Diana Taurasi is the all-time leader in points scored, Sue Bird in assists. Their careers have been defined by the sustained greatness they play with in every season. They’ve won every type of award and championship the league and world has to offer. Now though, as they enter the twilights of their career leaving the game they each love so much is closer than ever before. The question of legacy is now more pressing than ever. Even the younger stars such as Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, and Jewell Loyd have thought about the impact they would like to leave on the game when they hang it up.
For Bird, winning is the most important thing, “I think when it’s said and done I want to be known as a winner. I really don’t care about anything else. I want to be somebody that teammates spoke highly of, who they looked at as somebody who helped them play their best and ultimately we won.”
The young guns are trying to focus on their impact outside of basketball as well. About her legacy Loyd said, “I want people to look at me and know it’s bigger than just basketball. I’m not here to just score or defend, I’m here to be the voice for other people and let them see there’s something more than just a scorer on the court. I’m trying to help as many people as I can. If you look at me, just know I’m not all about basketball, I’m here to help and encourage people.”
Stewart may have said it best, “When my basketball career is all said and done, the impact I want to have is someone who is a competitor, but also who touched a lot of lives on and off the court and who made people better.”
Other players want to help promote greater equality for athletes. They believe it is vital for everyone to feel they have a place in sports in order to grow participation and increase the sense of community sports create.
Delle Donne said, “If I can somehow change that gap of equality in sports between men and women, if I can leave that legacy, make it far better than when I came in, then that will be way bigger than any championship or statistics.” This desire for their impact to transcend what they do on the court will ultimately draw even more people to the league.
This forward thinking approach is necessary for the long-term success of the league, but there are also present-day issues that need to be addressed. The exposure the league has received in the past couple seasons has been massively important. More fans are making their way to the arenas and more games are being shown on ESPN. However, there is still work to be done.
Delle Donne said, “Seeing us on billboards, being able to watch our games, being able to order your favorite player’s jerseys with ease. There’s a lot that has been done, but there’s a big way to go.”
A bigger spotlight helps dispel negative perceptions about their league which is critical to continued growth.
“I find a lot of people who have negative thoughts about our league haven’t even been to a game. It’s kind of what has been spewed around and I think the more we do to change that the better it will be in the long run,” said Bird.
Loyd concurred, “Just trying to get more visibility to the sport is a work in progress. It’s hard for me to find a person who’s come to games and says they don’t love or enjoy the game. Everyone who has ever come has said, ‘It’s my first time coming to a game and I’ve never been, but I love it!”
While it is imperative the league and players continue to work together to grow the game Taurasi believes the league is in a more stable place these days, “I think the future is very bright. With so many great players and faces and personalities, the game is trending upward and that’s what we need to do – we need to make sure that the product on the court gets better every year and I think you see that happening.”