About four weeks ago, a photo popped up on Taurasi’s cellphone: The N.B.A. All-Star Damian Lillard was wearing a white T-shirt featuring a purple goat with a No. 3 on the chest as he walked into Game 1 of the Portland Trail Blazers’ first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. When that shirt honoring Taurasi went on sale about two weeks later, the website struggled to handle the influx of traffic before selling out its inventory within hours. (Taurasi is widely revered as the G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time — in women’s basketball.)
Taurasi does not even have the shirt yet, because she had no idea it was being designed behind the scenes. But the enthusiastic response makes her feel validated within the basketball world.
“I never played for that type of fame,” Taurasi said. “I never played for the money. I literally played for the love of the game. I played because I love to compete. I love being on the court.”
Though Taurasi recognizes she is in the twilight of her career, she mused that she has “done all right” in her 2020 return. She said, though, that “this was a big season individually for me, to see if I could play at the level that I want to play at” following her back injury.
She said she has learned how to stay in shape while not playing overseas during the W.N.B.A. off-season. She hopes to play in the 2021 Olympics, which is “motivation in itself” to keep going. Whether the 2021 W.N.B.A. season is also played in a bubble will be among the factors she will weigh while deciding her future.
Taylor, Taurasi’s wife, stepped away from her role as an assistant on the Mercury coaching staff to focus on parenting the couple’s 2-year-old son, Leo. Taurasi said keeping in touch primarily through FaceTime calls while in Florida “has been tough.”
But Taurasi pushes on, fueled by her own competitive nature — and Bryant’s.
Monday’s practice was the latest example. As the Mercury walked through a defensive drill ahead of Tuesday’s playoff game, guard Shey Peddy made a comment to Taurasi and, “all of a sudden, I wanted to kick her ass.”
“In little moments like that, his spirit conjures up in me,” Taurasi said.