The final meeting between WNBA legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi is set to take place on Friday when the Mercury host the Storm at the Footprint Center.
The two teammates and close friends will face each other for the record 46th time, the most ever regular-season games between two players in League history. Bird retiring at the end of the season has put their rivalry and friendship into perspective.
“I’m starting to feel closure,” Taurasi said per ESPN. “It’s a bit sad knowing that it’s going to be Sue’s last regular-season game in Phoenix. We don’t know if playoffs or whatever might happen, but you know it’s gonna be a moment where all those memories kind of go in your head and take you back to the first time we played against each other in 2004 and all those things when we played each other in the playoffs and had a great series.
“So, yeah, all those memories will go through my mind.”
Phoenix will honor Bird with a pregame video and a gift; while Taurasi doesn’t think the two UConn legends will exchange jerseys again as they did during the 2021 playoffs, she did say that the two would speak about how properly punctuate the moment on Thursday.
The two have been friends for over 20 years after playing together at UConn under Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma. Their bond was built through their mutual love of hooping. Now, as the two are coming towards the end of their respective career, the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history said she is proud of making the “big, big decision” to retire and has made Taurasi start to think about life beyond the hardwood.
“Seeing how happy she is going through her retirement years made me really think about that long winter,” said Taurasi. “When the season ends, I’ll be a free agent, and I’ll see what’s best for me. I don’t know what that is right now.
“It’s always something that as you get older as an athlete, you start thinking about, and you start really kind of bouncing off ideas on [wife] Penny [Taylor] and my close friends and people that I really respect and trust; their opinion.”
Regardless of the game’s outcome, Bird still owns a 25-20 edge over Taurasi, heading into Friday’s regular-season conclusion to their rivalry. The two hold numerous records between them as well; Taurasi is the all-time leading scorer in the WNBA, while Bird is the all-time leader in assists. Bird and Taurasi are the only players to play 500 games in League history.
With Bird leaving the game, the WNBA players association will be without an influential figure who has been instrumental in helping to implement critical changes made to the League’s CBA as vice president of the union. Taurasi was able to talk with Bird about issues players were experiencing and had the faith and confidence in her to get things done at the negotiating table.
“I always said I was the streets, and Sue was in the offices, and I had to make sure I stayed on the streets because once you’re in the office, you can’t say what you want to say,” Taurasi said. “So I made sure I always told Sue what I thought, and the beauty about Sue is she’s able to take issues that we had as players, go into a meeting and put them in a way where we got things done, and that was Sue and, obviously, [WNPBA president] Nneka Ogwumike.
Friday’s matchup at the Footprint Center will likely be their final meeting unless the Storm and Mercury play each other in the playoffs. The realization has been a bittersweet feeling for Taurasi, who won’t get to play with or against Bird after the Tokyo Olympics and Friday’s rivalry-ending matchup.
“It’ll be an end of an era on the court, but it’ll be the beginning of an era off the court,” she said. “And we’re excited for that, too.”