Not that Diana Taurasi has ever needed much reason to needle her good friend and former UConn teammate Sue Bird, but alas, now there is this.
Those two were the "championship" contenders in the espnW best women's basketball player ever bracket that has been contested throughout the WNBA playoffs. Now it's official: Taurasi, the No. 1 seed, thwarted the challenge of the underdog Bird, the No. 11 seed, and is the champion.
There was no major upset in the final round of voting. Bird's fans showed up big-time from the start, carrying her to bracket upsets of No. 6 seed Tina Thompson, No. 3 Cynthia Cooper and No. 2 Lisa Leslie -- all of whom are Southern California graduates. (So much for that Los Angeles voting bloc.)
But the mega-power of the UConn fan base was diffused when Seattle Storm guard Bird was facing a fellow ex-Huskies player, rather than one of the Women of Troy alums. Taurasi, with her three NCAA and three WNBA titles, is the last player standing.
In a statement, Taurasi said she has always valued team goals over individual accolades, but that "to be picked by fans who love the game is the ultimate honor."
"I've had the good fortune to play for and learn from some great coaches and to play with teammates who have made me better -- I hope I have done the same for them," Taurasi said. "I'm particularly grateful for the influence and impact of greats on this list like Cheryl Miller and Annie Meyers, who elevated our game.
"They're the reason the rest of us have the opportunity to be a part of a bracket like this."
The peanut gallery will note that this is Taurasi's lone victory during the 2015 WNBA season, as she sat out this summer to rest in preparation for upcoming overseas play and what's sure to be a very busy 2016. Taurasi is expected to be back with the Phoenix Mercury in 2016, plus compete on the U.S. Olympic team. She will turn 34 in June of 2016.
This entire best baller bracket exercise was meant to be in fun, to help celebrate the history and progress of women's basketball while the WNBA playoffs were ongoing. But as we've said from the start, the bracket exercise had inherent flaws.
Primarily this: It's really impossible to compare the career achievements in the WNBA era with those of players who did not have any opportunity to play professionally in the United States.
As a result, players whose college careers were in the 1970s and '80s were less represented in the original bracket, and didn't last very long once the voting started. That's unfortunate, but, again, this really wasn't anything like a scientific, data-driven examination of the best ever.
It was really just to get people talking and texting and tweeting, and to that end, it seems to have succeeded.
Minnesota's Maya Moore was the No. 9 seed, and had to face No. 8 Tamika Catchings of Indiana in the first round. This was all set up before the WNBA playoffs started, so no one knew then that they'd be facing each other in the WNBA Finals.
Moore won that bracket "battle," but then fell to Taurasi in the next round. Moore grinned when asked if she was aware of the bracket; she is, but it's hardly a concern. Moore might have been eliminated in the elite eight by Taurasi in imaginary bracketland, but if her Lynx win one more game, she will tie DT with three WNBA championships.
"I know it's going on," Moore said. "I don't think players talk about things like that; it's not like something we have control over. But it's for fans to get engaged, and that's fine."
Moore said she did notice some of the seedings, especially of older players, and wondered if they were too low for how great those women were.
"I appreciate the history of the game," Moore said. "But era to era, it's hard to compare."
As for Taurasi winning the bracket, Moore was not surprised and was complimentary of her fellow former UConn star.
"She is somebody I have a lot of respect for as far as how consistently great she's been," Moore said. "She's consistently been part of great teams, coming in young at UConn and then becoming a leader there. And then coming into the WNBA. She's a competitor who knows how to make her teammates better, and she's someone you really notice when she is on the court, and when she isn't."