It is one of many nice friendships in sports activities. However the longest-running rivalry amongst greatest pals in WNBA historical past is nearing its finish. The Seattle Storm’s Sue Hen, in her nineteenth and last 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 until their groups face off within the playoffs.
Will probably be the forty sixth time they’ve met within the WNBA common season, with Hen 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 instances.
Hen and Taurasi have confronted off 14 instances within the postseason, with Taurasi having an 8-6 edge. The 41-year-old Hen and the Storm have gained 4 WNBA titles, whereas Taurasi, 40, and the Mercury have gained three. Hen, the WNBA’s all-time assists chief, has performed in a league-record 570 video games. Taurasi, the league’s all-time scoring chief, will seem in her five hundredth sport Friday. They’re the one gamers in WNBA historical past to hit the five hundred mark.
The guards grew up on reverse coasts: Hen from Lengthy Island, New York, and Taurasi from Southern California. Their first official sport collectively was 22 years in the past on the identical group: Nov. 12, 2000, in Hartford, Connecticut, as their UConn Huskies beat the Georgia Woman Bulldogs 99-70. Hen 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 pace, spin transfer layup in transition that left Hen considering, “There is a new sheriff on the town.”
Hen had 11 factors and three assists in that first sport, with Taurasi coming off the bench to attain eight factors. They might go to the ladies’s Ultimate 4 twice and win a nationwide championship in 2002. Taurasi would win two extra NCAA titles earlier than following Hen as a WNBA No. 1 draft decide in 2004.
Of their first sport as WNBA opponents, every scored 22 factors because the Mercury beat the Storm 84-76 on Could 28, 2004. Later that summer time, they might win the primary of their 5 Olympic gold medals as USA Basketball teammates.
In Russia, they gained 5 EuroLeague titles collectively. In all, they’ve spent greater than 20 years as rivals, teammates, pals and icons for his or her respective WNBA franchises.
“I am unable to provide you with one other one fairly prefer it,” former WNBA and USA Basketball coach Dan Hughes stated of the Hen-Taurasi sports activities relationship. “You may have 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 three perspective of Hen and Taurasi, their friendship and what they’ve delivered to the sport, as advised to ESPN.
‘A real friendship’
Arizona Wildcats ladies’s basketball coach Adia Barnes was teammates with Hen on the Storm group that gained the 2004 WNBA title and was there for the primary Hen-Taurasi WNBA matchup that season. She was additionally a longtime Storm broadcast analyst and is an effective buddy of each gamers.
“I do not even know the way they nonetheless do it. Like, I’d die to need to 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 somewhat 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 lots on court docket. Not even actually in a impolite approach or speaking crap. She simply talks. And what I really like most about watching her and being round her for years is the best way she makes everyone else so significantly better. She pumps individuals up. She will make the twelfth particular person on the group really feel essential and would give recommendation to them. She offers everyone confidence.
“If you see her character on-court, she will look like a hothead. And she or he’s not afraid of something. However then she’s probably the greatest teammates you may ever have. She is going to inform individuals, ‘Hey, you have acquired this.’ It may very well be somebody who performs two minutes a sport, and she or he’ll move them the ball and attempt to make that particular person really feel nice.
“Sue makes individuals really feel higher as a result of she is so in cost and has a relaxing impact on everybody. Diana is extra outgoing in how she motivates individuals. However they’re each nice at that.
Sue Hen and Diana Taurasi discuss out their disagreement on the court docket earlier than a soar ball within the fourth quarter.
“And it is at all times been a enjoyable, wholesome rivalry. They’ve at all times battled, and so they may be irritated on the court docket 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 liked 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 court docket. It is so uncommon.”
‘An enchanting journey’
Dan Hughes coached in opposition to Hen and Taurasi throughout his time within the WNBA, coached Hen with Seattle to the 2018 WNBA title and was a USA Basketball assistant throughout their time with the nationwide group.
“The perfect instance I can provide you of them as rivals was the 2018 WNBA semifinals, the place we performed Phoenix. It is most likely one of the best sequence that I’ve ever been concerned in; I feel lots of people would say one of the best within the league basically.
“They each had their moments. Diana made some pictures the place we did each single factor proper defensively, and she or he nonetheless scored. How we scouted her, ready for her and executed on the court docket — we did it completely, however it did not matter. The helplessness you are feeling as a coach is past measure.
“However Sue, within the fourth quarter of Sport 5, had 14 factors and we gained. It was the deciding sport, we had trailed a lot of the best way. It was the final act of an incredible sequence with nice gamers in it. And it is actually one of many defining moments in Sue’s profession.
Sue Hen displays on developing clutch within the fourth quarter of Sport 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 might see it was all a part of the identical story of greatness as rivals and collectively. Actually, I might really feel it, too. They went at one another as nice rivals do, however there was one thing deeper there.
“I’ve needed to coach in opposition to lots 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 everyday disappointment after dropping. It was an incredible 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 a captivating journey these two have had with one another?'”
‘I used to be sitting there with … two GOATS’
Jewell Loyd was the No. 1 decide by Seattle within the 2015 WNBA draft. She gained league titles with Hen in 2018 and 2020 and is a Storm All-Star this yr. Loyd gained an Olympic gold medal in 2021 as a teammate with Hen 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 group; you do not know what to anticipate.
“We had been all on the resort, and Sue and Diana had been going to get meals. I used to be simply heading as much as my room. And so they stopped me, like, ‘The place are you going?’ I stated, ‘Oh, I am simply placing my bag away.’ And so they stated, ‘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 yr 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 wonderful.
“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 certain I used to be doing good, and stored encouraging me. I am going to at all times bear in mind being the rookie getting to take a seat there with two legends.”