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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

Sue Bird keeps Team USA door open, too

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Some days, Sue Bird feels as if she’s on borrowed time. Other days, the WNBA’s oldest player considers a potential fifth Olympics in Tokyo.

“Only three years away,” she said Sunday.

Bird, like her former University of Connecticut teammate Diana Taurasi, sounds more optimistic now about playing for Team USA again than she did last year. They could both be on the 2018 World Cup team.

Taurasi said last week that she would keep playing for the national team as long as she’s asked, with one likely caveat. Bird would have to suit up, too.

“It’s easy to group us in a lot of ways,” Bird said before scoring a season-high 21 points in a Seattle Storm loss at the New York Liberty on Sunday. “I’m sure the decision will be kind of, sort of together, but at the same time, separate.

“In terms of health and where you are in two, three years, it’s tough to say. I can also tell you that, I think I can speak for both of us when I say, if we’re both playing at a high level and feel good and we’re asked to represent our country, it would be really hard to say no.”

Bird turns 40 in 2020, when she will be nearly three years older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player. She said before Rio that 2016 would likely be her last Olympics.

Bird, who missed one game in Rio with a left knee sprain, underwent left knee surgery for a fifth time in April. But she’s averaging a career-high 8.1 assists per game this season, leading the WNBA through seven games.

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, who replaced Geno Auriemma (Bird and Taurasi’s college coach), said in March that it was her gut feeling that both Bird and Taurasi would make a run for Tokyo. Staley, Bird and Taurasi were teammates at the 2004 Athens Games.

Bird said she hasn’t had any discussions with Staley and no meaningful ones with women’s national team director Carol Callan the spring.

But Bird and Taurasi may well be needed. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards — Taurasi, Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.

“If it comes down to it and the team needs me in whatever capacity I’d oblige,” Bird said, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t think if you’re asked to represent your country you say no to them.”

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MORE: Will Candace Parker wear Team USA jersey again?

Breanna Stewart wants to play 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 in Tokyo

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Breanna Stewart has the versatility that lends well to the Olympic debut of 3-on-3 basketball at the Tokyo Games.

If Stewart has the opportunity, she would like to show off those skills. The Seattle Storm forward thinks she could go for two gold medals in 2020.

“If it’s possible to play both, I would love to play both,” Stewart said Sunday, two days after 3-on-3 was added to the Olympic program. “I mean, who wouldn’t?”

LeBron James wouldn’t.

“Growing up playing basketball, you play 3-on-3,” Stewart said before her Storm lost to the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. “You go to the [YMCA], you play 3-on-3. It highlights people’s skill a lot more because it’s only six players on the court. It’s how you can be better than the defender.”

Stewart, 22, became the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s basketball player since 1988 in Rio. She won her fourth NCAA title with Connecticut and was drafted No. 1 overall by the Storm last year.

She may be limited in her 2020 Olympic choices.

FIBA hasn’t announced the qualifying or competition format for Olympic 3-on-3. A FIBA spokesman said Monday that process will take at least two more months to determine.

IOC sports director Kit McConnell said Friday that 3-on-3 players will be “specialists” without providing more specifics.

Even if FIBA allows WNBA or NBA players in 3-on-3, USA Basketball and, potentially, the pro leagues would have to sign off.

Recent Olympic women’s basketball tournaments have run from Day 1 through Day 15 of the Games. If that remains, it’s hard to imagine players taking part in the traditional 5-on-5, then switching to a 3-on-3 game, and then back again.

While no NBA players have taken part in FIBA-sanctioned global 3-on-3 competitions, some WNBA notables competed in 3-on-3 world championships while still in college (Skylar Diggins, Bria Hartley and Chiney Ogwumike in 2012, Jewell Loyd in 2014).

Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn’s top two scorers last season, earned 3-on-3 gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics.

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VIDEO: Diana Taurasi wants to play with Team USA, Sue Bird