The value of some players to a team cannot be simply summed up in stats or numbers.
Whether in visualization of the game or just pure experience, the dynamic, battle-tested duo of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi adds a level of superiority to the U.S. Women’s National Team’s place in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Such experience comes as a major advantage, especially when the 12-woman roster needs to gel in a short period of time.
Bird joined the squad most recently, fresh off her third WNBA title, basically jumping on a plane immediately after the Seattle Storm’s celebratory parade.
“Once that parade was over, a few of us got some food, hung out for a little bit, and then 7 o’clock rolled around and I was like, ‘Alright, I gotta go pack — my flight is tomorrow morning,’” Bird said.
Days before the Storm took home the title, Bird and Taurasi were on opposite sides of the court in what turned out to be an epic WNBA Semifinals matchup. The ultra-competitive natures of both legends pushed the series to a winner-take-all Game 5 in which Bird, in her 16th season, took matters into her own hands, knocking down four fourth-quarter three-pointers. It was a battle for the ages and to see the two USA Basketball teammates — and former college teammates — compete showed the respect they have for each other when they share the court.
“It’s always a pleasure to play with Sue,” said Taurasi. “We’ve been doing it for so long, but we never take it for granted. When we get to share a court and a locker room, we just really enjoy it. We have such a great vibe out on the court and as we’re getting later on in our careers, we really appreciate it.”
Bird and Taurasi have both been vital pieces of the USA Basketball puzzle since 2002. Their history from their University of Connecticut days to now has translated to on-court chemistry, aiding the development of National Teams both past and present.
“There’s something special when you’re on this team,” Taurasi said. “We’ve got a great group of women that have committed their time and their energy. We’re building little by little to try and hopefully bring home to gold medal.”
They’ve developed into two of the best on-court coaches in basketball, and that was apparent throughout the WNBA postseason. One of the unforgettable moments of Game 5 of the Semifinals was when Bird got right in the middle of the huddle and started drawing up plays. This ability to lead by example has benefited the National Team in speeding up the overall development process.
“The good thing is, I was doing that all year (in Seattle) with a lot of our younger players. So, to be in this role again is second nature to me,” Bird said.
It’s one of the many qualities that makes them champions, and one that helps USA immensely in the World Cup. As the team continues to develop throughout the tournament, Sue and DT will surely be sharing her experiences with some of the new faces on the roster.
“More than anything, you just want players to feel good out there,” Bird explained. “You want them to feel comfortable, at ease, like they know what’s going on. And if I can verbally talk people through some things and get them to that point, then great.”
Having helped lead the American teams over the years to four Olympic gold medals and three FIBA gold medals, the close friends just know how to win.
USA Basketball head coach Dawn Staley, who played alongside Bird and Taurasi on the National Team in the 2004 Olympic Games, now works with the duo in a different capacity. As a successful NCAA head coach and USAB assistant coach over the years, she knows just how much these two add to the on-court product.
“Any time you can add two Olympians, two teammates that have played together for a long time, they’re bringing to the table some experience that we didn’t have on this particular team. They’re only helping the level of play out there on the court,” Staley said.
USA assistants and highly successful WNBA coaches Cheryl Reeve and Dan Hughes also spoke volumes about what the veterans add to the roster.
As USA looks to continue their gold-winning ways, look for this duo to lead the way. The beauty of the National Team is that the roster is jam-packed with basketball superstars, so Bird and Taurasi won’t need to be at the scoring forefront. They’ll instead have the opportunity to put their skills on display to set up some highlight-reel plays involving others stars like Elena Delle Donne, A’ja Wilson or Brittney Griner.
Action continues on September 28th as the USA takes their shot in the Quarterfinals on ESPN3. For more information on the FIBA World Cup and USA Women’s Basketball Team, stay up to date here.