LOS ANGELES — After becoming the WNBA’s career scoring leader Sunday afternoon, Diana Taurasi was reminded that it could have come even sooner.
“Somebody told me that the other day: ‘You’re a year behind, actually,’ ” she said.
The pride of Chino’s Don Lugo High, the University of Connecticut and the Phoenix Mercury knocked Tina Thompson off the No. 1 spot with a simple layup, with less than a minute to go in the first half of the Mercury’s 90-59 loss to the Sparks. She finished with 19 points for the day and 7,494 for her career, as well as possibly tying the world record for hugs from Los Angeles players as well as her Phoenix teammates.
That it came a year late speaks to the women’s game’s status — essentially, disrespect — in this country’s professional sports pecking order.
Taurasi, like so many of the WNBA’s best players over the years, has had to play overseas during the winter to truly make a living at her chosen sport, given the modest salaries available in this country’s best league. The grind of summers in Phoenix and winters playing in Russia or Turkey, pretty much nonstop since 2005, led her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, to sweeten her salary if she skipped the 2015 WNBA season.
Think athletes in any other North American professional sport have had to make that choice?
So Taurasi could have done this in 2016. But maybe it was justice that she did so Sunday in Staples Center, in front of friends and family — and, not incidentally, Kobe Bryant sitting courtside — down the freeway from where she first fell in love with the sport.
“That’s huge,” she said. “I used to come to this arena all the time. I used to go to the Great Western Forum, to Cal State Dominguez Hills. I played a lot of basketball in the streets of Los Angeles, the Inland Valley, Riverside.
“That’s really where I fell in love with the game, practicing and grinding it out every day when there weren’t any cameras, and you just did it because you wanted to win and you wanted to play basketball.”
She is now 35. She has won three WNBA championship rings, one regular season MVP and two WNBA Finals MVPs, five scoring titles and the Rookie of the Year award. Oh, and four Olympic gold medals and three NCAA titles at UConn. Only eight other women have won Olympic, NCAA and WNBA championships.
And no, she says, she never imagined any moments like this while growing up.
“I was just so involved with basketball, all the outside things really didn’t matter to me,” she said. “I just wanted to play. You can ask my mom, my dad. I just wanted to play basketball. Nothing else. Just play basketball, every day.
“And I’m 35 now and doing the same thing I was doing when I was 5 years old. So I consider myself pretty lucky.”
Has she made concessions to age? Probably. Does the fire still burn brightly? Well, that technical she got in the first quarter Sunday after barking about her third foul should answer that…