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With the 2023 Phoenix Mercury season not going according to plan, there’s been one moment for everyone to look forward to. Even the PHNX Mercury crew anticipated this monumental milestone. Diana Taurasi eclipsing 10,000 points. The WNBA GOAT award winner presents numerous accolades. She’s the leader in all-time points, field goals made, threes made and free throws.
Nobody was sure when she would hit the mark, especially being out for nearly two weeks with a quad injury. However, Taurasi played like she never left. She scored 24 and 29 points in Phoenix’s losses against Chicago and Indiana respectively. After Sunday’s loss, Taurasi stood at 47 points until 10,000. She mentioned how the thought of reaching that mark hasn’t crossed her mind.
“I want it to really just happen organically,” Taurasi said. “When it comes, it comes and it’ll be a great achievement for our organization, for women’s basketball. Like I said, I just hope it’s nice and around for the next person to break it.”
The everlasting legacy of Taurasi
Following the team’s loss on Sunday, they traveled to Indiana. During Tuesday’s morning shootaround, Mercury forward Brianna Turner described the legacy that Taurasi has on the sport.
“I think it just speaks of her legacy,” Turner said. “I mean, she’s gonna be a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest basketball players ever, might be the only player to ever reach 10,000. So I think we’re just really excited for her. Obviously, she might be able to get on our home floor. It’s really exciting for the fans to be back home. That’s just what the type of player Dee is and she deserves all the flowers for everything she’s accomplished her long career.”
It seemed that Taurasi wanted to make a statement during Tuesday’s game against Indiana. She posted a game-high 29 points and 5 three pointers. Despite the loss, she remained only 18 points away from 10,000. Following the loss, Taurasi mentioned how difficult it’s been balancing trying to win games, along with being so close to history.
“I really don’t think about the number, I really don’t,” Taurasi said. “I’ve always said I just play basketball because I love to play and literally, that’s the only reason why I keep showing up to the gym right now is because I still love to play. This group still shows up every day. We prepare like we’re chasing a championship. We’ll come back tomorrow, watch film, get on the court.”
“I’m just really proud of this group and when you’re in a place for 20 years, you get to see everything. You get to see the highs of the highs, which I’ve been to and I’ve been in the lows of the lows. There is something to be said about going through all those stages with one team and you learn a lot about yourself. When you’re in these situations, as a team, you’re really trying to scratch and crawl to get a win and it’s tough, it’s frustrating, but I’m really proud of this group and… just trust the process.”
Taurasi surpassed Tina Thompson’s 7,488 points in 2017 against the Los Angeles Sparks. The following season, she hit 8,000 points against the New York Liberty. In the league’s 25th season, she added to the record books once again with her 9,000 point. The first two milestones were away from her home crowd. The last milestone was in front of a limited X-factor due to Covid-19 regulations.
Before Thursday’s game, head coach Nikki Blue walked in the room as confident as ever. The vibes were up, with Taurasi set to break history once again. Blue was ecstatic on how history would be made Thursday night.
“This is obvious history that we’re right here for, but also, we just got to play basketball in this game,” Blue said. “It’s not really tough at all because Dee actually needs to score points and I was hoping that she’s gonna break it that night (Tuesday) but hopefully she’ll come out tonight and do the job. I know our team is rallying behind her. To be here and be witnesses is something truly special.”
The relationship of Coach Blue and Taurasi
Blue’s journey in the WNBA came full circle. After playing at UCLA for four seasons, she played in the W against Taurasi for four seasons. Regardless of age, the UConn alum’s competitiveness is as rare as it gets. Blue talked about her impact on the game and even joked about playing a role in Taurasi’s quest to 10,000 points.
Yeah, I’ve had many battles with Diana, we’ve played against each other since we were in high school,” Blue said. “So, you know, AAU basketball, at the Nike camps, Adidas camps and just various camps. But just in the WNBA, I vividly remember us preparing for her. It wasn’t the Phoenix Mercury team, but it was preparing for Diana and how we would stop her and this is during her time, her prime.
“So I think that I should get a little bit of credit for contributing to her milestone of 10,000 points because I probably gave her up about 100 and 50 points over the couple of years that we played against each other. But she’s ultra competitive and I’m just proud to be the interim coach for her right now.”
Teammates anticipating Taurasi’s moment
Before the game, Moriah Jefferson spoke to the media and reflected on how Taurasi’s legacy cannot be understated. She even mentioned how young she was during the beginning of her illustrious career.
“I mean, I was a baby for most of them 2,000 points,” Jefferson said. “It’s extremely hard to do on any level. And so for us, for me especially, I’ve always looked up to Dee as a player and to be able, this year to come in and watch her and watch how she prepares for every game, it’s not surprising. She does things the same way so that when she gets on the court, it’s exactly the same. It’s not surprising that there’s something extremely hard to do and we were just really proud of it.”
First shot of the night
Taurasi attempted her signature three point shot. This time, she went fading left over Dream center Cheyenne Parker. The crowd erupted and the countdown was on. A few possessions later, caught the ball on the left wing, gathered and went straight in for a layup.
Atlanta did everything possible to deny her the opportunity to score. Doubling her every time she caught the ball, hedging on screens, any possible way to limit her. Sometimes, the method worked. Other times, DT’s greatness shined through. For example, she hit a tough fadeaway jumper over Danielle Robinson and Allisha Gray.
The physicality was on full display for Atlanta. Nonetheless, that’s where Taurasi got most of her points. She registered an “and-one” late in the second quarter with her teammates hyping her up. Atlanta’s aggressiveness didn’t stop in the second half, as they continually made life difficult for Taurasi.
The second half began with an easy layup for Taurasi, something she didn’t have most of the game. Then, she hit a catch and shoot three. The possession after… history.
History is made
A deafening three point shot heard around the world. Immediately after, in classic Taurasi fashion, she celebrated with her teammates and coaching staff. After the 91-71 victory over the Dream, Taurasi explained if she would change anything about her journey to 10,000 points.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Taurasi said. “Every moment led to another moment, led to another moment. Throughout this journey that started way before the WNBA, way before UConn. It started in my driveway, it really did. It was just innocent, it was naive.”
“There was no goal, there was no plan, there was no speaking English.” It was just a kid who liked to play basketball in her front yard and everyone was welcome to come and play. Sometimes you forget that it’s supposed to be fun and as the years have gone by, I have to keep reminding myself that. When you do something you love, it’s not a job, it’s not work. It’s just your passion.”
This fulfilled the wish of every player and coach pregame. Players celebrated in the locker room with a champagne party. Just about every player either took a photo with Taurasi after the game or wrote something sentimental on social media. Following the game, Blue couldn’t contain the joy she had for her star player.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like that before and for her to show that she is still at the top of her game, it was really exciting to see,” Blue said. “She was actually calling a lot of the sets herself that we’re gonna get her to score. There were times where I was calling the sets to give her the shots and she just looked at me and was like, ‘yep’, that’s, that’s what we’re doing.”
“To be able to witness this tonight… I mean, it was truly special and she did it in the only, only the way that Diana Taurasi could do it. 42 points and 41 years old?! You guys, we have never seen anything like this!”
“It was so much fun.”