury guard made a comment that was caught on camera and became an instant classic. Disagreeing with a foul call, Taurasi pointed her finger at a referee and uttered “I’ll see you in the lobby later” with such Taurasi-esque fervor that a hallway confrontation seemed inevitable.

Within hours, Twitter lit up with video clips, memes and quotes of Taurasi’s now legendary phrase. The moment was even made into a T-shirt. And, in Taurasi’s 17th season, it has only cemented her reputation as one of the funniest and boldest trash-talkers in WNBA history.

“She gets on people. Just some of her combination of words — like, how do you even think of that?” says Mercury guard and teammate Shey Peddy. “Sometimes she might get a technical for it, and I know a few times I’m talking to the ref like, ‘She didn’t mean that. She’s just joking around.’ She can be, uh, pretty ruthless out there. I think that’s what I love about it. She’s got no filter, at all.”

In the same 2020 bubble season, Ariel Atkins remembers Taurasi going on a scoring tear against the Washington Mystics, racking up 15 points in a matter of minutes, when Mystics head coach Mike Thibault shouted something in Taurasi’s direction.

“Of course, she’s talking through the whole game,” Atkins says. “She looks up and says, ‘All right, Mike. Come on, four years ago it would be thirty by now,’ or something like that. And I’m just like, man, the level of confidence she has. She’s, like, mentally different, man. It’s one of those things — some people just have it. Obviously, she has it.”

As hard as Taurasi plays basketball and as steely as her expression is when she’s staring down opponents, she can be just as laidback in other situations, often using humor to lighten up a locker room interview. She is as charismatic off the court as she is ruthless on it. And those who have interacted with Taurasi, whether playing alongside her or against her, appreciate and respect both sides.

“I’d much rather play with her than against her, that’s for sure,” says Atlanta Dream forward Candice Dupree. “She’s a competitor. I always said she almost transforms into this completely different person when she is on the court.”

Dupree loved being Taurasi’s teammate for the seven years she spent in Phoenix. The team joked around a lot, but when it came to the business of basketball, Taurasi knew how to motivate her teammates like no one else. And when she jawed at other players and refs — well, that was just Taurasi being Taurasi.

“I love how she trash talks to players and gets in heads that way, but she can also back it up,” Peddy says. “We all gravitate to her when she’s on the court. She doesn’t sugarcoat things, she’s real. She’s gonna tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, whether you like it or not. And you need that in your leadership and your veteran players.”

Taurasi has played with the Mercury for all 17 seasons of her WNBA career. (Phoenix Mercury)

Lindsay Whalen played against Taurasi for years as a member of the Connecticut Sun and the Minnesota Lynx before she retired in 2018. Their matchups were always competitive and physical. But when they played together for Team USA in 2012 and 2016, Whalen marveled not only at Taurasi’s charisma and sense of humor but also at how she approached the game.

“I think the more I got into being her teammate with USA Basketball is when I saw why she is so great, how she handled herself,” Whalen says. “I learned how to be a champion, honestly, from watching Diana.”

Whalen, who won four championships with the Lynx during her career, says she’ll never forget what happened after Team USA won gold in London in 2012. She and Taurasi were standing next to each other in line, waiting for their gold medals to be handed out, when Taurasi turned to her and said, “You know, nobody deserves this more than you. I’m so happy for you.”

“We’re talking about two decades now as the best player in the game and the ambassador, so for her to say that to me is just something I’ll never forget,” Whalen says.

Part of Taurasi’s on-court persona is about exercising her confidence and getting into opponents’ heads. The other part is about winning. It’s a cycle that feeds itself — the more Taurasi talks, the better she plays, and vice versa. It’s a light switch that flips on when the game starts. One moment, she’ll be chatting up a rookie before the tip as if the two of them are old friends, and the next she’ll be in someone’s ear about not being able to guard her.

“I don’t know if it was my rookie year or my second year, I was always shocked that she even knew who I was,” says Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams. “She was like, ‘Oh, hey Liz,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what?!’”

Williams interacted with Taurasi for the first time off the court during All-Star weekend in 2017 and was surprised by Taurasi’s cool demeanor.

“She can talk to anyone, like it doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, who you are, and I think that’s so cool about her,” Williams says. “Then on the court, I mean, she is who she is. You just kind of know. I think people see how she is on the court and think that she’s like that off the court, but she’s really not.”

(Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

Myisha Hines-Allen got to know that side of Taurasi during a game her rookie year with the Mystics, and not just because it was Hines-Allen’s birthday.

“I was happy to play against a great player like her, but also at the same time just go against her,” the Mystics forward says. “And her first words when I was in the game … I got switched on to her or whatever, and I was like pressed up on her, not helping or anything, and she’s like, ‘So, you’re not gonna go and help?’ And I’m like, ‘Nope, I’m on you. I don’t care about what everyone else is doing, I’m on you.’”

Los Angeles Sparks forward Lauren Cox witnessed Taurasi’s charm in the bubble last season.

“She’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and she’s saying hi to a rookie that she’s never met before — that was really cool,” Cox said.

Mystics guard Sydney Wiese grew up watching Taurasi. When she arrived in the WNBA in 2017, she didn’t know how to separate fact from fiction after hearing about the legend of Taurasi’s on-court personality.

“You just hear her voice. You constantly hear her voice in so many ways, whether it’s to her teammates, the other team, to the refs, to the coaches,” Wiese says.

“I mean, it’s such a dangerous thing to try and talk back to DT. I feel like she feeds off of that. And you don’t want to feed into that fire. I know that she uses her voice to try and get a rise out of people, to try and get into people’s heads. And then if you try and talk back, you’ll feed into another level of her competitively. That’s what I’ve learned firsthand being on the court with her.”

Sue Bird has known Taurasi for over 20 years. The two played college basketball together at UConn, spent time overseas in Russia, won five gold medals as teammates for Team USA, and currently have the longest-running careers in the WNBA. Even though Bird and Taurasi are great friends and they have fun when they play against each other, Bird knows better than to respond to Taurasi’s quips.

“Generally, I don’t talk trash,” Bird told The Athletic in 2019. “But I especially don’t talk trash to Dee. She thrives on that. When I’m on her team and I see people poke the bear, so to speak, I know she’s going to have a big night. So when I’m on the other side, I tell all my teammates, do not talk trash. You’re going to want to. She’s going to push you in ways that’s going to make you want to talk trash. The minute something good happens, you’re going to want to clap and get excited about it.

“I know trying to talk trash to Dee is a lose-lose.”

Taurasi and Bird made history at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, winning their fifth gold medal. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For every one of Taurasi’s antics caught on camera, there are so many more that are never shared off the basketball court. Dupree has heard Taurasi say things she can’t repeat, even if they made her laugh. Peddy, too. It comes with the territory when your teammate is one of the fiercest WNBA players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers.

Taurasi has long been the greatest WNBA scorer of all time, leading the league in career points at 9,161 and climbing. She’s also first in career field goals, free throws and 3-pointers made. Those records are as much a part of her legendary status as her cutthroat play and unsparing comments.

Taurasi, in the twilight of her WNBA career, hasn’t indicated when she plans to retire. Until that day comes, there will be more Taurasi quips, more antics, more stories, more shots taken, more points scored and, no doubt, more arguments with referees.

But there will only ever be one Diana Taurasi. That’s a given.