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Diana Taurasi breaks WNBA all-time scoring record; Kobe, LeBron offer praise

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About the only thing missing from Diana Taurasi’s record-setting day was a victory.

Taurasi became the WNBA’s career scoring leader in front of her family, friends and Kobe Bryant.

With her parents watching, Taurasi passed Tina Thompson on Sunday in the Phoenix Mercury’s 90-59 loss to the Sparks in Los Angeles.

“It’s pretty special I got to do it in front of my family on Father’s Day in LA,” said Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who finished with 19 points.

Taurasi came into the needing 14 points to break the mark set by Thompson, a 2004 and 2008 Olympic teammate, and the Mercury guard did it late in the first half on a layup with her team down big.

“Once I got the basket it was pretty cool,” she said. “I was trying not to think about, wanted it to happen and do it organically. It did. You think about all the great players you played with, all the games.”

Taurasi stands alone atop the league’s scoring list. She has 7,494 points and has averaged 19.9 points in her career.

She said in the weeks leading up to the historic points that she wasn’t thinking about the record.

After the basket, the game stopped and Taurasi was given a warm ovation from the crowd that included Bryant and his daughters as well as Taurasi’s.

“We had this planned on the schedule for quite some time,” Bryant said during an interview in-game. “It worked in our favor we could see a historical night.”

Bryant has always been impressed with how hard Taurasi works.

“To be that great for so many years is a testament to her work ethic and commitment to the game,” Bryant told ESPN. “Her intellect and sacrifice. She’s just a phenomenal athlete.”

Thompson offered her congratulations.

“I am excited that it is Diana and it is my absolute pleasure to pass the torch on to her,” Thompson said. “She and I have shared so many amazing moments throughout our basketball careers, whether it was gold medals, championships or All-Star games. Diana is one of the best players to ever play the game and definitely one of my favorites. She has done amazing things and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to share many of those with her. I am really excited for Diana and I think she is going to blow that record out of the water.”

Taurasi, averaging 18.1 points this year, passed Tamika Catchings for second on the WNBA scoring list early this season. It only took the Mercury star 13 seasons to become the league’s top scorer. Thompson needed 17 years to achieve her total.

Earlier in the season, Taurasi set the career 3-pointer record, passing Katie Smith. Taurasi has 927 3-pointers.

She turned 35 this month and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. She recently signed an extension through 2020 and said she hoped to play at a fifth Olympics with one caveat.

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MORE: Sue Bird keeps Team USA door open, too

WNBA All-Time Scoring List
1. Diana Taurasi — 7,494
2. Tina Thompson — 7,488
3. Tamika Catchings — 7,380
4. Katie Smith — 6,452
5. Cappie Pondexter — 6,449

Diana Taurasi wants to keep playing for Team USA, with Sue Bird

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Diana Taurasi jokes that she “signed a tombstone” with a Phoenix Mercury contract extension through 2020, when she will turn 38 years old.

“Puts me to my graveyard,” she quipped before Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty.

Hold the eulogy. Taurasi is still one of the world’s best players and could suit up at a fifth Olympics three years.

She scored 37 points in a game last week — her most in the WNBA since 2010.

Including Sunday, she committed zero turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in her career (420 WNBA games, including regular season and playoffs).

She’s shooting 56 percent from the field in her last three games after a 1-for-11 clunker in the opener May 14.

All that has to impress USA Basketball, which next year will try to three-peat at worlds for the first time.

Taurasi said in Rio that she had likely played her final Olympic game, ending her career in that sense 32-0 with four gold medals.

But now she’s sounding optimistic. Not only for the 2018 World Cup, but also the for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“As long as I’m playing at a high level, and I deserve to be out there, then I’ll always put that USA jersey on,” Taurasi said Sunday. “There’s nothing better than that, no matter how many times you’ve done it.”

It would have been fitting for Taurasi to bow out of the Olympics after Rio at the same time as her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.

“He picked golfing over us,” Taurasi joked Sunday of Auriemma handing over the national-team reins to Dawn Staley.

But Taurasi praised the hiring of Staley. Both guards, Taurasi and Staley were teammates at the 2004 Olympics, where Taurasi made her Olympic debut off the bench and Staley started every game in her Olympic farewell.

Taurasi recently talked with U.S. national-team director Carol Callan about her future with the program. She plans to have more conversations with Staley, Callan and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.

“See what direction they want to go in,” Taurasi said. “A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up. I take it day by day. And when it’s time to make a commitment, then I will.”

Taurasi’s value to USA Basketball is enhanced by a lack of depth at guard. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards — Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.

Come 2020, all three of them will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player — men or women. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant was talked about potentially being placed on the U.S. men’s team in Rio at age 37 for his leadership and experience.

The women’s national team selection committee may face a similar situation.

“That’s going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo,” Taurasi said when asked about “a Kobe-like role.”

Throughout her career, Taurasi has been most linked with Bird. Backcourt mates at UConn and at four Olympics.

Last year, Auriemma said he wouldn’t have coached the U.S. unless Taurasi and Bird had been there. Now, Taurasi is taking a page from her old coach’s book.

Her return to USA Basketball is not only dependent on her own play and a selection committee, but also at least somewhat on the undecided Bird’s plans.

“That would be a weird feeling to go out on the court without Sue, especially with USA Basketball,” Taurasi said. “So, no, I probably wouldn’t see that happening.”

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Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020