PHOENIX – After five weeks of nursing a sternum fracture, Diana Taurasi made her long-awaited return to the court Sunday and etched her name into the record books.
One minutes and 37 seconds into the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Phoenix Mercury guard received a handoff from Briana Turner at the top of the key. Taurasi found the separation she needed to drive to the basket and finish a layup while being fouled to become the first WNBA player to reach 9,000 career points.
“I don’t think people understand how crazy that is. This is the G.O.A.T that’s still playing right now, still adding to that 9,000,” Mercury’s center Brittney Griner said. “So who knows when she finally says it’s done what it will be then.”
The Mercury were able to beat the Sparks 88-79 to get back to .500 at 7-7. In true Taurasi fashion, she was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points.
This was the first Mercury game of the season that the arena had no COVID-19 attendance limitations. The Mercury’s fan base, known throughout the WNBA as the X Factor, showed up for a season high attendance which included Suns players Chris Paul and Langston Galloway.
“I think it was nice to do it in front of the home crowd,” Taurasi said. “It was the first game where we have full capacity and to get it in a win, so there were a lot of positives of getting it today and you know it feels good.”
Taurasi has been the league’s all-time leading scorer since June 18, 2017, when she reached 7,494 points after scoring 19 against the Los Angeles Sparks to eclipse Tina Thompson’s record of 7,488 career points.
On June 5, 2018, Taurasi became the first player in WNBA history to score 8,000 points in an 80-74 victory against the New York Liberty where she scored 21 points.
“If you ask anyone who’s been in the game for a long time, you’ll hit milestones and those are just markers of I think the time and effort that you put in it but I feel good,” Taurasi said.
Since 2018, Taurasi has battled different injuries. She played in only six games in the 2019 season due to back and hamstring injuries. Sunday was only her fifth game of this season due to her sternum fracture. Despite these injuries and missed time, it took Taurasi only 65 games to score 1,000 points and hit the elusive milestone of 9,000 career points.
“She’s done so much for this game and she is the G.O.A.T.,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “There is no discussion in regards to that because she makes other people better, too. It’s not just what she comes in and plays that day but all the hard work that she goes through and all the adversity that she’s faced and to be able to come out and perform after not really playing for five and a half weeks, I mean that’s pretty good.”
After she was selected first overall in the 2004 draft, Taurasi has spent the entirety of her career with the Phoenix Mercury, to whom she credits much of her success.
During her 17 seasons in the league, Taurasi is a three-time WNBA champion, nine-time all-star, 10-time WNBA first team selection, five-time scoring champion, one-time assist leader, two-time WNBA Finals MVP, one-time WNBA MVP and the rookie of the year.
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“I did it all with one team, and that means a lot to me because there’s been so many players and coaches and management that’s come through Phoenix and that’s really helped me,” Taurasi said. “I was lucky to be drafted here. I was lucky that you know they believed in me, that they really put everything behind me so that means probably more than all the points.”
Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith also praised Taurasi following Sunday’s game.
“We have to give her her flowers of 9,000 points. She just continues to be the bar for us as far as our league is concerned,” Diggins-Smith said. “That’s something we’ve never seen before in our league and she definitely deserves her flowers right now.”
The Mercury play again at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Minnesota Lynx at Phoenix Suns Arena. They will attempt to win two consecutive games at home for the first time this season.