Diana Taurasi On Ageism, Loving This Mercury Squad, And Why She Believes Cameron Brink’s Got Next

Diana Taurasi turned 42 last Tuesday, June 11. For her birthday, she received a cake (normal) and an invitation to represent USA Basketball at the Paris 2024 Olympics (not normal). When Taurasi spoke with Dime the day before, she had not yet allowed her mind to wander toward Paris and the gold medal potentially awaiting her, which would make her the first USA Basketball Olympian, men or women, to win six golds.

“I can think about what the last five meant, and each one is just as special,” the three-time WNBA champion and 10-time All-Star said. “Whenever you get together 12 of the best players in the world, and not only that, but when you get them together and they all conform to wanting to win, it is a beautiful thing.”

Taurasi should know. She has won so much that the aforementioned 10 All-Star selections, five Olympic gold medals, and three WNBA titles feel like an insulting abbreviation. After our conversation, Taurasi surpassed Michael Jordan for the most-ever games in which she scored 20 or more points after age 40, twenty-plus years after she won three-straight NCAA championships at UCONN. The Phoenix Mercury drafted her No. 1 overall in 2004, and she’s unfurled her entire legendary career in the desert. Ten All-WNBA First Team selections, six EuroLeague championships, four USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year awards, two WNBA Finals MVPs — it’s intimidating to attempt listing the accomplishments, let alone capturing them.

Still, in Year 20, Taurasi isn’t satisfied. Below, Taurasi mused about ageism and aging in the WNBA, her “inner fire” to keep competing, being “in love” with this year’s Mercury after adding Kahleah Copper and Natasha Cloud, and why Cameron Brink is up next.

You’ve partnered with Sanofi and Regeneron to share your experience with treating eczema successfully with Dupixent. You take pride in torching whatever stands in your way, so how maddening was it for eczema to be the thing that brought you to your knees?

I mean, when you live with eczema, which millions of people do across the world, it’s that uncomfortable feeling of knowing that you’re irritated, that you’re uncomfortable, with red, itchy skin. It’s something that plagued my college days. Playing basketball in a jersey, it’s not something you can hide whenever you wanted. When I wanted to be at my best, that’s when I was really the most exposed. I did the creams, the potions, the steroids. It’s a round robin of patchwork and trying to put a bandaid on it. I got together with my dermatologist, and Dupixent was brought up, and she put all the risk and the rewards on the table, and it’s something that has helped me achieve clearer skin, which is the ultimate result that I needed. It’s just part of my routine now.

Why do you think developed such a tough exterior as a competitor?

I mean, as a little kid, I just always felt like I needed to prove myself. And I think that comes from my parents being immigrants. They came to this country with nothing. They didn’t speak the language. I just saw my dad always going to work, and my mom trying to do everything for my sister and I to better ourselves and our family. And to this day, I just never forget that. I always carry that with me, and now I carry it with me with clearer skin, so I’m happy.

In the 2021 ESPN Films doc 144, you said, “Why can’t old people dream, too? What, there’s an age limit to being great?” Since then, have you experienced ageism in a way that particularly annoys you or motivates you even more?

Yeah, we see ageism at the top of the list, especially when it comes to women in their profession — whatever it may be. In the media, in the offices, in sports, there seems to be an age limit where you should move on. [After] all that hard work you’ve put in for the last lifetime to get where you’re at, now you should just move on quietly and peacefully. I say it all the time in the locker room: There’s a lot of things that could affect all of us or some of us, but guess what? We’re all going to get old. So, I think there has to be a shift in really having gratitude and really appreciating the people that have been doing it for a long, long time. And I don’t only mean this in basketball. I mean this in every walk of life, especially women. We’re so harshly judged on our appearance [over] our quality of work. It’s something that I’ve talked about for a long time now, and ageism could be both ways, where an 18-year-old could be more mature than a 40-year-old. It actually works both ways.

Can you recall the age where you became fixated or more aware of your age?

I think once you start getting into your mid-thirties, especially when you play sports, you start feeling like you’re the veteran. At the same time, you start getting labeled. You should be more mature, you should be a veteran, you should act a certain way, where, in reality, you should really live your whole life as a kid. That’s when, for the most part, you could be the most creative. When you live life with that type of joy, you can experience different things. So there’s a lot of things that come with having a lot of experience. I always say, sometimes, it’s an Achilles heel. When you know too much, well, you know what’s going to happen because A, B, and C didn’t happen.

You just netted your 20th game with at least 20 points since turning 40, tying Michael Jordan for the most such games all time. I’m sure you’re aware of this. You exemplify acting like you’ve been there before because you have been everywhere and done everything. But is there anything that makes you feel like a rookie all over again?

I feel like every time I go into a game, I feel like a rookie. I still, honestly, take that approach. I’m coming out here, and I have to prove myself. I still feel like I need to do more. I could be better. Every game, I still leave thinking, ‘Well, I could have made a better pass here. Defensively, I could have done this.’ I feel like I’ve never arrived.

And it’s funny with that stat because, at this age, it’s like, ‘Oh, the first person to put on socks at 42 in the WNBA!’ Everything is like this weird, old record that’s never happened before just because I’m old. But hey, whenever you’re in the conversation with Michael Jordan, I can’t complain.

Actually, as a quick sidebar, I asked a friend of mine, ‘Is it ageist for me to ask Diana Taurasi a question about ageism?’ I don’t mean it to come across that way, but age has been on my mind because I just turned 30, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is a thing.’

[Laughs] Right. Life’s over.

It feels like that, Diana. It’s all done.

You know what I think it is, when you do get older? You’re more sure of the things that you believe in. I think you have that confidence to be able to say things that maybe go against the grain and be able to stay still and stand on your opinions and your experiences. And that’s the one thing that I have enjoyed. Speaking of skin, you do become able to take things and not take ’em personal. One moment in your life isn’t who you are. And I think when you’re young, every moment is exacerbated into feeling like, Oh my God, I’m this or I’m that. When in reality, you’re not. There’s so many more things that are going to happen in your life that are going to define who you are.

What has been your favorite moment you’ve shared with a rookie so far this season?

I have a great relationship with Cameron Brink. We share the same strength and conditioning coach. I love her. What I love about her is her competitiveness and her joy for the competition. She goes into every game knowing she’s going to get knocked around, and she doesn’t care, and she accepts it. She acknowledges it, and she comes back and does it again. And that kid’s got a bright future. When she figures it out, it’s going to be a scary time for this league.

I interviewed Cam recently, and she was especially proud that she made you laugh during a game.

She’s awesome. That kid’s got the best smile ever. She just has this energy about her. She has this “it” factor when you’re around her, and there’s nothing better than when people don’t take themselves seriously, especially when you’re a badass. There’s nothing better than that. It’s the best quality to have. You cannot take yourself too serious.

Before the season tipped off, you mentioned that Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper had an immediate impact on the Mercury unique to any player additions in your entire career with the franchise. How would you describe the personality of the 2024 Mercury with them in the fold?

They’re just vicious competitors.

Which, I imagine feels like, Where have my long-lost twins been all of my career?

I am in love with them. They’re amazing people, teammates. A lot of times, especially in the sports world, you talk about culture — how we want to change the culture — and you put a writing up in the wall that says, “Toughness” or “Relentless.” You actually have to have those people to be that. Culture is micro. It’s every little fiber that makes the culture of a team or business. You can’t just say it. You actually have the people that do it, and it’s nice to be around those people.

You’ve also mentioned a few times, including in a new Rolling Stone article, that this craze around the WNBA isn’t new to you because “we’ve seen all this.” To your point, nothing is ever really new, and, if anyone has seen it all, it is you. What moment or experience in your career do you circle as similar to what’s encircling the WNBA right now?

On the other side, it is such an interesting position, where it’s the intersection of so many things right now: Social media, culture, women’s sports being in the forefront for the last four or five years. I mean, it’s a culmination of all these things. That’s usually what it takes for something to really take off. And we’ve had these moments of momentum. In the beginning of the WNBA, we were selling out arenas across the country, and then the economy hit, and whenever the economy takes a hit, sports, especially women’s sports, takes the hit first. Then, you see another uptick before the [WNBA] bubble [a.k.a. the “Wubble”] and going into the bubble. That was a big platform for us to really tell the country what we were about and how much we love this game and the things that we’re passionate about. This is another one of those moments, and momentum is amazing when you can sustain it, and that’s what we’re looking for.

What do you express publicly now that maybe you wouldn’t have been comfortable to be so bold about earlier in your career?

Oh, yeah. There’s a ton of stuff. Back then, really, there was no platform for it, and it was very much a generation of be grateful for what you have. I think the new mindset of the young generation is we’re not going to put up with that — as we’ve seen. So we’re kind of in the middle of being there throughout the tough times with the WNBA, and I’m not talking about just me. I’m talking about the coaches, the GMs, and players. I mean, there was a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people to be here right now, and they’re the ones who have pushed the league forward.

What excites you the most when you walk into the building these days?

I still love the competition. The minute I get touched, I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m ready to go.’ There’s still that inner fire that I have. It’s like anything: It’s the gift and the curse, and I still have both.

What are you proudest of?

There is something to be said about longevity. It’s not easy once you get to a certain point in your career to have the motivation. Not to play the games. The games? That’s the easy part. When you get to the arena, and there’s 12,000 people there either rooting for you or against you, that’s the easy part. It’s the seven months in the offseason that you have to go in every single day — every single day — and do all the little things when no one’s watching, when no one cares. I think to be able to have that mental fortitude and be able to do that for the last six or seven years, that, to me personally, I can do whatever I need to do.