UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Diana Taurasi is a beautiful contradiction. She is so complex. She is so simple.
Here she was holding court Thursday following a Phoenix Mercury workout at Mohegan Sun, a 15-minute exploration of topics related and unrelated to her basketball past, present and future.
It was, because it always is with her, insightful and entertaining. Women's basketball's greatest player and wittiest wiseguy spoke of equal pay for women, of recent back surgery, of the U.S. women's World Cup victory and its implications, of UConn's move to the Big East, of remaining a driven and dominant athlete, of her accomplishments.
"I've done everything," she said.
Absolutely. But goals remain. What goals?
It was at this point where Taurasi was — just almost — lost for words.
"I didn't set out to win Olympic medals, to play at UConn, to play in the WNBA," she said. "I just loved to play basketball. It's really very simple. Then when you start thinking about those other things, that's when thinking gets complicated. I'm thinking about whether I can wake up tomorrow and feel good. … It's not even about … I still want to play. I still want to come (to the gym) on a day off."
At the heart of all Taurasi, 37, says and does, there is a really basic and straightforward force that keeps her going through three NCAA titles, three WNBA championships and four Olympic gold medals. It's just doing what she does. That's the goal. She reaches it every morning.
Thursday she reached it by attending an optional team workout. She spent a half hour instructing teammate DeWanna Bonner, sharing some offensive tricks she's picked up over the years. Penny Taylor, Taurasi's wife and a Mercury assistant coach, rebounded during the drills.
"There's a sense of just having some pride in what you're doing," Taurasi said. "I still want to prove myself to myself, my teammates, my coaches. It's nothing complicated."
The back sure can be complicated, though. Nine weeks ago, Taurasi had surgery to repair a bulging disc that was causing numbness and eventually atrophy in one leg. She has missed the first 13 games of her 15th season and hopes to make her 2019 debut Friday against the Sun.
When athletes reach their mid-30s it is common to wonder how many years he or she has left. That's convenient but a little irresponsible. It's 2019. Backs are being repaired in an hour and patients are walking out of the hospital the next day, as Taurasi did. Why shouldn't the conversation about athletes considering retirement start at 40 instead of 30? Sue Bird, 39, said that last year it has stuck with me.
"It's a different world now in athletics and recovery and different outlets to keep your body in shape, your mind in shape," Taurasi said. "Turn on ESPN today and you've got Roger Federer and (Rafael) Nadal and Serena (Williams) still at the top of their game. You've got Tom (Brady) down the road, what he's doing at — what is he, 52 now? There are just so many different avenues if you want to keep playing. You hit a certain age and it's, are you still motivated to play? It's the motivation, the drive that kind of leads you, and the body goes, too."
For Taurasi, the mouth goes, the mind whirs, no filter. Thank goodness. Her personality has changed as much as her approach to basketball. Not at all.
The last time Taurasi held back was the last time she didn't want the ball in the clutch. Never.
On UConn's move to the Big East, Taurasi said, "It just feels right. The American was nice while it lasted, I guess, but no one wants to watch UConn-Tulane or Toledo. I don't even know who's in the American. I didn't even watch the games."
There you go. The guess-what-D-said moment of the interview. She crushed the AAC and even poor Toledo, and you know how long she paused to give a hoot? Not one second.
Taurasi rarely leaves a group setting without dropping a wisecrack. Yet, just as often, she leaves behind something thought-provoking. Two of her closest friends are Bird and Bird's girlfriend Megan Rapinoe, the outspoken and controversial star of the U.S. soccer team.
"The pressure that was built from the social side, the political side, the sports world, there was just a lot of pressure and anxiety, I felt like, in those 90 minutes of soccer," Taurasi said of the team's victory in the championship game over Netherlands. "It was probably more than just winning a World Cup. It was kind of winning an opportunity to say what you wanted to say. I felt like, you lose that game and uh oh, here they come (critics). 'You want to talk all that (stuff) and you can't win a game to win the World Cup.' I'm so proud of what they've been able to do. … A lot of teams with expectations crumble. And to see what has happened in the last four days in this country with women's sport and around them, it makes me proud."
Bird injected herself into a national conversation last week by writing an article for The Players Tribune entitled, "So the President (expletive) Hates My Girlfriend."
"I'm just so impressed with how they've carried themselves," Taurasi said. "Sue and Megan (are) the most humble, the most forward, the most honest people I've been around. That's why their message resonates with so many people, because it's just honesty. They're not doing it for branding. They're not doing it for monetary gain. They're just really spreading what they feel and what they live through. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Whether it's on gay rights, whether it's on equal pay, whether it's on immigration — I just think it's stuff that affects everyone."
The conversation turned back to basketball and toward the future. What's next? Taurasi can't possibly play until she's 52 like Brady.
"I'm so entrenched in still wanting to be a really good basketball player than I can't even think about what I'm going to do afterwards," Taurasi said. "I try to envision what life is after basketball, but I just see myself working out and just being a basketball player still."
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