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The story of Michael Jordan being hard-ass to Diana Taurasi over a missed free throw is incredible
Taurasi talked about the back-and-forth two decades ago, and how she's not afraid to do it to the next up-and-coming kid.
Hello, it’s me, Matt Ellentuck, yet again.
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Michael Jordan was a hard-ass to the WNBA’s greatest scorer ever when she was a senior in high school, and it was all over a missed free throw. Diana Taurasi, a career 87 percent shooter from the line, remembers it clearly.
The infamous missed free throw happened at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara, two decades ago, after Taurasi participated in a HORSE competition. She explained, on Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter show, that at the end of the game, she had to make a free throw to win a free pair of Jordan shoes. She missed.
“I’m thinking, alright, he’s gonna give me the pair of shoes in the back or something later,” Taurasi said. “No. He was cold-blooded.”
Eh, tough shit, right? Even though she was a teen, she missed the free throw. And this is Jordan we’re talking about. He isn’t going to give any handouts.
Then the story gets better.
“I came back a year later as a counselor when I was at UConn,” Taurasi said, “and the first thing he tells me, he goes ‘Hey D how are those free throw going?’ I’m just like this guy won’t let it go. I’m 18 years old and he’s getting on me. I loved it.”
This story rules a ton of reasons. For one, it showed Jordan was relentless in who he could be an ass to. But also because I want to believe this exchange helped (in some tiny way) shape the shit-talking, title-winning WNBA GOAT Diana Taurasi we all appreciate today. I mean, she’s talking about it all these years later.
For those just joining us and the WNBA in general, Taurasi is the queen of many things, including not backing down and saying whatever she needs prove her point. She has a habit of cussing out refs and racking up techs (she had 7 T’s in the first 22 games of the 2016 season.) A few weeks ago she told us about the time she ate doughnuts when she was ejected from a game in Phoenix. She’s unapologetically herself at all times, and that’s how she’s drawn fans outside of WNBA basketball as well as those in it.
Imagining someone with that level of outward charisma getting knocked down a peg by Jordan is incredible. I’m not an advocate of leaders being mean to assert their dominance and teach others. But competitive assholery? Yeah, I'm here for that. And Jordan was great at it, and Taurasi has carried the torch.
I’m happy that ESPN gave Taurasi a spotlight following the final episodes of the Jordan documentary. She deserves it, first of all. Jordan and Taurasi, as SVP noted, are the only two on the planet who share this list of credentials:
AP Player of the Year
Rookie of the Year
Olympic gold medalist
League scoring champion
10-time all-league first team
That shit is nuts.
But I’m also happy because Van Pelt asked the zillion dollar question to Taurasi, drifting back to the missed free throw-debacle.
“As the older, sage vet that you are,” SVP said. “Would you do that to somebody? There’s a youngster going to UConn next year, she’s supposed to be something. Would you ride her that same way?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Taurasi said. “Absolutely. I think tough love still goes a long way even though we’re in this era of being really nice to everyone and everything. I think tough love really hardens you.”
That answer made me smile, because I know 20 years from now, someone will be telling a similar free-throw story, except about Taurasi.
Run, Paige Bueckers. Absolutely run.
Thank you for reading Here’s Basketball. If anyone has footage of Taurasi and Jordan’s missed free throw or any of the ensuing conversations around it, please send them my way. I’ll pay you all my money.
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