You think it’s all about the money. But for Phoenix G Diana Taurasi, this was all planned in the dead of winter in Moscow.
This afternoon she’ll be awarded the WNBA’s most elite award, 2009 MVP, edging out Storm F-C Lauren Jackson in voting by 13 national media members, including The Seattle Times. I did not place Taurasi (pictured far right by Nike) on my final ballot, docking her for poor judgment in being charged for extreme DUI in July. Yet, I couldn’t deny her play this season and, if I had a vote, I’d award her the WNBA Finals MVP.
It’s well known that Taurasi plays for Spartak, living with stars Jackson (pictured left) and Sue Bird (pictured center) during the WNBA offseason. Well, before you think the approximate eight-month stint is all about shopping for diamonds, couture clothing, and late nights at discotheques with a little bit of basketball sprinkled on top – take a look at Taurasi’s game during the WNBA Finals, which tip-off tonight on ESPN2.
Taurasi’s agent hired Todd Troxel, a highly regarded NBA personal trainer, to work with her client to learn a bevy of Kobe Bryant moves. Bird picked up tricks from Tony Parker and Steve Nash’s game. Chicago center Sylvia Fowles and Jackson worked on their post game.
“Diana really benefited from this,” Bird said. “When we had a day-off, I’d take the day off. Diana wouldn’t. She’d go and he’d do drills, naming them after the NBA player whose move we were stealing. Todd would say, ‘This is what Kobe Bryant does,’ and it’s a set of moves that Kobe does. That’s what we did and Dee never took a day off.”
Taurasi, earning her first MVP honor, led the league in scoring (20.4), shooting 43.8 percent from the field this season. It’s not her best in her six-year WNBA career, but it led the Mercury to a 23-11 record – taking control of the Western Conference early.
In the postseason, Taurasi is averaging 23.8 points and 4.7 assists. It’s her second run in the playoffs, winning a title in her last appearance in 2007. In fact, in Taurasi’s entire college and pro career, she’s only not won the title once when reaching the postseason — her freshman season at Connecticut.
It’s a jaw-dropping achievement.
So, who does Bird think has the best shot of the All-Star trio, having played with both?
“The way they get their shots is so different,” Bird said. “I’d take Dee under stress from far out. Lauren wide-open from three I take any day. But Dee can make it with a hand in her face regardless. She actually jokes that it’s harder wide-open.
“I’ve always thought that Phoenix would be the team you wouldn’t want to see in the playoffs because of Diana and her ability to raise her game and the people around her. She elevates that and wins regardless.”
Bird and Jackson won an unprecedented third EuroLeague championship for Spartak with Taurasi last winter. That followed Bird and Taurasi winning a second Olympic gold medal together.
The trio lived in a palatial villa outside of Moscow, spending more time together than homeschooled children and their families. “Me time” is only when one closes the door to their private bedroom, which isn’t often. They’re always hanging out, whether it’s to-and-from practice, meals, sightseeing, or sitting in the living talking about various players or pop culture.
I thought it would be fun to ask a couple of off-beat questions of Bird and Jackson to see what they think of the league’s newest MVP. It’ll probably be the closest you get to the dynamic of this friendship since Jackson doesn’t believe a book will be printed soon.
“Probably not,” the native Australian said. “My parents still are alive and I don’t think it’s something that…yeah, probably not.”
Jackson: “Diana and Sue and twins, seriously. When we go out, they look exactly the same. Jeans, Converse All-Stars or some sort of sneaker and a funky little T-shirt. I’m the odd one out because I’m kind of different. I take photos with Sue here [Seattle] and it’s like I’m looking at photos of me and Dee. Really, they are that similar in everything they do. That might stem from college.”
Bird: “We all have our own styles. Lauren has such a great body-type for skinny jeans and that look and she wears it well. When she really gets dressed up, she looks gorgeous. Dee and I are very casual, we can make sneakers look good even if we’re going to some black-tie event. I always wear sneakers. Dee always has really cool accessories on – whether she ties it together with a watch or a necklace. I pick Lauren.”
Jackson: “Diana cause she just opens her mouth and you start laughing.”
Jackson: “Sue. Dee is pretty good, too. They’ve been taught well.”
Bird: “Diana. She’ll say some crazy stuff. I try to control my crazy stuff and Lauren just wants to get out of the interview immediately.”
Jackson: “Politics, religion, and sex probably. Even amongst three best friends, they’re still the worst conversations. We get into fights about certain stuff and it’s like ‘Wow!'”
Bird: “We fight, we have arguments and that’s Diana included. You’re around each other 24/7, it’s gonna happen. I always know those two have my back and they always know I have theirs no matter what the situation – even if they’re wrong. I might be the one on the side to tell them they’re wrong, but in front of other people, I’m always going to stand by their side.”
Jackson: “We all do different stuff. I would say Sue and the Chicken Piccata.”
Bird: “Lauren is creative.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Bird: “Lauren and Diana are actually way more in-tuned with what’s going on in the world than you might think. They watch CNN all the time. Granted, when you’re overseas, that’s one of the few English-speaking channels, but they watch it all the time. Diana is a huge Bill Maher fan and Lauren is socially-conscientious. She’s very smart. I don’t think you’d know it just hanging out with her. You’d kind of just think that’s she a free-spirit, likes to have fun – which she is. But she can carry a conversation with anybody about anything.”