Through nearly 20 years of friendship, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are still bringing out the best in each other
The dynamic comes to life when they’re “talking shit” during a game of bowling or arguing over trivial matters. Like the time Bird and Taurasi debated who was the more popular player in Europe — Vince Carter or Paul Pierce.
“Like who knows how that even came up?” Bird poses over the phone from Seattle, where she’s currently rehabbing from knee surgery. “I think I said Vince Carter and she said Paul Pierce, and we argued to the death about it. Honestly, that probably happened on a Monday, and if you had asked on Wednesday, we would have flipped sides and argued equally as hard.”
It’s a habit that has formed from almost 20 years of friendship that has grown and evolved right alongside their legendary basketball careers. Bird and Taurasi played together in college at the University of Connecticut, for Team USA and professionally in Russia. They’ve also competed hard against each other in the WNBA — Bird in her 17th season with the Seattle Storm, Taurasi in her 15th with the Phoenix Mercury.
To hear the 38-year-old Bird and 37-year-old Taurasi talk about each other is almost like being let in on a special secret. They laugh and kid around but also talk about each other with such respect, they can’t help but smile.
With Taurasi, Bird says what you see is what you get. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. What most people don’t know, Bird adds, is Taurasi’s compassionate side.
“If you know her and you’re around her, you feel it one hundred percent. If you ask any of her teammates or coaches, they know it, too. She just has this knack for knowing how to make people feel good,” Bird says. “I think the casual fan might not see it because she can come off as aggressive and even abrasive at times, like maybe she’s spitting on the court. You can’t imagine that someone like that would have a compassionate bone in her body, but she’s actually someone who somehow knows when you need a hug or a pat on the back. She just has that ability.”
There are things about Bird most people don’t know, either, Taurasi says. She laughs as she describes the quiet, girl-next-door vibe Bird gives off.
“Don’t sleep on Sue,” Taurasi says. “She is one of the wittiest, funniest people I’ve ever been around. A lot of people don’t get to see it, but I get to see it. It’s quite a spectacle.
“There’s no fuss with Sue, ever. In a world of a lot of drama, it’s kind of refreshing.”
The persistent banter is just playful, they say, and doesn’t necessarily carry over to the court when they play against each other.
“Sue’s not much of a trash talker,” Taurasi says. “We’ll chat a little bit before the game and maybe on the jump ball, but after that we’re business. She doesn’t have time to be talking trash.”
Right before the tip during a game last season, Taurasi walked up to Bird at half court, looked down at her sneakers and said, “Eh, those are ugly.”
“Thanks,” Sue said dryly.
“Generally, I don’t talk trash,” Bird admits. “But I especially don’t talk trash to Dee. She thrives on that. When I’m on her team and I see people poke the bear, so to speak, I know she’s going to have a big night. So when I’m on the other side, I tell all my teammates, do not talk trash. You’re going to want to. She’s going to push you in ways that’s going to make you want to talk trash. The minute something good happens, you’re going to want to clap and get excited about it.”
Here, Bird is referring to Jasmine Thomas of the Connecticut Sun appearing to clap in Taurasi’s direction during a stoppage in play in the second round of the WNBA playoffs last year. Taurasi not only clapped back in the literal sense, she also went off for 27 points as the Mercury advanced to the semifinals with a 96-86 win.
“I know trying to talk trash with Dee is a lose-lose,” says Bird.
She’s seen it happen too many times.