Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird celebrate after the women's basketball gold medal game during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 8, 2021 in Tokyo.
In addition to setting the gold standard for all USA Basketball teams of this generation, Bird and Taurasi are in the conversation as the GOAT — greatest of all time — in their sport, as well as being an inspiration to the waves of players watching them.
Their drive and determination are major reasons why the U.S. women have won seven straight gold medals, matching the Olympic team-sports record set by the U.S. men’s basketball team from 1936-1968. They also have been on the roster for 38 of the team’s 55-game winning streak at the Olympics. The U.S. men won 63 in a row before the controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“There’s always a lot of pressure when you put this jersey on to play at a high level and to make sure we bring home the gold,” Taurasi said. “So I’m really happy for this group, I’m really happy for the things that we were able to do. It’s been a long journey.”
What has made that adventure smooth is their personal relationship. Their roles on the court are pretty well defined. Bird is the point guard, Taurasi the shooting guard. Bird, in 36 Olympic games, averaged 4.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, while Taurasi — a four-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year — put up 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 38 games.
They have also left their mark on the WNBA, with Taurasi the career scoring leader (more than 9,000 points) and Bird perched at the top of the assists chart (3,000-plus). In international competition at all age levels with USA Basketball, Bird has a career record of 148-6, while Taurasi is 137-7.
But of course, their relationship goes deeper than those numbers.
“There’s actually some teammates where I could sit here and say, ‘Oh, my god, they were so annoying at first,’” said Bird, who also became the oldest Olympic basketball gold medalist. “She was annoying just because she had like such a cocky confidence, like brash, but on the court, we always vibed, like from day one. I think we just complement each other really well.”
Diana Taurasi, and Sue Bird celebrate with their gold medals after the women's basketball gold medal game during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 8, 2021 in Tokyo.
The bond was the anchor for success. Bird is the most decorated player in FIBA competitions with 10 medals between Olympic and World Cup play (nine golds, one bronze), while Taurasi has nine (eight golds, one bronze). That foundation was built through USA Basketball.
“I think you’ve learned a lot about yourself when you play with the national team,” said Taurasi, whose 414 career Olympic points rank only behind Leslie’s 488. “It’s always a collection of 12 of the best players in the world, and we’ve always figured out a way to come in this setting and put yourself aside to win a gold medal. That’s not easy and it comes in different forms, but we always find a way to do that — and we do it with class and we do it with the team first. It’s pretty amazing.”
Success for USA Basketball is planned. Take this Olympic team, for example. There were six players who had participated in at least one Olympics, while six players were newbies. Bird and Taurasi were in the rookie shoes for the 2004 Athens Olympics, with Bird learning how to run the team from Dawn Staley, a three-time gold medalist as a player who coached this year’s team. Like Staley in Athens, Bird carried the American flag for the Tokyo Opening Ceremony.
“We started out our career, I know for myself in the ’04 Games, I was there to learn and take the torch from Dawn and carry it, and those older players taught us what it meant,” Bird said. “And now for us, hopefully we’ve left some sort of legacy with the younger players where they now can carry that torch. So to be sitting here now after going through 20 years of that, it’s amazing.”
It was 2000 when Bird, then a junior, and Taurasi, as a freshman, were teammates for the first time at UConn, winning an NCAA championship together in 2002. Two years later, Taurasi was less than 48 removed from her third national title at UConn when she officially joined the team that played in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“There’s always something really special about putting a team together and seeing it grow towards a goal, and I think this team personified that in a lot of ways,” Taurasi said. “I think everyone kind of locked in and did the things that we needed to do to win a gold medal.”
Just as you would expect from a team led by Bird and Taurasi. Legacy complete.