PHOENIX—The sight at Mercury practice on Wednesday afternoon left little reason to believe that history had been made. The team ran through pick-and-roll coverage tirelessly, creating and exploiting new wrinkles each time progress was made. A scrimmage followed, where the bench put on an impressive fight before eventually falling. The practice ended with Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner getting shots up with former Mercury star Penny Taylor on the other end of the gym. Watching a team that has adapted toward the spirit of their veteran star, it would have been hard to tell that the same star had just made history.
Taurasi and Coach Sandy Brondello spoke with the media following Wednesday’s practice, in response to the veteran’s record-breaking performance on Sunday evening in Los Angeles. With a driving layup in the second quarter, Taurasi scored point number 7,489 to pass Tina Thompson on the league’s all-time list.
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“It was nice just to score a basket because we had been playing so bad. And then I kind of looked over and people were standing up, so I figured that was the basket, but I wasn’t counting,” said Taurasi. It’s part of the guard’s ethos to not let the moment become bigger than the team, but this moment was clearly more significant than others in the past.
Earlier this season, Taurasi also became the leading 3-point shooter in WNBA history. She handled that record with similar poise and focus to the way she’s regarding this one, but did let on that the tribute video the team played afterward made her remember her troubled history with McDonald’s fast food. That acerbic silliness is what has endeared Taurasi to a generation of basketball fans and Phoenix sports fans.
Asked what Taurasi meant to the WNBA, both as its all-time leading scorer and more broadly as one of its biggest liaisons in the sports world, Brondello was blunt: “I hope she means everything to them, and gets the recognition that she deserves. I don’t think anyone will break this record… So hopefully she’s getting as much love as she can.” None of the Mercury are shy about the tremendous impact Taurasi has had on the team throughout her 14-year career.
For Taurasi herself, the pride that comes from an achievement like this matters most. The star is not active on social media, but even she couldn’t escape the influx of warm messages that poured in on Sunday night. Stars around the sports world sang her praises, citing the same work ethic and determination that today’s Mercury still cherish.
“It’s pretty special. Kobe especially, from the standpoint that he was the one guy that I gravitated towards and loved the way he played and what he did on the court.” Taurasi would go on to mention the love shown by LeBron James as well in a personalized video he posted shortly after the record was broken. Phoenix sports legends like Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes added to the online celebration.
Celebration, though, is not a word many on this team would like to associate themselves with right now. They are 6-5, having gone through an uneven season with three difficult matchups ahead of them. After Friday’s trip to play the Seattle Storm, the team will play the Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics at home in back-to-back games.
“It was getting to the point where we needed to get it over with,” Taurasi explained. Searching for answers with 10 new teammates and a reorganized game plan, the Mercury can now look past the record. Perhaps no one is happier to move on than Taurasi, the steadfast star and legend of the league.