Diana Taurasi has always had a flair for the dramatic.
Whether it's a behind the back pass or a 3 so far behind the arc that she might as well have made it from China or a buzzer beating half court shot that the Harlem Globetrotters would have a hard time replicating. However, it was a little disheartening when in December of 2010, she found herself starring in a real life drama that was not of her doing.
From everything that I have ever known about Diana Taurasi is that she is a straight shooter. She doesn't play the typical media games of ‘this is what I will say' but ‘this is what I really mean'. Her honesty is what got her through her DUI scandal. As sticky as the situation that she got herself into in 2009 was, she never shied away from her actions or the consequences. So her word at face value should have held some honor and some valor.
So when her words from the very beginning of this doping scandal were ‘I didn't do this,' those that truly knew her believed her unquestionably.
Someone who knows her better than most of us can ever dream was her college coach, UConn's Geno Auriemma. When he was approached by the Connecticut media shortly after the story broke he seemed a little hesitant to answer but expressed the utmost belief in his former player.
"I don't know all of the circumstances, and I haven't talked to her attorney [Howard Jacobs] and I am not aware of all the facts known by the Turkish Federation or the doping [World Anti-Doping Association] people," said Auriemma, who will coach the U.S. team in the Olympics in 2012.
"All I know from talking to her, and she is devastated by all of this, is that she says she didn't take it. She said, 'Coach I didn't take that stuff and whatever they are saying, I didn't do it.' Whatever she is saying, I have to believe her,"
Auriemma is close to his former players. Really close. He gets text, emails, cards and visits on a weekly basis from those that have laced up sneakers for him.
"If your kids come home and say, "Dad, I promise you I didn't do this, you have to believe them. If it's proven otherwise down the road, then you deal with it."
So you could say that he wouldn't be the most unbiased judge of character. But it wasn't just Auriemma that came to Taurasi's defense.
There was Renee Brown (VP of the WNBA), Penny Taylor, Sue Bird, Lebron James, Ann Donovan, Laszlo Ratgeber (Coach of Fenerbahçe), Steve Nash, and various other athletes including WNBA and NBA players offering their support through phone calls and on various avenues of social media.
"It was coach Auriemma. It was Donovan, coach Gentry, Corey Gaines, Robert Sarver, teammates of mine who have known me from day one of my professional career like Penny and Sue Bird was one of the first people that I heard from," Diana said. "You know I got a lot of support from other athletes not only in the WNBA but from across the world and from the fans - and that meant a lot to have their unwavering support. They didn't cast judgment on the first details that came out."
They understood the competitor that Diana Taurasi is. They understood how important the game was to her. They understood the character that Taurasi has. They understood that Diana wouldn't put her dreams at risk.
"Family and close friends, Penny and Sue, these people who've seen me throughout my basketball career since day 1." Taurasi said. "They never questioned it. Those are the people at the end of the day who are going to be people in my life for a long time."
That is the one thing that got her through this ordeal. The notion that the truth had to come out because she knew she hadn't done anything wrong. It was a concept that she got from Auriemma.
Of course the whole drama began with something that could be considered rather mundane in Taurasi's life: a random drug test in November that she has been subjected to numerous times in her career.
"I played in a game on November 12 and I got drug tested after the game, like I have at least 50 times in the last eight years easily," Taurasi said. "And then after about two weeks...l had the letter of the positive test from the doping association and that's when I was feeling a state of shock. I was really numb from what the paper said because I knew I'd never taken it."
However, there are thousands of people incarcerated for crimes that they never committed. So while she knew she didn't do it she also knew her words, while powerful, would not be enough. But luckily she had more than just her word: she had science on her side.
The test was flat wrong.
So Diana found strength in the outpouring of support from the people who really knew her and mounted a vigorous defense. She hired the most renowned lawyer in anti doping cases, Howard Jacobs. She took polygraphs and put together a case that not only cast a shadow of doubt over the reported facts but also had you questioning the validity that the Earth was round.
And she had to - her whole world was at stake.
"It could not only ruin your career, but your reputation, that's the one thing I was most concerned about," Taurasi said. "I've only worked tremendously hard on the basketball court to be where I'm at. For this to be put on me was unfair. "
It was a defense that appeared worth it because she was cleared for a serious doping violation faster than most people can clear up a speeding ticket. Yet while fast, it wasn't quick enough for a player that lived a nightmare for 2 months.
"You know sometimes the easiest explanation is the hardest to follow," Taurasi said. "I think this was scientific wrongdoing in their chemistry in the lab and it not only showed in my test but in other people's too. It's not like they just messed up one time."
"My defense wasn't based on my word that I didn't do it. It was facts. There were details in the chemistry, in the process that wasn't done the right way. And at the end of the day that's what they look at. The lab had been suspended in the past for not following protocol and this was just another example of them not following protocol on the testing methods that have to be up to par for WADA. And that's just the problem, they have a lot of athletes' careers and reputations on the line."
Although the whole thing is resolved now, she had some dark moments thinking that the thing that she has loved and flourished at can be taken away with the opening of a specimen cup in a foreign country.
"I had those thoughts," Taurasi said. "You know, what if I don't get justice? What if I can't play in the Olympics or in the WNBA? What if I'm out of the sport that I worked so hard at and love so much? What would I do? I asked myself these questions constantly and I had no answers and there were many nights when I just felt sick."
Yet the thing that is the most heartbreaking is neither that she missed the last half of her time in Turkey, nor the rush to judgment. It was that the system that she has been so loyal to, betrayed her. Her name and reputation were dragged through the mud so much so that you can sense that she is weary and drained when hearing her speak. She didn't sound like the same player who once said in college that she, ‘just wanted to punch something orange' when playing a game at Tennessee or had the confidence to pose nude with a basketball for ESPN magazine. Now she seemed somewhat broken.
The game that has always given her so much joy and pleasure has somehow let her down.
"I could easily say I've lost three months of my basketball career that was actually going really well in Turkey. We were first in the Euroleague. Going for a championship. You lose a little confidence in the system that you're supposed to have so much faith in."
That's what not fair. A testing facility says she took something. So people automatically assumed the science can't be wrong, twice. There was article after article about ‘Diana the Cheater' and news segments across the country on what she had done. But like she said to the Associated Press earlier in the year, the only thing she is guilty of is ‘taking too many jump shots.' But she is left to clear her honor in the aftermath of this scandal.
Behind the persuasiveness of bad science, her reputation was tarnished partially due to the stigma behind MLB's scandals with doping and PEDs. She didn't ask for any of this and dealt with it the best way she knew how.
"No matter what happens, even if her name is cleared, and I believe it will be, there will always be a stigma attached to her," Geno Auriemma said poignantly weeks before Diana's name was cleared. "All she can do is weather what's happening and do her part and then move on to build the kind of career that will make people remember what she is going to do, as opposed to just this incident."
That might prove to be the least challenging element of this whole ordeal.
Although she has a natural flair for the dramatic, hard work is never something that Diana has shied away from. She is currently back in the gym preparing for her upcoming season with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and USA Basketball's training camp scheduled for May.
"I've been in the gym for the last three weeks, been in the weight room, on the court," Taurasi said. "It's just something that I've never had before and that's to get myself in the best physical shape that I could be in and work on something on the court that throughout the last seven years I haven't had the opportunity to do that because I've gone from the WNBA to Europe to USA Basketball so I'm looking forward to it."
While Diana might be looking forward to getting back to the basketball court, her competition should not be looking forward to her creating drama on the court again instead of in the court of public opinion.