On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles last June, Diana Taurasi caught a pass from Phoenix Mercury guard Leilani Mitchell at the top of the key, dribbled towards the basket, glided around 6-foot-2 defender, Nneka Ogwumike, laid the ball up off the glass and became the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history.
Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks was one of the first players to congratulate Taurasi as Staples Center fans — including WNBA superfan Kobe Bryant (with daughters Gianna and Natalia at his side) — rose to their feet in an ovation for the ages.
The record, plus her three WNBA Championships, four Olympic gold medals and historic college career at University of Connecticut launched Taurasi into new atmosphere: the rare air reserved for those who earn the right to be called the greatest of all time.
So, what goals remain for a human who already has won it all? For starters, Taurasi is laser-focused on the minutiae — the individual stones that pave the path towards bigger things.
“I’ve said it a lot, where you go into a training camp and all you talk about is championships and you forget to do all the work and the next thing you know, you lose in the semifinals,” said Taurasi. “I think this team has put together a roster where we should compete for a championship and it should be talked about, to win a title. But that only happens when you do the work … when you show up every single day ready to play, and ready to compete, respecting your opponents.”
Thus, the biggest enemy isn’t the opponent but the mindset of the team and the focus of its individual players. Resting on the laurels of past achievements won’t accomplish anything in the present or build a foundation for the future.
GOATness: A tableau of tedium
Taurasi arrived in training camp in possibly the best shape of her career: healthy, svelte and radiant in a way that is common among those who feast on antioxidant-rich foods. Nearing the end of her 35th trip around the sun, Taurasi did not just roll out of bed and saunter into training camp in excellent conditioning. She put in work, starting with calling a time-out on her overseas play with Ekaterinburg in Russia to rehabilitate injuries.
“I got back from Russia in January and I really had a big, pretty tough decision not to go back,” said Taurasi. “Ekat — they’re just wonderful, they’re just the best club in the world, and they understood. Physically, I was just beat up to the point of, if I had played another game I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
Staying stateside also allowed Taurasi to enjoy one of the brightest moments of her personal life, too: being with wife Penny Taylor for the birth of their son, Leo Michael Taurasi-Taylor, on March 1, 2018.
Still, Taurasi remained a stalwart in the gym by getting “back to basics” in a process she called “tedious.”
“I tried to get in the best shape possible and that started with rehabbing pretty much from head to toe,” said Taurasi. “A lot of hours in the training room, a lot of hours in the weight room, a lot of hours on the court, trying different things, strengthening my back and different parts of my body that, after 13 years — shoot, well, 25 years — of wear and tear, needed some TLC.”
Taurasi stated that working with someone who pushed her “to the brink” was a key part of her offseason training success, which has left her feeling “really really good” ahead of the 2018 WNBA season.
“There is something to eating a lot of plants.”
The intense training and rehab probably would not have been as effective for Taurasi had she not settled on an optimal nutrition plan three years ago designed to give her aging body the best fuel possible. Taurasi found a plant-based diet to be most effective in reducing inflammation and fostering quicker recovery. She also reported the added benefit of being able to “stay at a better playing weight.”
Taurasi describes her transition to a vegan diet as simply “the next step to try to be a little healthier.” She does not proselytize veganism as the solution for everyone. Instead, she says it has worked well for her and Taylor and, because of this, they have chosen to raise son Leo vegan.
As for the specific foods she eats, Taurasi is pretty much “all in” for any vegetable, but she favors lentils (yellow and red) as well as other beans, and kale.
“You know, there’s still a lot of great options,” Taurasi said. “I’ve been eating pasta and different sandwiches. I mean, you do have to search for a little bit of food but then again [veganism] opens a whole new world into different foods you never thought were possible — like the Impossible Burger!”
Can’t beet it!
BodyArmor and Mamba blood
Taurasi said she came into veganism in her own time — or, in the time in which it was meant to happen. She views her partnership with BodyArmor in a similar light.
“I think that relationship happened when it was supposed to happen,” said Taurasi. “And I’m really grateful and really excited to work for them, and with them, for the next couple [of] years.”
BodyArmor — a “superior hydration” beverage free of artificial coloring — is naturally sweetened and includes “potassium-packed electrolytes, coconut water [and] vitamins.” Taurasi’s ad is for BodyArmor LYTE, which has only 20 calories per serving!
Taurasi joins familiar faces of sport on the BodyArmor team roster: Skylar Diggins-Smith, James Harden, Mike Trout, Kristaps Porzingis, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rizzo, Dustin Johnson, Andrew Luck, Richard Sherman, Ryan Blaney and more.
It is often said that greatness recognizes greatness. Although this may be true, it is much less common for greatness to reward greatness financially, especially when it comes to women’s sports. Taurasi has made no secret about how irksome she finds the pay inequality when it comes to NBA and WNBA players. She competes year-round to secure her financial future, and she calls Ekaterinburg, her Russian team, “the best club in the world” for the way it takes care of its players (a sentiment shared recently by Taurasi’s Phoenix and Ekat teammate Brittney Griner).
With BodyArmor, however, Kobe Bryant — the number-three shareholder in the company — is backing his words with actions (including, presumably, stuffing Taurasi’s pockets with cold, hard cash).
A basketball legend and well-documented perfectionist, Bryant has earned the right to be somewhat stingy with compliments. But in Diana Taurasi he noticed so much of himself — the work ethic, the playing style — that he labeled her White Mamba (to his Black Mamba). Although some may find the moniker cheeky, Taurasi embraces it as the highest of form of praise. She is proud to share “that Mamba blood” with Kobe Bryant.
“They don’t anoint people anymore,” said Taurasi. “They don’t put the sword on your shoulder anymore, [so] when they do you have to take it really serious. And I’ve taken it really serious.”
Taurasi described watching and admiring Bryant’s game — undoubtedly studying it carefully, too — and how special it is that all these years later they’ve developed a “deep understanding … without [having to be] Instagram buddies.”
It does, therefore, seem perfectly timed that Bryant would retire and put his energy into fascinating off-court projects, and then use his clout — and, yes, money — to pay homage to a living basketball legend who is still playing the game.
Given Taurasi’s concern with what she puts into her body, however, I confessed to her that I’d researched the ingredients in BodyArmor beverages before the interview to get a sense of whether she was endorsing a product her conscience also could stand behind. Taurasi said that when she was approached about the collaboration, questions concerning the ingredients were among the first she asked.
“A lot of [products] say they’re healthy but they’re really not,” said Taurasi. “I think the sports drink, especially with the LYTE, [BodyArmor is] really giving you an option to stay hydrated in so many ways and still keep it low calorie … Adding coconut water and the vitamins, it’s really an all-around … healthy sports drink, which to me, I think … you can’t beat that.”
Taurasi explained that “sleep is a commodity” right now because she is up all night with baby Leo, and that BodyArmor water helps her to stay hydrated throughout those sleepless nights. “And then in the morning,” Taurasi continued, “I start with the LYTE to get my potassium in.”
As for her pregame caloric intake, Taurasi said she has “definitely gone lighter” as she has gotten older — focusing more on fluids than food. “Obviously, with BodyArmor,” said Taurasi. “I have something I can go to without feeling guilty — drinking two or three bottles before a game to stay hydrated.”
Diana Taurasi will face off tonight against BodyArmor teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith and the Dallas Wings at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix for the first game of the 2018 WNBA season!
Better is a mission. Better is an obsession.
Taurasi’s BodyArmor spot was written, directed and narrated by Kobe Bryant.
Diana Taurasi is better.