August 7, 2022

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9:20 AM ET Mechelle VoepelESPN.com Close Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, girls’s faculty basketball, and...

It is one of many nice friendships in sports activities. However the longest-running rivalry amongst greatest associates in WNBA historical past is nearing its finish. The Seattle Storm‘s Sue Bird, in her 19th and remaining WNBA season, and the Phoenix Mercury‘s Diana Taurasi, in her 18th season, meet Friday (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Phoenix for what would be the final time except their groups face off within the playoffs.

Will probably be the 46th time they’ve met within the WNBA common season, with Chook holding a 25-20 edge. That ties for essentially the most head-to-head regular-season conferences between gamers within the league. Tamika Catchings and Swin Money and Lindsay Whalen and Candice Dupree additionally met 46 occasions.

Chook and Taurasi have confronted off 14 occasions within the postseason, with Taurasi having an 8-6 edge. The 41-year-old Chook and the Storm have received 4 WNBA titles, whereas Taurasi, 40, and the Mercury have received three. Chook, the WNBA’s all-time assists chief, has performed in a league-record 570 video games. Taurasi, the league’s all-time scoring leader, will seem in her 500th sport Friday. They’re the one gamers in WNBA historical past to hit the 500 mark.

The guards grew up on reverse coasts: Chook from Lengthy Island, New York, and Taurasi from Southern California. Their first official sport collectively was 22 years in the past on the identical crew: Nov. 12, 2000, in Hartford, Connecticut, as their UConn Huskies beat the Georgia Lady Bulldogs 99-70. Chook was a junior who had helped lead UConn to this system’s second NCAA title seven months earlier than. Taurasi was a whiz-kid freshman who early on in faculty did a full-speed, spin-move layup in transition that left Chook pondering, “There is a new sheriff on the town.”

Chook had 11 factors and three assists in that first sport, with Taurasi coming off the bench to attain eight factors. They’d go to the ladies’s Last 4 twice and win a nationwide championship in 2002. Taurasi would win two extra NCAA titles earlier than following Chook as a WNBA No. 1 draft choose in 2004.

Of their first sport as WNBA opponents, every scored 22 factors because the Mercury beat the Storm 84-76 on Might 28, 2004. Later that summer time, they might win the primary of their 5 Olympic gold medals as USA Basketball teammates.

In Russia, they received 5 EuroLeague titles collectively. In all, they’ve spent greater than twenty years as rivals, teammates, associates and icons for his or her respective WNBA franchises.

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“I am unable to give you one other one fairly prefer it,” former WNBA and USA Basketball coach Dan Hughes mentioned of the Chook-Taurasi sports activities relationship. “You’ll be able to take a look at the NBA aspect and see a few of that, however not almost to the depth that these two have skilled issues collectively, going again to varsity.

“It is particular, it is uncommon, and it is one thing that we actually want to review. As a result of I feel there are issues that all of us can apply from the friendship and the story they’ve had with one another.”

Teammates and coaches share there views of Chook and Taurasi, their friendship and what they’ve delivered to the sport, as advised to ESPN.

‘A real friendship’

Arizona Wildcats girls’s basketball coach Adia Barnes was teammates with Chook on the Storm crew that received the 2004 WNBA title and was there for the primary Chook-Taurasi WNBA matchup that season. She was additionally a longtime Storm broadcast analyst and is an efficient good friend of each gamers.

“I do not even know the way they nonetheless do it. Like, I’d die to must nonetheless work out like they do. The way in which their our bodies look … I imply, they’re stronger and fitter now than they had been of their early years within the league. Possibly they’ve slowed down slightly bit, however they’re in such nice form and so they’ve gotten smarter each season, so it is like they have not missed a beat.

“Diana is somebody who will discuss rather a lot on courtroom. Not even actually in a impolite method or speaking crap. She simply talks. And what I really like most about watching her and being round her for years is the way in which she makes everyone else so significantly better. She pumps individuals up. She will be able to make the 12th person on the crew really feel vital and would give recommendation to them. She provides everyone confidence.

“Once you see her character on courtroom, she can seem to be a hothead. And she’s not afraid of something. However then she’s top-of-the-line teammates you may ever have. She is going to inform individuals, ‘Hey, you have obtained this.’ It may very well be somebody who performs two minutes a sport, and she’ll go them the ball and attempt to make that person really feel nice.

“Sue makes individuals really feel higher as a result of she is so in cost and has a chilled impact on everybody. Diana is extra outgoing in how she motivates individuals. However they’re each nice at that.

“And it is at all times been a enjoyable, wholesome rivalry. They’ve at all times battled, and so they could be irritated on the courtroom and argue about one thing for a second throughout video games, however then had been in a position to hang around afterward.

“As a result of they’ve a real friendship. I beloved seeing that relationship, as a result of I had by no means actually had something like that. I by no means had somebody I had identified since faculty, the place you compete with and in opposition to them on the highest stage, but nonetheless have such a detailed relationship off the courtroom. It is so uncommon.”

‘A captivating journey’

Dan Hughes coached in opposition to Chook and Taurasi throughout his time within the WNBA, coached Chook with Seattle to the 2018 WNBA title and was a USA Basketball assistant throughout their time with the nationwide crew.

“The perfect instance I may give you of them as opponents was the 2018 WNBA semifinals, the place we performed Phoenix. It is in all probability the perfect collection that I’ve ever been concerned in; I feel lots of people would say the perfect within the league usually.

“They each had their moments. Diana made some photographs the place we did each single factor proper defensively, and she nonetheless scored. How we scouted her, ready for her and executed on the courtroom — we did it completely, but it surely did not matter. The helplessness you are feeling as a coach is past measure.

“However Sue, within the fourth quarter of Recreation 5, had 14 factors and we received. It was the deciding sport, we had trailed a lot of the way in which. It was the final act of a terrific collection with nice gamers in it. And it is actually one of many defining moments in Sue’s career.

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Sue Chook displays on arising clutch within the fourth quarter of Recreation 5 of the 2018 convention finals.

“What stands out as a lot to me was when the sport was over. I watched the 2 of them, and you possibly can see it was all a part of the identical story of greatness as opponents and collectively. Actually, I may really feel it, too. They went at one another as nice opponents do, however there was one thing deeper there.

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“I’ve needed to coach in opposition to a lot of my former assistants and former gamers. You compete like heck, you need to beat them, no query. However when the sport’s over, there’s one thing extra in that second. That is what I sensed from Diana. It wasn’t the standard disappointment after dropping. It was a terrific participant realizing one other nice participant had simply had an unforgettable sport.

“Quick-forward to the Olympics in 2021. Sue got here out of the gold-medal sport and had a hug for everyone, and I used to be watching the 2 of them once more. And it was an analogous look between them, this time as teammates. And I assumed, ‘Is not this an enchanting journey these two have had with one another?’”

‘I used to be sitting there with … two GOATS’

Jewell Loyd was the No. 1 choose by Seattle within the 2015 WNBA draft. She received league titles with Chook in 2018 and 2020 and is a Storm All-Star this 12 months. Loyd received an Olympic gold medal in 2021 as a teammate with Chook and Taurasi and remembers being at her first USA Basketball camp with them.

“I had come again from abroad after my rookie season, and I nonetheless felt like a rookie. I used to be nervous with it being the nationwide crew; you do not know what to anticipate.

“We had been all on the lodge, and Sue and Diana had been going to get meals. I used to be simply heading as much as my room. They usually stopped me, like, ‘The place are you going?’ I mentioned, ‘Oh, I am simply placing my bag away.’ They usually mentioned, ‘You are coming to eat with us; we’ll meet you down right here in 5 minutes.

“At that time, I solely actually knew Sue from my first 12 months on the Storm. Diana did not play within the WNBA in 2015 and I actually did not know her. In order that was my first time interacting with Diana. They invited me to dinner and we sat there for hours, and so they reminisced about so many tales. They embraced me and inspired me to maintain doing what I used to be doing. That was superb.

“I used to be sitting there with two Corridor of Famers, two GOATS, this younger participant studying all this data proper from the get-go. Ever since then, each of them have at all times checked in on me and made positive I used to be doing good, and stored encouraging me. I will at all times bear in mind being the rookie getting to sit down there with two legends.”