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Diana Taurasi lost in the WNBA finals but her greatness remains secure

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Paul Beaty/AP</span>
Photograph: Paul Beaty/AP

It was all set up perfectly for Diana Taurasi. After the Phoenix Mercury’s postseason series win over the Las Vegas Aces, the WNBA legend flew back home to witness her wife give birth to the couple’s second child. Then, before the start of the WNBA finals, it was announced that fans had voted Taurasi as the greatest player in league history. With the Mercury facing the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky, the stars had aligned for her to cap off her historic career with a fourth championship.

Even though her team was down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, that dream ending to the season still looked plausible in the third quarter of Sunday’s Game 4. The Mercury held a 14-point lead over the Sky and looked set to force a decisive Game 5 in Phoenix. Instead, the Sky pulled off a heroic comeback, clinching their first championship in franchise history.

Because of this, the story of the WNBA finals rightfully revolves around the Sky. After recruiting Illinois-raised legend Candace Parker in the offseason – one of Taurasi’s few challengers for the mantle of greatest WNBA player ever – Chicago went 16-16 in the regular season and entered the playoffs as underdogs. Instead, their only defeat came in overtime in Game 2, a loss that they bounced back from with the most lopsided win in WNBA finals history.

Meanwhile, after Taurasi played through ankle and foot injuries against the Aces, the 39-year-old looked understandably hobbled for much of the finals. In Game 4, she went 4-for-16 with a brutal plus-minus of -22. As the Mercury’s lead kept dwindling in the fourth, Taurasi missed layups and even a key late-game free throw in what ended up being a 80-74 loss. Time comes for all of us, even the potential GOAT, the question remains is how much does this series loss affect Taurasi’s legacy?

The answer is, truthfully, not a heck of a lot. Despite the notable synchronicity of them both faltering in the finals while trying to win a basketball championship for Phoenix, this wasn’t a Chris Paul-type situation where a no doubt future Hall of Famer was trying and failing to win the first ring of their career. A more appropriate analogy would be if Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers had lost in the Super Bowl earlier this year. Yes, a victory would have certainly improved Taurasi’s resume but it’s not like there’s all that much left for her to prove.

To even list all of Taurasi’s achievements in basketball would be an exercise in exhaustion. Beyond her four championships – all with the Mercury – she is the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader and won the MVP in 2009. Outside of the league, Taurasi has led the US women’s basketball team to five Olympic gold medals and three Fiba World Cups. Before beginning her professional career, she won the NCAA championship three years in a row with the University of Connecticut.

Like most WNBA players, Taurasi spent most of her offseasons overseas, where she added to her trophy collection by becoming a six-time Euroleague champion. She’s been everywhere, she’s won everywhere.

There are few people more competitive than Taurasi. This possibly explains why she joined the rest of her team in refusing to talk to the media after the Mercury’s gutting Game 4 loss. She also reportedly cracked the visitors’ locker room door at Wintrust Arena after the game. For the greats, no amount of winning is apparently sufficient to offset the pain of failure.

Even if her team had won, Taurasi probably shouldn’t have been the main story. While Taurasi remains the Mercury’s emotional leader, she’s been supplanted by Brittney Griner as the team’s most important player. Had Phoenix won, it would have likely been the dominant center and not Chicago’s Kahleah Copper holding up the finals MVP trophy.

As for Taurasi, there still may be time for that storybook ending. Like Paul, Taurasi isn’t necessarily done. Earlier this year, she signed a two-year deal with Phoenix. With Griner set to return as well, there’s no reason to think the Mercury won’t have another shot at the title next year.

When asked about retirement on Saturday, she said it would depend on how she felt during the offseason. “I hopefully can fulfill my obligation,” she told ESPN, “but you never know.”

It’s all about her health, of course, but there are other issues as well. Name checking her wife – and former teammate – Penny Taylor, Taurasi also acknowledged that basketball may no longer be her highest priority. “It’s something I’ll talk about with Penny, and my family and really just do a little soul-searching to see if it’s something I want to continue to do.”

One factor in that decision is the knowledge that there are very few worlds left for her to conquer. Taurasi effectively secured her legacy a long time ago and there may be little left for her to play for other than her pride. Knowing Taurasi, however, pride alone may just be enough to lure her back on the court one more time.

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