Diana Taurasi wants to enter ownership, questions lack of women investing in sports

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Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Diana Taurasi said Saturday that she’d like to be in sports ownership after she retires from playing and that she is disappointed in wealthy women for what she sees as a lack of support for women’s professional sports.

Taurasi, the veteran Phoenix Mercury guard, joined Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who is Bird’s girlfriend, in an Instagram live video that lasted more than four hours. Penny Taylor, a former Mercury player and current assistant coach as well as Taurasi’s wife, also participated in the chat, which addressed a variety of topics, including why there aren’t more women in sports ownership.

“Where are the rich women? I’m so disappointed in the women that have a lot of money,” Taurasi said. “Sometimes you invest in things that don’t make money yet, but you want to make them better.”

Rapinoe, who as a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team has been heavily involved in the players’ dispute with the United States Soccer Federation about pay, responded, “But if you do invest in women’s sports, it makes money.”

Taurasi, who will turn 38 in June, said she is often asked what she wants to do after her playing career.

“Everyone is like, ‘Do you want to be a coach? Do you want to be a GM?’ No,” Taurasi said, “I want to f—ing own it.”

Diana Taurasi says she would rather own a team than coach one after she retires from playing. Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images’All of us in the WNBA played for pride’

The discussion touched on how the bigger salaries that women’s basketball players can make overseas, compared to salaries in the WNBA, help them raise the level of their games and then contribute to improving the WNBA. Taurasi and Bird have played together in Russia, and Taylor, who is from Australia, played in Europe for several years and in China.

“When you get paid a lot of money, it’s f—ing different,” Taurasi said. “Overseas, you’ve got to f—ing ball out.”

Bird said salary and benefits improvements in the collective bargaining agreement signed in January are positives for the WNBA.

“All of us in the WNBA played for pride. You played to prove your worth as a basketball player,” Bird said. “Hopefully, the European mindset that you played because you’re getting paid … hopefully, [more] money motivates in this whole other way. It should be a part of it.”

‘Their organization is … just a mess’

Bird, 39, was the No. 1 draft pick in 2002 by Seattle, and Taurasi was picked first by Phoenix in 2004. Both have remained with the same franchise their entire WNBA careers. When asked which other place she would have most liked to play in, Taurasi said her hometown of Los Angeles.

However, she said of the current state of the Sparks, “Their organization is a s—show. It’s just a mess.”

Taurasi was referring to the Sparks’ imploding during their semifinal loss last year to Connecticut, with star Candace Parker benched by coach Derek Fisher. Longtime general manager Penny Toler was subsequently fired after it was revealed that she used a racial slur in the locker room, but in March, she filed a lawsuit against the Sparks citing gender discrimination. (In a recent teleconference, Fisher and assistant general manager Michael Fischer said the Sparks are past last year’s issues and are moving forward.)

‘If I’m not good enough, I should not be on the team’

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s uncertain whether the WNBA will have a season in 2020. Bird didn’t play in the WNBA in 2019 after having knee surgery, and Taurasi was limited to six games because of back and hamstring issues. Both were hoping to make their fifth Olympic team in 2020, but with the Summer Games postponed, they will look to do so in 2021.

However, Taurasi said she knows she still has to prove herself for that, and Bird said it is the same for her.

“I’m realistic. If I’m not good enough, I should not be on the [U.S.] team,” Taurasi said. “They should put the team together that has the best chance to win. It’s not the best players — it’s the best ensemble of complementary players. And if you don’t think I can give you that, I’m out. I’ve played in four Olympics. I’m grateful for that.”

Bird: Carter ‘literally has the ability to do whatever she wants’

Bird, Taurasi and Taylor all watched the WNBA draft on April 17. Bird asked the others which 2020 draftee might have the most successful career, and each had a different answer. Taurasi opted for Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick by New York. Taylor chose Ducks forward Satou Sabally, who went second to Dallas. Bird went with Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, who was picked No. 4 by Atlanta.

“She literally has the ability to do whatever she wants, when she wants to do it,” Bird said of Carter. “It’s just going to be upon her to understand when and why and what to do in the framework of her for her team to win.”

They also said they thought 2019’s No. 5 pick by Dallas, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale, went too low. As for what rookies face in the league, they said all will get tested.

“It will take about a month. Then it’s like blood in the water,” Bird said of how teams scout rookies for weaknesses. “They check you out, they see what you’re up to, and then the scouting report is like, ‘Take this away, take that away.’ That’s when you find out what you’re made of.”

‘I spent a quarter-million dollars on lawyers’

Finally, they addressed when Taurasi was accused in December 2010 of taking the banned stimulant modafinil while playing in Turkey. From the start, she insisted she had not taken it, and she was exonerated in February 2011 — as were other athletes who had been accused of taking the stimulant — when the lab that did the test was found to have several protocol deficiencies.

Taurasi faced up to a four-year ban from playing in the WNBA or overseas.

“I spent a quarter-million dollars on lawyers, biochemists. I had to go to [the Court of Arbitration for Sport],” Taurasi said. “That lab got shut down completely.”

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