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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Ever-Compelling Taurasi On Her Historic Career and Beyond

Twenty-nine points to history. Or should we say, more history.

Diana Taurasi’s on the verge of breaking the WNBA’s all-time scoring record of 7,488 points, adding what might be the most definitive claim to her legacy as one of the greatest players in the game. She could do it Friday night against Chicago (10 PM ET, NBA TV). She could also do it Sunday against Los Angeles (5 PM ET, NBA TV), not far from her hometown of Chino.

But this isn’t a story about a player on the verge of the end of her career. Taurasi is 35. She has accomplished in 13 years what it took current all-time leading scorer Tina Thompson 17 years to do.

She recently said she she would like to play in the 2020 Olympic Games, which would be her fifth Olympics — with a USA Basketball record-tying four gold medals already in her collection.

Taurasi has won it all in basketball. Three NCAA Championships, four Olympic golds, three WNBA titles, the league scoring title, All-Star games, international championships. She holds the WNBA record for 3-pointers made, a mark she already surpassed earlier this season.

But she’s not close to done. There’s every reason to assume that Taurasi will shatter the WNBA scoring record and perhaps put it out of reach for anyone else to challenge.

She is among the game’s most interesting and engaging figures on the court and off. Her intensity and competitiveness make her a singular figure. Her outspoken and honest responses through the years have made her one of the most compelling athletes on the planet.

On the cusp of history, it seemed the right time to ask some burning questions of the player that many consider the greatest of all-time.

What was your best day in the WNBA?

I want to say the 2009 WNBA Finals when we won our first championship. To win that championship at home, to see the city and the crowd the way it way… it was probably my fondest day in Phoenix and wearing a Mercury jersey.

What was your worst day in the WNBA?

It was probably the day that we didn’t make the playoffs for a second straight year in Phoenix (2005). I just thought it was never going to happen after that. It’s just how I think.

I literally thought, “We never going to make the playoffs ever again, as long as I’m here.” Good thing it didn’t work out that way.

What motivates you every day at this point in your career?

People have been asking me that a lot. I guess it’s that I keep coming back, going into the gym every day and getting better. After the game, I always think, “I’m not a very good basketball player,” and it motivates me to get in the gym and be better. I still have that feeling deep inside me.

When you get older, everything changes. Your experience changes you. Basketball changes you. You’ve had a lot of experiences in the game, good and bad.

And it’s that experience with the game that you always revert to. Sometimes, though, I think that experience can go against you if you don’t use it in the right way.

Tina Thompson. What do you think of when you think of her?

Tina Thompson is the most competitive basketball player I have ever played against and with. She’s just a complete winner in every facet of the game. My introduction to Tina came in 2004 with the Olympic team. That team was loaded with Hall of Famers everywhere you looked.

Tina was the grit of that team, she had this mental edge all the time and it fascinated me. She was willing to the things you need to do to tip the advantage in your favor.

Then I played with her in Russia for Spartak and we won back-to-back championships and she was the MVP of the league, and I thought, “That’s the way I want to play basketball right there.” Her impact on the game is huge. She’s put so much into the game of basketball, all of her energy, from the WNBA to the international game and the national team.

She’s right up there for me with the best of all-time, and that’s strictly and directly because of the work she put in. To even come close to what she did in this league, and if I do pass it, would be a great accomplishment because Tina set the bar that high.

If you weren’t a basketball player, what would you be doing right now?

Well, I went through a phase where I wanted to be a dentist and then I wanted to be an architect and right now I want to be a wine connoisseur. Maybe when I’m done playing I can fit all three things in. Actually, I think I’m on my way to being one of those things right now. I might have a Masters in one of them. Guess which one.

What is on your bucket list to do when you stop playing?

I still want to really travel around Europe and South America. I want to spend a lot of time in Argentina and connect with my family there. I want to do the same thing in Italy. I really want to connect with those roots. And if I have time to do that, those are two things I would love to do.

Aren’t you interested in doing anything really adventurous that you can’t do when you are a player?

No. For as much of an extrovert as I am, I am kind of a wimp. At Six Flags, I’m the one getting food while other people are on the rides. I don’t go on any of that stuff. Splash Mountain is about as far as I go. The Tea Cups maybe, but they make me dizzy, so maybe not even that.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2017 season.

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