I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad.
Life is sort of cruel that way — what we remember and what we forget. But my dad, he died of cancer when I was seven, and it’s just one of those things: I remember what he looked like, and what he sounded like. I remember that he used to play outside with us a lot. I remember always being in the gym with him (he was a coach and a school teacher), and how much he loved sports. But specific memories have this way of feeling just out of reach.
When he died, my siblings — my older brother, Ryan, my younger brother, Jake, and my younger sister, Sam — and I started to come together a lot more as a group. I think our dad passing away really made us understand how, in some ways, we were all we had. How we were the only ones who could ever “get” what we’d lost, and what it meant for us to cope. One of the biggest ways that we did that was by playing sports with each other. First, you know, because I think that was one of our main associations with our dad — the closest we had to a full memory. But then also I think because it was almost this, like….. whole other universe. Sports became a sanctuary for us, from feeling bad about things, and from feeling alone in the world.
We were all good athletes: Ryan was the coolest, the strongest, the best at everything. He would always be checking himself out in the mirror — and that was pretty much his playing style, too. Sam was the loud one, in your face, aggressive, always calling — and/or committing — fouls. Jake probably had the most natural ability of any of us….. but he just didn’t care as much, and only wanted to have fun — which at the time, of course, made all his crazy-competitive siblings mad at him. And then I guess I was always a little more easygoing, a little more relaxed. Still competitive, in my way, but definitely at my most comfortable when I could be like, Hey. Just watch me.
And so the four of us, you know, we would get out there, and we would just play. Always two on two, boys vs. girls. It could be anything, any sport, though usually it depended on the season. We would all watch TV, and then it was like, whichever sport was on — we wanted to play that, and emulate that. So if it was hockey season, we’re playing hockey. Baseball season, we’re playing baseball. Soccer season, we’re playing soccer. When it was the ’96 Summer Olympics, in Atlanta, and the Magnificent Seven gymnasts were on TV a lot? Yeah, you better believe we had a whole makeshift balance beam out there in the backyard, and we were getting our Dominique Moceanu on.
And of course, when it was basketball season….. we’d play basketball.
Basketball was always number one — my true love. Playing against the boys, my sister and I, we developed this unstoppable two-woman game. Sam, true to form — she would do all of the dirty work: checking Ryan on D, grabbing rebounds, setting picks, coming up with steals, diving for loose balls….. she did it all. Sam got in there. And that left me with one simple role — the one thing that I had to do, every game, in exchange for Sam’s grinding: shoot it.
I was our shooter.
I was kind of a natural, but that didn’t make me any less obsessed. I worked at it, and I worked at it, and I worked at it. I worked at it so hard. I’d practice shooting from every spot on the court — and I wouldn’t let myself stop until I’d swished five in a row at each one. I’d shoot in the morning, and I’d shoot at night. I’d shoot with Sam, or I’d shoot by myself. I’d shoot in our backyard during the summer, and I’d beg to go to the gym to shoot during the winter. And then every birthday, and every Christmas, there was only one thing in the world I would ever want: a new basketball. See, that was the problem — I was shooting so much, and playing so much, that I kept wearing my basketballs out.
Then in 1997, when I was 11, the WNBA debuted.
And after that, it was like — oh, man. That normal, orange basketball was just not going to be enough anymore. I needed an official orange-and-white striped WNBA basketball. Needed it. And I’ll never forget the day I finally got one. It was Christmas morning 1997, and I couldn’t even believe it. I was running around our house — this small, packed house — dribbling that W ball, banging it against the walls and the floors, I mean….. you couldn’t contain me. I think I probably ruined everyone else’s Christmas — you know, just from tapping them on the shoulders, and asking over and over if there was an open gym where I could try out my new ball. It was so funny. I was just this, like, crazy little basketball addict.
And then somewhere along the line, someone noticed something.
It was my jump shot. Something about it. The form, the posture, the setup, the release….. it just looked so familiar.
Like — bizarrely familiar.
And then all of a sudden, they figured it out. They took out an old photo album to prove it.
I shot just like my dad. I mean, just like him. They said it was uncanny, right down to all of the little ways that I moved. And of course my dad, he hadn’t been around long enough to teach me how to shoot — so it was this wild, wild thing. It was almost like it was genetics or something. Like he had just passed it down to me, somehow….. passed down this one skill that had become so important to me, and that my dreams and future would eventually become so wrapped up in. It really was crazy: No matter the game situation, or the defense, or anything else — I’d plant my feet, rise up to shoot, and it was like….. I mean, you could take a picture.
I looked just like my father.
And that really became this incredibly powerful idea to me — something that has stuck with me, still, to this day. Just, you know…. knowing how sad I always was, growing up, to not have better memories of my dad. But then also knowing what he left me with instead: this idea that, anytime I shoot — it’s like I’m coloring in my dad’s mark on my world.
Every time I shoot, it’s like I’m making another memory of him, brand new.
And that’s why — even as I’ve moved from our old driveway in Joliet onto high school, and onto college, and then onto my professional career over this last decade….. and even as I’ve grown up as a player, and sharpened my other skills, and expanded my all-around game — I’ve known that there was one thing, always, I could count on no matter what: my jumper.
I’ve known that my jumper isn’t just a part of who I am.
It’s a part of who I was born to be.
I’m a huge Steph Curry fan — just ask any of my teammates. And one of the biggest lessons that I’ve really taken to heart, since the Warriors started on this amazing run of theirs … it’s this idea that, you know, shooting the lights out from three — that doesn’t have to be just some specialist thing, or just a role-player thing. It can be a star thing, too. I think Steph — and Klay, and Coach Kerr, and this entire era — has really proven to people how, if you have a high enough caliber of shooter.… I mean, they can dictate how the entire game is played.
A great shooter can dominate. And most of all: a great shooter can win titles. And that’s exciting, to me — to be playing in an era where that seems possible.
So while I’m disappointed with how the Sky fell short of the playoffs this year…. you know that I’ll still be watching as a fan. And you definitely know that I’ll be watching to see if any of this league’s incredible shooters decides to just go out there, over these next few weeks, and “pull a Steph” — and shoot their way to a championship.
Here are seven women who could do it:
(7) DeWanna Bonner
Everyone’s been there.
If you’ve been in this league for long enough, then you’ve been there: guarding DeWanna, from about seven or eight feet behind the three-point line, as she reaches up, extends out, flicks through her release, and — before you even know what’s hit you — buries a 30-footer, right in your eye. It’s totally demoralizing…. but of course, as a fan, also completely amazing.
There’s so much to love about DeWanna’s game. She’s 6′ 4″ and plays with a length that’s almost unguardable. A lot of people think, just because she’s so skinny, that they can be physical with her — but that’s not the case at all. DeWanna is so crafty, and she’s going to just play her game, and find a way to score on anyone.
It’s funny — DeWanna and I overlapped for a minute in Phoenix. It was my second year, and her rookie year, after the Mercury had taken her with the fifth pick in the draft. And she was just this awesome teammate, right from the start — with this great, bubbly personality that you’d always want to be around. And after seeing her play in practice, a few times, I could tell what a steal she was. Like, it was pretty unreal to get that level of a talent at No. 5. And I was barely playing, but I just remember thinking what a special team that was. Between Diana, and Cappie Pondexter, and then DeWanna playing so well as a rookie….. I remember it was around July, and we were about to get Penny Taylor back from injury. And I’m thinking to myself, Wow. You add a healthy Penny to this team?? That’s a team that wins a championship.
The punchline to this story, of course, is that when Penny came back, the Mercury had to make room for her on their roster….. and so they cut a young second-year bench player named Allie Quigley. (I wonder whatever happened to her.)
But the second punchline is that I was RIGHT!! They did win that championship.
Anyway, back to DeWanna — I just love her game. I think one of things that’s made the NBA so entertaining, recently, has been the way that the floor has become more and more stretched out, as the old definition of “what a quality shot is” disappears. It creates all this spacing, and all this movement, and it’s just a really fun style of play. And DeWanna, you know, she’s really been at the forefront of bringing that style over to the W. Because it’s like I said: She’ll get you from 30. And once 30 feet is in play…… it’s a whole new world.
When DeWanna is on the floor, it’s all things possible.
(6) Jewell Loyd
I’m not usually one to brag, but I have to brag here for a second: I was in on Jewell Loyd before you were.
So, Jewell’s a Chicago kid. And back in 2013 and 2014, my first two seasons with the Sky, I guess those were Jewell’s freshman and sophomore summers home from college. And usually with the Sky, our practice squad, you know — it would be a bunch of guys who played for local D-I or D-II college teams. But then one day, out of the blue, in walks this girl, wearing a Notre Dame T-shirt, Notre Dame shorts, everything Notre Dame. And she’s got this kind of glow about her. Everyone introduces us. It’s “Jewell, from Notre Dame” — and she’s going to be on the practice squad this summer and get in some runs. And you have to understand: We never practiced against girls….. let alone 19-year-old girls who were only a year out of high school. It was always men. So I think everyone was polite, of course, but also a little hesitant.
And then I’ll cut to the chase: She kicked our butts. No, I’m not kidding. Jewell would just….. kill us. She’d walk into the gym, at 19 years old and in that Notre Dame gear, meet some of the guys, learn a few of their plays, walk onto the court, and just immediately turn into this, like, absolute baller. It was unreal. No lie, Jewell was probably the best player on the court for some of those games. She was just so explosive, and played so free.
Pretty soon, it got to a point where Jewell became the catalyst of our practice squad — it was her job to mimic the best guard or wing on whichever team we’d be facing that next game. So if we were playing Phoenix next, then Jewell was Diana for those runs. If we were playing Minnesota next, then Jewell was Maya. If we were playing Seattle next, then Jewell was Sue. And like I said: She pretty much kicked our butts every time.
Of course, that story is even funnier, and more amazing, because now it’s five years later — and we have a guy on our practice squad whose job it is to “be Jewell.” Because that’s how good she’s gotten, and that’s how much I think it’s all coming together for her this year. What impresses me the most about Jewell’s development is how, not only has she become a dominant finisher, and a tough on-ball defender, and this incredibly creative thinker at both ends of the court — but she’s also always made room for the fundamentals. And the truth is, even though she’s already pretty lethal as a shooter…. I think the best is yet to come. Because Jewell’s form, if you watch it — it’s picture perfect. So I don’t think her percentages can be far behind.
Just remember that I was in on her first.
(5) Renee Montgomery
Something that’s a little underrated to me, going into these playoffs, is how few players in this league have actually made an impact in a WNBA Finals. And what I mean by that is, with how dominant the Sparks and the Lynx have been over these last few years — not that many players have even gotten a shot. So if you look at the seedings right now…. it seems like there’s a pretty good chance that this year is going to feature a lot of players making their finals debut.
And first of all, that’s very cool. But I also think that’s going to make experience a valuable commodity over the next few weeks. Which is one of the main reasons why I’m looking at Renee Montgomery — who’s played in three Finals with Minnesota, and won two rings — as one of my real sleeper picks for this year’s Finals MVP. I got swept out of the arena in my first Finals appearance, and I can tell you….. the first one’s tough. Those are some bright lights, and you’re never quite ready for it. So I think Renee’s experience in that department, you know, it’s not something to discount. It could make a real difference for this Atlanta team.
Two other reasons I like Renee as a Finals MVP sleeper:
One, Atlanta is the No. 2 seed. People keep forgetting this!! But while all these other teams are fighting it out, the Dream are guaranteed to make the final four. That matters. There are going to be some talented teams knocked out in these single-elimination games…..
And two, I mean….. what else is there to say: She’s on fire. No, seriously — take a look. Since Angel McCoughtry got injured, here’s how Renee has done in her last four games from three: 6 for 7, 8 for 13, 3 for 8, 4 for 8. Are you kidding me?? Now, obviously there’s no replacing an Olympian like Angel — she’s a one-of-a-kind player. But it’s clear that one of Atlanta’s strategies in Angel’s absence is going to be: Feed Renee the rock. And tell her to let it fly.
So far, so good.
(4) Sue Bird
If Sue is open, she’s going to make it.
That’s the only way I can think of to put it. You leave Sue Bird open, and she is going to make it every time. And that’s from three, where she’s an assassin. But it’s also from midrange: she’s got that lights-out pull-up, for example, which almost no one else has in this era. And that’s the main problem with guarding Sue: If you give her space, then it’s over. But if you don’t give her space, then she has better options — a better midrange game, better change-of-pace instincts, better body control, a better sense of ball movement around the perimeter — than just about any other player in the league.
And here’s the other problem with guarding Sue: She’s getting better. I know that doesn’t seem possible, for a 37-year-old veteran who’s been in the league since 2002. But I swear it’s true. Just look at the numbers: This season has been the best of Sue’s career — out of 16 seasons!! — from beyond the arc.
How has she managed it? To me, I think the secret to Sue’s success is that she makes sure she’s adding something to her game, every year. So many players, they get set in their ways — so when they start losing elements of their game, either to age or injuries or even just bad luck, they have no way to balance it out with other improvements. But Sue is just so smart, and so determined, and always seems so in love with the game — and I think she and Michael Jordan are really the great examples of players who made sure, in their later years, to always come back with a new wrinkle in their game for the rest of the league to figure out.
For MJ, I remember him coming back with that post-up game, and those moves where he’d give whoever was guarding him that little bump, and then hit them with the fadeaway. For Sue, this year, she’s added this…. honestly I don’t even know what to call it. It’s like this…… running…… scoop..… layup?? Off the opposite foot??? And it’s just so tough, when you’re guarding her, and you think you have her scouted — but now it’s just one more thing that you have to account for, one more way that she can get you. And at this level, you know, and this game of inches and split seconds, just having that one additional tool in your toolbox — that can be enough to give you an edge. And that’s how you see someone like Sue, in her 16th year, shooting 45% from three.
That’s how you see someone who’s already won two championships in Seattle — and is already a legend there for life — on the verge of winning another.
(3) Kristi Toliver
Sometimes you can tell what kind of a shooter someone is, just off of one shot — and there’s no better example of that than Kristi. I can still close my eyes and picture it, exactly: Maryland vs. Duke, national championship game, Maryland is down three, clock expiring. Kristi dribbles up to the top of the key, pivots to her right, fights through a couple of screens, steps back on the right wing, flicks her wrist, justlikethat, a perfect release, and — maybe half an inch over the outstretched hand of Duke’s 6′ 7″ center Alison Bales — buries a three to send the game into overtime.
I was a sophomore at DePaul, at the time — trying to figure out my own path to the W. And I just remember it so vividly: watching that shot, in total awe, and thinking to myself, you know, Wow … O.K. That’s a pro.
And now it’s 12 years later, and I’ve basically been thinking that to myself — and in total awe of Kristi’s game — ever since. She’s been such a great champion over the years. First, of course, on that run at Maryland. But then you also saw it in L.A., a couple of years ago, when Kristi won a ring with the Sparks. She was such a steadying presence for them, and hit so many clutch shots. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she ended up being that same type of presence on this year’s Mystics squad, and led them on a deep run. Between Kristi, Elena with all that she brings to the table, LaToya Sanders handling things down low, and Ariel Atkins making the impact that she’s made as a rookie … Washington can beat anyone.
And I’ll put it this way: I don’t think I’m the only one in the league who remembers Kristi’s three against Duke. It’s one of those shots that no one forgets. And Kristi is one of those players where, if she has the ball in her hand, late in a game..… opponents really have no choice but to respect her jumper. They know she’ll shoot it, without hesitation.
And they know she’ll make it.
(2) Maya Moore
Maya’s shot is a machine. That’s the way I’d describe it. It’s like she never gets tired — and it’s always the same form. Could be a midrange jumper, a corner three, a deep three, a half-court shot, a spot up, a pull up, coming off a screen….. it could be anything. And you’re still going to get the same, signature Maya shooting form, every time. And every time, you’re going to think it’s going in.
There’s really no defending Maya. She has the perfect shooting guard’s body. Just her spacing, her body control, it’s all unstoppable. And what I mean by that is, you can throw anything at her — any weird sort of scheme, or double team, you can try all you want to introduce some sort of chaos into the equation, when she has the ball….. and it’s like, no matter what you try, Maya has this amazing ability to turn that chaos into calmness. There will be nine other bodies flailing around her, desperately trying to get in position — but in that snapshot of a moment, right as she’s going up with her shot, and hitting that perfect release point in the middle of it all? Maya’s like this James Harden level of smooth. She’ll drop five, six threes on you without even breaking a sweat.
And just another quick thing on Maya, while I’m here — and I guess this doesn’t have to do with her jumper, exactly, or maybe it does. But that Jordan Brand billboard that went up this spring, and that ad they ran along with it, and Maya’s shoe, and just, that whole campaign…. you know, there was a lot of talk at the time about what that meant — or even if it meant anything at all.
And I just have to say, as a WNBA player, I promise you: It meant a lot.
I remember growing up, as a young girl falling in love with basketball, how hard it was to find a representation of that in popular culture. It would always be the guys who were playing on TV, or had the commercials or the billboards, or had their own signature shoes. So as a girl, wanting your own version of those things to look up to, you really had to nourish yourself on whatever little scraps you could find. I actually remember there was this one Nike commercial, back in the day — “If You Let Me Play” — that showed a bunch of girls playing sports. And they weren’t even hooping or anything. But still, just seeing them at all….. I got so excited about that. I had a “Let Me Play” poster in my bedroom and everything.
So now to have Maya out here, with her own shoe, and her own ad campaign, and this billboard of her, looking so powerful, towering over her city…. I mean, obviously I’m a competitor, first and foremost, but sometimes you just have to stop what you’re doing and be a fan. And I remember the morning when that ad came out on YouTube, you know, just sitting there at home, replaying it — over and over, over and over, and getting these crazy chills. I must have watched it 30 times in a row. And I’m 32, and in the W. So I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for all of those 10-year-old girls out there.
Anyway — I’ve always loved my job, and I’ve always been proud of what I do. But on that day, in that moment, I really got a chance to love it and be proud of it in a way that I’ll never forget. And part of me I think will always root for Maya, for that reason.
(1) Diana Taurasi
Winning back-to-back Three-Point Contests these last two seasons, you know, it’s really been one of the highlights of my career. Especially for me, as a late bloomer in this league — where I didn’t find consistent playing time until my late-20s, and then I made my first All-Star team at 31. So for me to have put on such a good performance in front of my peers, and to have gotten that level of recognition from them..… honestly, it meant a lot to me.
But it’s funny. Even with having these last two seasons under my belt, and even with winning back-to-back Three Point Contests … there’s one thing that I won’t ever let anyone call me. And that’s the best shooter in the league. Because for all the great players who were in those events these last two years, and for all the great players that I beat….… I know who wasn’t there, and I know who I’ve never beaten: The GOAT.
This is going to sound crazy to say, but I actually think Diana is an underrated shooter. People get fixated on calling her the greatest player of all time (which she is), or on the fact that she’s an insane competitor, or a brilliant playmaker, or an unstoppable all-around scorer — and yeah, no question, all of that’s true. But as a pure shooter? I’m telling you: She’s number one on the list. Down three, with the ball, and the game clock running down … there’s no one in history I would want taking that shot more than Diana. And when I say “history,” just to be clear — I don’t only mean in the past tense. I also mean right now. Even at 36. Give me Diana and give her the ball and I’ll take my chances.
So when people ask me for my sleeper this year … it’s really that same line of thinking. There are eight exciting teams in these playoffs. There’s Seattle, who has dominated the league all season long. There’s Minnesota and L.A., who have dominated the Finals for the last couple of years. And there are a few other really good teams right on their heels. But if you’re looking for a sleeper?? Well, I’ll just say this: Only one team in the world can say they have the best shooter in the world.
Only one team in the WNBA has Diana Taurasi.