SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi left the basketball court together, arm in arm, one last time at the Tokyo Games.
They started their journey together five Olympics ago and ended it the same way as usual – with gold medals around their necks.
“Everything we’ve done for USA Basketball, we’ve done together. It’s appropriate, ”Bird said after the 90-75 victory over Japan on Sunday.
And now it’s over, at least for 40-year-old Bird.
“The best comparison is college since you know it’s the end,” Bird said. “Now I still have a wonderful feeling and great taste in my mouth during my senior year. It’s like that with USA Basketball.
All she and Taurasi have done on the international stage is win and now the pair stand alone with five gold medals – the first basketball players to achieve this feat.
“It’s been 20 years and people only see these moments,” Taurasi said. “We do these trips together every day. every conversation. it means a lot to us.
As Bird retires from international basketball, Taurasi has left the door open after the game in her interview at the field she will play in Paris in 2024.
She’s not really sure she’ll play, saying, “We’ll see. “
But, Bird threw a quick swipe at her 39-year-old friend for even considering her.
“Hahaha, idiot,” Bird said, laughing, standing next to Taurasi and talking to The Associated Press.
The United States has now won the last seven Olympic gold medals matching the country’s men’s program for the most in a row. Men did it from 1936 to 1968.
With Bird orchestrating the flow of matches and Taurasi’s score, they have been a constant force for the United States, ensuring the stability of the women’s program since the 2004 Athens Games. They have won all 38 matches of the Olympic Games in which they participated.
Names have changed around the pair, including greats Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings and Sylvia Fowles, but the results haven’t changed.
The Americans are on a 55-game winning streak at the Olympics since the 1992 Games bronze medal match in Barcelona.
The United States let Japan know that is not going to change on Sunday.
The Americans took an 18-5 lead behind a dominant first quarterback from Brittney Griner. The team led 23-14 after one point as Griner had 10 points, taking advantage of the undersized Japanese team. Japan managed to get closer to six in the second quarter before the Americans went 11 at halftime and never looked back.
At the sound of the final ringtone, Bird and Taurasi kissed and then hugged all of their teammates and coaching staff.
Griner finished with 30 points, making 14 of his 18 shots. It was the most points an American player has ever recorded in a gold medal game, surpassing Leslie’s 29 in 1996.
While Bird has said she is moving forward, the future is bright for the United States behind Griner, Breanna Stewart and the six newcomers. in this year’s squad. That included A’ja Wilson, who will be relied on to maintain the streak three years from now at the 2024 Paris Games. Wilson, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Sunday, made his presence felt on his Olympic debut, scoring 19 points in the game for the gold medal.
But there were other big milestones on Sunday besides Bird’s farewell.
The victory also made Dawn Staley the first black female basketball coach. for the United States, the second woman to win a gold medal as a player, assistant and head coach joining Anne Donovan. Staley said after the match that she would not be returning to train in Paris.
Staley said being in six Olympics was enough for him, “I’m full. “
The match also marked the end of Carol Callan’s run as national team manager.. It started just before the Americans won the first gold of that streak in 1996 and was the architect of this unprecedented race.
Japan, which was the only of the other 11 teams to beat the United States in the Olympics, won a medal for the first time in the country’s history. The team’s best result before Sunday was fifth.
The host country has been on the rise since hiring coach Tom Hovasse. He said when he got the job 4.5 years ago that his team would play against the United States for gold at the Tokyo Games – and beat them.
He was half right.
The teams met in the preliminary rounds and the United States won by 17 points after falling behind by two after the first quarter. Just like this game, the Americans used their dominant position advantage to control the title game. Japan’s biggest player was 6-foot-1, which falls short of the massive frontline led by Griner, who is 6-9.
While the general public and family members were unable to attend the games due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bird had fiancee Megan Rapinoe in the stands encouraging him. Bird came over and hugged Rapinoe after the game. She helped the United States women’s soccer team win a bronze medal earlier this week, scoring two goals in that game.
A large contingent of Japanese volunteers, who had been in the Saitama Super Arena throughout the tournament, sat down and applauded their team. No actual cheering was allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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