Diana Taurasi earned accolades from all around the basketball world last week when she broke the WNBA’s all-time regular-season scoring record. She scored 19 points on June 17 to give her 7,494 in 377 regular-season WNBA games, surpassing Tina Thompson’s 7,488 in 496 games. In a tweet, LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant complimented her on her work ethic and consistency over her 12-year career, and National Champion South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley tweeted out: “We all know that’s just a snippet of your special skill set.”
Many of the tweets and messages were titled or had the hashtag “GOAT” (Greatest of all Time, for those not up on the latest acronyms). Her body of work certainly puts her in that conversation. Taurasi was the driving force behind three of UConn’s titles from 2001 to 2004. She has led the Phoenix Mercury to two titles since she was drafted number one in 2004. Before she broke the all-time scoring record, she already owned the top two single-season scoring marks in WNBA history (2006, 2008), the league record for 20-point and 30-point games, and has led the league in scoring a WNBA-record five times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), according to WNBA.com. Taurasi, who turned 35 on June 11, also has three Olympic gold medals.
But is she the GOAT? I have no quarrel with the notion that Taurasi is the best player of the WNBA era (which enters its 21st year in 2017). But two players, in my mind, still stand alongside Taurasi as potential GOATS. Yes, the competition wasn’t at the same level as it is today. But Ann Meyers and Cheryl Miller were transformative players in their time (the 70s and early 80s). Their games changed and evolved as competition increased after the passage of Title IX, and they each took women’s basketball to heights unseen and unheard of before they came along. If you go back and read magazine and newspaper headlines from those years, you’ll see how they both made people outside of women’s basketball sit up and take notice and (sometimes grudgingly) admit that there was something to this women’s game. Both Meyers and Miller are Olympic medalists. They are also both in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. I have no doubt that if they played today, they’d still be heads above their competition.
Miller led the University of Southern California to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1983-84, and was a three-time Naismith Award winner — a distinction no other college female could claim until Brianna Stewart came along in 2014. In 1986, Sports Illustrated named her the best male or female player in college basketball. She scored 3,018 points for a 23.6 career scoring average, and she averaged 20.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.3 blocks in 16 NCAA Tournament games. She was a two-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player and still holds the tournament records for field-goal percentage (79.4, 121-for-245) and most free throws made (91). She also was the driving force behind the US Olympic team’s big win at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Ann Meyers played before the introduction of the Naismith Awards for women. But she also had a stellar college career, won an Olympic silver medal, and can boast of a number of firsts in women’s basketball. She was the first player to be offered a full scholarship after the advent of Title IX (by UCLA in 1974), the first woman to be signed to an NBA contract by the Indiana Pacers in 1980. (She failed to make the team after a three-day tryout). And she was the first player selected in the Women’s Professional Basketball League draft in 1978 — where she was league MVP for the 1979-1980 season.
So who’s the GOAT in women’s basketball? Taurasi is the latest, but not necessarily the greatest of all time. I’d prefer to honor all three womens basketball pioneers as superstars who took their sport to the next level. So, let’s celebrate Taurasi as the greatest of this time and let’s also remember the greats who paved the way for her.
Nice closing sentence….I agree!