Bird, Taurasi earn spots on fifth US Olympic basketball team

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will try and become the first five-time Olympic gold medalists in basketball as they lead the U.S women’s team at the Tokyo Games.

The duo was selected for their fifth Olympics on Monday, joining Teresa Edwards as the only basketball players in U.S. history to play in five. Edwards won four gold medals and a bronze in her illustrious Olympic career.

“It’s just been a tremendous journey when you think about playing for that long,” Taurasi said. “We’re trying to take it to the next generation. Focused on what we have to do to come home with gold. Tremendous competition like no other because of COVID, the delay of the Olympics. We’re really focused on winning gold.”

There have been five international basketball players to play in five Olympics: Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro, Brazil’s Adriana Moises Pinto and Oscar Schmidt, Australia’s Andrew Gaze and Puerto Rico’s Teofilo Cruz.

The 40-year-old Bird and 39-year-old Taurasi will lead a veteran group in Japan, including 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles, who will be playing in her fourth Olympics. Tina Charles will be in her third while 6-8 Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart are back for a second time.

There will also be six newcomers to the Olympic stage led by reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. The Las Vegas Aces star helped the U.S. win the World Championship in 2018 in Spain. Others making their Olympic debuts are Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chelsea Gray, Ariel Atkins, Jewell Loyd and Napheesa Collier.

“Happy for the roster we have. There’s a great mix of very experienced players to first-time Olympians,” said Dawn Staley, who will be the first Black head coach of the team. “You need a good mix especially if you’re going to take care of winning a gold medal today and what the future looks like.”

Two former WNBA MVPs who didn’t make the roster were Elena Delle Donne and Nneka Ogwumike. Delle Donne hasn’t played all season as she’s recovering from back surgery. Ogwumike has been sidelined with a left knee sprained suffered earlier this month. She was expected to return around the WNBA’s Olympic break next month.

Both players were on the World Championship team that won gold in 2018 and Ogwmuike has been to nearly every U.S. training camp over the last few years. She’s the only former WNBA MVP not to make an Olympic roster.

“Breaks my heart that Nneka isn’t on this team,” Staley said. “Having to make a decision today, if we had to make a decision a month from now I’m sure she’d be healthy. This was one of the things she wanted to do. … She’s been a great voice in our training camp and practices. We’re going to definitely miss Nneka.”

The Americans have won the last six consecutive gold medals, not dropping a game at the Olympics since 1992. Staley has been a part of five of those teams, three as a player and two as an assistant. She was honored to be the first Black coach to lead the U.S.

“I think is is something to be proud of. It also allows other doors to be open and opportunities for other Black coaches to hold these positions,” Staley said. “So there’s a lot of pressure to to win gold because of it. And I look forward to that challenge, as always.”

The Americans, who are heavy favorites to win again, are in a pool with France, Japan and Nigeria, which the U.S. opens up against on July 27. The Americans face Japan on July 30 and France on Aug. 2.

The U.S. team will get together in Las Vegas in July to train for a week as well as play an All-Star Game against a selection of WNBA players. The Americans will also play games against Australia and Nigeria.

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