Tina Thompson and Diana Taurasi have been linked as adversaries, teammates and friends since 2004.
Thompson was already an established star for the Houston Comets when Taurasi made her WNBA debut with the Phoenix Mercury. In 2004 and 2008, Thompson and Taurasi joined forces on the U.S. basketball teams that earned gold at the Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing.
On Sunday, the pair were linked again when Taurasi became the leading scorer in the history of the WNBA during a 90-59 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. Thompson, who was working at a University of Texas girls basketball camp at Gregory Gym at the time, had been the record holder for seven years.
Taurasi finished the game with 19 points, giving her 7,494 for her career. Thompson is second at 7,488.
Thompson has passed the torch to a player she has admired since Taurasi was an All-America guard at UConn. She described the new scoring champion as a hard-nosed, all-around player who has played four different positions for the Mercury.
Any hard feelings about losing the record?
“I really haven’t cared much about it,” the UT assistant basketball coach said Monday. “That record is not something I set out to do.”
Thompson has never been defined by the scoring record. Comets fans remember her as the ruby red lipstick-wearing player who was a dynamic force helping Houston win the first four WNBA championships. She combined with Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes to build the WNBA’s first dominant team.
Thompson, 42, played 12 of her 17 seasons in Houston and broke the WNBA all-time scoring record held by Lisa Leslie — her high school teammate in Ingleside, Calif. — in 2010.
“The Houston Comets don’t win not one championship had it not been for Tina Thompson and her contribution,” Cooper told the Los Angeles Times in 2013, the year Thompson retired. “So many people want to give it to Sheryl Swoopes or Cynthia Cooper, but Tina Thompson did so many things that people don’t recognize.”
While Cooper and Swoopes made headlines, Thompson was hardly an afterthought.
Thompson is a nine-time WNBA All-Star, made the All-WNBA first or second team seven times and was part of the league’s All-Decade Team. In 2006 and 2007 she helped Spartak Moscow win the Russian National League championship.
Taurasi, 35, was among her Moscow teammates. She also recalled playing with Thompson during the Olympics.
“Tina was the grit of that team; she had this mental edge all the time, and it fascinated me,” Taurasi told USA Today last week. “She was willing to do the things you need to do to tip the advantage in your favor.”
Taurasi said her respect for Thompson grew when they were teammates in Russia.
“We won back-to-back championships, and she was the MVP of the league, and I thought, ‘That’s the way I want to play basketball right there,’ ” Taurasi said. “Her impact on the game is huge. She’s put so much into the game of basketball, all of her energy, from the WNBA to the international game and the national team.”
Taurasi was a two-time Naismith College Player of the Year at UConn and MVP of the WNBA in 2009, but she, like Thompson, is better known for team accomplishments. She won three NCAA titles at UConn and presented President George W. Bush with a Huskies jersey on the team’s ceremonial trip to the White House in 2003. She also has three WNBA titles in Phoenix, four Olympic gold medals and six EuroLeague titles.
“Diana is tough, competitive and does everything she can to help her teams win,” Thompson said. “I bet if you asked her about being the new scoring leader, she’d say that’s not even on her top 10 list.”
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