Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi: longtime friends, lasting stars

Their friendship has spanned 18 years, half of their lives, during which they became two of the most popular and accomplished players in the history of women’s basketball.

By her sophomore year at Connecticut, Sue Bird was accustomed to guiding recruits around campus. The high schoolers she led on tours to the bookstore or cafeteria were often reserved — perhaps even intimidated — and unsure how they would fit into what was fast becoming the best women’s college basketball program in the country.

There was no such trepidation during Diana Taurasi’s first trip to Storrs, Connecticut. Shortly after their first meeting, Bird and Taurasi ended up at a club where Bird watched the prized recruit dance the robot and Crip-Walk across the room all night, basking in the limelight.

It was the start of a journey that has spanned 18 years, half of their lives, during which they became two of the most popular and accomplished players in the history of women’s basketball.

“She was a kid out of Cali, just super cocky — not in a bad way, just had a swag about her, very free,” Bird, 36, said during an interview at Madison Square Garden this month. “We’ve been through a lot together. Whether it’s deaths in the family — Dee just got married, I was able to be a part of that — big life moments, we’ve seen each other through. And it started in college.”

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Except for All-Star games, they have never played side-by-side in the WNBA, but they are almost certainly entering league history together this season.

Taurasi, 35, broke Tina Thompson’s WNBA career scoring record on Sunday by six points, reaching 7,494. At the same time, Bird is on pace to set the WNBA record for career assists — she is 119 behind Ticha Penicheiro’s mark of 2,599.

Their careers have been linked since 2000, when Taurasi enrolled at UConn during Bird’s junior year. Often, they are typecast — Taurasi as the brash Southern California girl with a knack for attracting controversy and Bird as the munificent point guard from Long Island with the girl-next-door vibe.

But Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was quick to dismiss the notion his two former stars are all that different. “Sue’s kind of the same,” as the bold Taurasi, he said. “But she hides it better.”

During a recent three-way phone conversation, Bird and Taurasi spent much of the time unintentionally illuminating their similarities.

Both harbored soccer dreams before basketball. Another shared pastime is working in cahoots to pester Auriemma.

With such meshed personalities, cohesion came naturally on the court. Bird, who had already won a national title in the 2000 season, was the ideal pass-first point guard to complement Taurasi’s wondrous scoring acumen. Buoyed by a vaunted senior class that included Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams, the Huskies went 39-0 during the 2002…

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