March 31, 2021 

How Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are approaching Olympic team minicamp

And what a legacy of five gold medals would mean to them

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When Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi won their first Olympic gold medals at Athens in 2004, it was a dream come true for the former UConn teammates. Now, with the possibility for a fifth on the line, Bird and Taurasi arrived at USA Basketball’s Olympic team minicamp, which opened on Tuesday in San Antonio, as driven as ever.

“What I love about these camps,” Bird said, “is it gives you a goal. It’s a date that I get myself ready for. What I really look for is just to be around everybody. I don’t think we come here to get in shape or get off as many shots as we can. It’s more about chemistry on and off the court. (The opportunity to make a fifth Olympic team) speaks to longevity, and I think there is something special about that because it is not easy to stay at the top of your game for so long.”

16 players are participating in the camp with an eye on making the national team for July’s Tokyo Olympics, but Bird and Taurasi are unquestionably the two in the spotlight. Gold medals from Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio have equaled them with Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, and Tamika Catchings for the career record, and a fifth would elevate them into the rarest of international sporting success.

“Even though the Games have been postponed for a year,” Bird said, “I don’t think it’s changed who we are or what we are trying to accomplish. We’ve just pushed the pause button. As Americans, we’re lucky to have the WNBA because it’s going to put us into tip-top shape.”

Bird mentioned she has been training vigorously with her personal fitness but hasn’t played actual basketball with other players since the Storm won the WNBA title in October. Over her career, she noted that national team camps have traditionally been short, so the four-day event this week is nothing new. She didn’t attend February’s camp in Columbia, S.C., for personal reasons.

Even though she has played alongside a plethora of Hall of Famers when Bird is asked who she believes is the greatest basketball player, she doesn’t hesitate to point behind her in the virtual press conference to Taurasi, the WNBA’s career scoring leader.

“We’re talking 20 years of USA Basketball,” Taurasi said of her journey. “The pressure, the commitment, the time you put into it. Anything can happen, and you never know what path that will take you, but just having an opportunity to be here in camp, and looking forward to Tokyo, it’s a culmination of all of the hard work we’ve put in individually and collectively.”

One of the key components of the national team that Taurasi said she likes to instill in younger players is that it’s not about how good they are in camps. It’s more about how well they can play with other great players.

 “We don’t have a lot of time together,” Taurasi added, “so our time on the court has to be focused and done with precision. If you improve in one little area in each day, then that will help us in the long run.”

Sylvia Fowles hasn’t transcended into popular culture the way Bird and Taurasi have, but the 6’6 center has built a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume and is in search of a fourth gold medal. She admires what they have done for the national team.

“Diana and Sue were in the stable when I first started off,” Fowles said, “so to have the opportunity to pass off the torch when they are ready to settle down means a lot. It’s cool to have that transition from younger to older players.”  

A year ago, when it looked like holding the Olympics at all was in jeopardy, many people feared the days of watching Bird and Taurasi in Team USA uniforms was over. Now, the opening ceremonies are less than four months away, and there will likely be two familiar faces among the U.S. contingent.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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