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Former UConn teammates Taurasi, Bird determined to lead U.S. women’s basketball to gold

By Taiwo Adeshigbin, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | Aug. 07, 2021, 4:41 p.m. (ET)

U.S. basketball players Diana Taurasi (left) and Sue Bird celebrate after defeating Serbia in the semifinals at the 2020 Olympic Games.

They were college teammates who became two of the WNBA’s greatest. Now Sue Bird (Connecticut, basketball) and Diana Taurasi (Connecticut, basketball), at 40 and 39, respectively, are seeking their fifth Olympic gold medal together.

The U.S. women’s basketball team will play Japan at 10:30 p.m. EDT and are one victory away from extending its Olympic gold medal-winning streak to seven. 

“At this point, we know we don’t have many times on the court together, so we want to make sure we take full advantage of that,” Taurasi said. “This is a relationship on the court that has been built over 20 years. And that trust, you can feel it when you’re on the court.”

The bond dates back to the 2000-01 season at Connecticut. Bird was a junior and Taurasi was a freshman, and the pair led the team to an  NCAA championship with a 36-1 record. Since then, both have won four Olympic medals.  

“Since I put on a USA jersey, the one thing we always do is go into every game respecting and knowing how dangerous every country is,” Taurasi said. “That’s the respect you have to have for everyone.” 

The respect younger players have for the pair is evident.

“(Taurasi and Bird) are laying the foundation for the next generation to come,” Chelsea Gray (Duke, basketball) said. “I was excited when I got the phone call that I would be able to compete and hopefully get them their fifth gold medal. You can’t just take that lightly.

“We’re doing it for each other, but we want their name written down in the history books.” 

Taurasi, however, views this opportunity as another game. To win. 

It’s something she’s done often. At Connecticut, she led the Huskies to three consecutive NCAA championships. In the WNBA, she has guided the Phoenix Mercury to three league titles.

“You don’t think about the moment, you don’t think about the historical aspect of playing this game. You just want to go out there to compete,” she said. 

Bird also has a long history of success. With the Huskies, she won two NCAA titles and left the school ranked first in 3-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. The WNBA, too, has benefited from her presence, and she has secured four titles with the Seattle Storm.

The Team USA victories have been a collective effort, coaches say.

“We’re keeping the main thing the main thing,” coach Dawn Staley said. “And it is every single one of us, whether we’re a player or coach or staff member – anyone that’s helping us – we are here to win a gold medal.”.  

Women’s basketball was introduced into the Olympics in 1976. Since then, the U.S. has not played Japan in the championship, although Team USA did defeat the Japanese team by a 17-point margin in this year's Games.

The team is confident in its preparation and is grateful for the guidance provided by the veteran duo. 

“When you step on the court with them, whether it’s practice or games, they give you confidence, experience, and wisdom,” Jewell Lloyd (Notre Dame, basketball) said. “And as young players trying to figure out our legacy in this league and what we bring to the table, it has been awesome to kind of listen to them, see what works and doesn’t work.”

That confidence brewing among this team is evident. And the game will hold special meaning for the veterans.

“It’s one of those things you don’t get very often in life,”  Taurasi said about playing with Bird. “And to get it in your professional career, it’s second to none.”

Taiwo Adeshigbin, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Taiwo Adeshigbin is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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