Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi Oct 13, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) looks on against the Chicago Sky during the second half of game two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become part of WNBA lore. There was a door. An angry fist. And the two met fatefully after the fourth game of the 2021 WNBA Finals. Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky had just won the title by beating the Phoenix Mercury 3-1 in the series. Diana Taurasi was pissed. Legend has it, she slammed the door to the visiting team’s locker room, perhaps punched it in the process. Pictures of the door surfaced all over social media.

And in one of the greatest trolling moves in sports history, the Sky brought the door to the championship celebration, placing it on the stage for all to see. 

These are the stories and legends and inside jokes that have come to define the WNBA community, link fans together and serve as memorable moments for decades to come. Which is why it’s understandable why new fans don’t understand or comprehend certain dynamics at play between players and teams in the league. 

They aren’t in on the joke. But they’re about to learn.

At her preseason media availability for the upcoming WNBA season, Taurasi called out criticism over her refusing to roll out the red carpet for Caitlin Clark and the impressive class of WNBA rookies.

“The new fans are really sensitive these days and you can’t say anything,” Taurasi said at media availability for the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday. “It’s kind of like when you go from kindergarten to first grade there’s a learning adjustment, when you go from high school to college there’s a learning adjustment. I don’t think I said anything that wasn’t factually correct. Like anything, greatness is going to translate and she’s proven that in every level and I don’t see that being any different in the WNBA.”

Taurasi is and always has been sarcastic as hell. She’s jovial in interviews and off-the-court interactions. She’s also cocky and brash. There’s a reason why Kobe Bryant dubbed her the “White Mamba.” They are cut from the same cloth. It’s who she is and who she has been for the 20 years she’s been in the WNBA. Fans either love her or hate her. Most, if not all, respect her.  

Those of us who have been around Taurasi for the better part of her career know this already.  As the greatest scorer in WNBA history with over 10,000 points, three WNBA titles and two WNBA Finals MVP, she has earned the right to speak her mind. And whether it’s received well or not by fans, I can assure you she doesn’t care.

Taurasi has gotten into it with past teammates, opposing players, the refs (obviously), coaches — basically everyone and anyone. And they all have their own Taurasi story and experience to share

There was one time, when in a playoff game against the Washington Mystics, Taurasi got so fired up she shouted “Deez Nuts” at then-head coach Mike Thibault, who was complaining to the refs.

Speaking of refs, during the pandemic when the WNBA played in a “bubble” setting at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida, Taurasi got so fed up with a referee herself she told them “I’ll see you in the lobby, later” as she slowly backpedaled down the court.

While Taurasi’s antics have occasionally incited laughs, she’s also received plenty of backlash on social media. It’s that whole love/hate thing. But again, she doesn’t care. To some Caitlin Clark fans, this context doesn’t matter. They think this isn’t how a longtime WNBA veteran should act, regardless. Still, Taurasi been this way her entire career. It’s what we’ve come to expect from her. Good, bad or indifferent.

The irony here is Clark has shades of Taurasi in her. She has described herself much in the same way, having an attitude about her, an edge to her game, a relentless competitive spirit. We’ve all seen it in action. And she’s been lauded for it.

What has sparked a lot of this conversation is Taurasi’s comments during the Final Four about incoming rookies. She said Clark was going to have to go through a rookie transition just like everyone else. It wasn’t a dig. It was how Taurasi and others have been brought up in the league themselves. It’s a rite of passage. It’s tradition. That’s why players were sharing their “welcome to the W” moments on Twitter recently. Clark may be the center of attention at the moment, but not everything is about her. Taurasi has been talking about giving rookies the business since 2020, way before Clark was even part of the women’s basketball lexicon.

It may come as a shock to some, but the WNBA isn’t some big Kumbaya circle where everyone gets along and holds hands. And it shouldn’t be. There’s this misconception that women athletes have to act ladylike and “behave.” They can’t talk trash. They can’t swear. They can’t get heated in a moment of fiery competition. They can’t push or shove or pound their chests. If these kind of things makes you clutch your pearls, then perhaps the WNBA isn’t for you. There’s going to be heated rivalries. There’s going to be players who don’t get along. There’s going to be yelling and chest-pounding and swearwords and physicality and staredowns and confrontations and technical fouls. 

It’s all part of the game, as it should be. 

There’s also going to be heroes and villains. And Taurasi has giddily and aptly morphed into a villain in the latter part of her career. When she gets her umpteenth technical foul this season (which is a guarantee), jaws at another player, or says something during or after the game that causes an uproar, she’ll smile and joke about it as she always does. 

Perhaps, when she and Clark finally faceoff on the hardwood, Clark will end up giving her the business instead. Either way, social media will light up. Stories will be written. Memes will be made. Clips will be shared. And it will become another memorable part of WNBA lore.

About Lyndsey D'Arcangelo

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a seasoned sports writer, author and women’s sports advocate. She previously wrote about women’s basketball for The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.