Diana Taurasi: All Heart

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: September 14, 2011

Immediately following the National Anthem and visiting team introductions, the lights go out inside US Airways Center. Pitch black. Music starts. The excitement is palpable as 10,000 fans scream while they watch the Phoenix Mercury introduction video on the jumbotron.

As each Mercury starter is announced, a thunderous applause ensues. Some players chest-bump each other as they hear their name called on the loud speaker. Others perform a unique hand-shake ritual to get pumped up with varying degrees of theatrics.

But when Diana Taurasi's name is called, she's nowhere to be found. She's not bumping chests. Not on the bench. Definitely not in the middle of doing the "Dougie."

(Although, fans would love to see that.)

Instead, Taurasi has already high-fived her entire team made her way down to the rest of the squad, disguising herself in the middle of the circle.

Why?

It's simple, really: She doesn't want the attention on her when the announcer calls her name.

Too much Taurasi, not enough team.

To the rest of us, it would only seem natural to wait for your name to be called. Enjoy the moment and bask in it. But that, in and of itself, is a bit of a dichotomy for those who claim to be 100 percent selfless and have a team-first attitude. I could never see Taurasi do a pregame chalk-toss to grab attention like stars in other sports do.

Not that there is anything wrong with players who are more theatrical. In fact, I probably would be way over-the-top if my name was called in the hypothetical world I've created. I'd bust out an old-school, choreographed *NSYNC dance on my way out to the court.

(Yeah, I said it.)

Even though it goes unnoticed by the majority of the crowd, the fact that a simple gesture like not caring about your name being introduced illustrates, to perfection, how selfless Taurasi really is.

There's not an ounce of narcissism in Taurasi and basking in the glow of a pre-game accolade is contradictory to what she stands for. Instead of waiting for her name to be announced so the camera (along with the rest of the arena) focuses solely on her, Taurasi bypasses all that and heads to be with her team long before the spotlight can find her.

I first noticed this a few years back but didn't think anything of it. To be honest, I thought maybe the announcer had called her name at the wrong time. But then it happened again...and again...and again. Now, however, I can't help but crack a smile each time Taurasi is introduced to the US Airways Center crowd.

You just don't see this from anyone else.

We often hear from athletes who claim to be grounded. Humble. But by the definition of the word, the minute you acknowledge you might be humble...you aren't anymore. For Diana Taurasi, this isn't a conscious thing; it's just who she is. She doesn't try to be selfless or put her team first.

That's who she is.

From a personal standpoint, I've never seen someone bounce back from difficult situations, time after time, with as much grace and fervor as Taurasi. After her DUI incident in 2009, she accepted complete responsibility and responded by leading the Mercury to their second WNBA Championship. Nine months ago she was falsely accused of taking performance enhancing drugs in Turkey and has since captured her fourth-straight WNBA scoring title in 2011 (fifth in the last six years).

During these unfortunate happenings over the past several years, she was called every name in the book. I’d list them here, but they would be too offensive to print. Trust me, I've heard them firsthand. But rather than lash out, she handled each situation with honor, integrity, and was impeccable with her word.

Fall seven times, get up eight, right?

But it's not just how she has responded on the court, it's the way she treats people off the court. Inside the halls of US Airways Center, she makes eye contact and shakes hands with almost every employee she sees or passes by. This is significant because -- here's a shocker -- not every professional athlete does this. You would think that Taurasi is lifelong friends with these people by how she makes them feel. No one is left out.

That's the appeal. That's why so many fans around the world love her.

She's just, "Dee."

Taurasi has no idea I'm writing this article and would probably rather I didn't. Being fortunate enough to write for PhoenixMercury.com, I've had the opportunity to see Taurasi in practice, before games, after games, at team events, etc. The amazing part is that she doesn't change, hasn't changed, and never will.

Ever.

She treats others with respect, dignity, and kindness at all times no matter who is around. In between every drill, she makes a point to give each player on the team a high-five. Not just the ones that are close to her, but the ones on the sidelines at the other end of the court.

That, my friends, is heart.