Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi: 'I still love to play too much'

After suffering a back injury in February, Diana Taurasi's 2019 WNBA season debut is imminent. Phoenix is 5-5 this season and riding a three-game winning streak into Friday's home game against New York. Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

PHOENIX -- She's back.

Yes, Diana Taurasi -- four-time gold medalist, three-time WNBA champion, five-time scoring champ, 10-time all-WNBA first team, nine-time All-Star and 2009 MVP -- is worthy of those now-famous words.

The Phoenix Mercury's franchise guard is expected to play her first game of the 2019 season Friday against the New York Liberty. Taurasi has missed the entire season up to this point while recovering from surgery on April 24 to repair a bulging disc in her back. Taurasi was listed as questionable in Thursday's injury report. If Taurasi doesn't play Friday, the Mercury's next game is Sunday, at home against Atlanta.

Taurasi, who has dealt with back issues throughout her pro and collegiate career, told ESPN during her rehab and recovery that she hasn't felt "this good in a while."

With the Mercury at 5-5, sitting in eighth place in the league -- the last team in the playoff picture as of now -- and on a three-game winning streak, they'll need Taurasi to make a push to guarantee a postseason berth.

Taurasi spoke to ESPN about her injury and surgery, which may have reset her clock by a year or two -- or more.

espnW: How did you injure your back?

Diana Taurasi: It happened around the beginning of February. I was on workout. Since I've stopped playing overseas, I go through this little 12-week boot camp, where I really just ramp up all the things I need to get better at, get stronger at. I was on court. I was just doing some on-court drills and I felt some tightness in my back, which I've been battling back issues since college.

That's something that I've always had to deal with, I've always had to be extra cautious about. It went away and then all of a sudden I had this numbness in my leg, tingling down my knee and all the way to my big toe, and just something wasn't right.

As an athlete, you just say it'll go away. So I just thought I'll rest for a couple of days, it'll go away, [I'll] get back on court. So I got back on court, got back in the weight room, back into therapy and just tried to work, work, and after probably two weeks, I knew something was off.

So I got an MRI done and it was a bulging disc in my L-3, which is the root cause of all your nerves going into your abductor, thigh muscle and all the way down your leg. So instantly I knew what I had to do. It's either you rehab through it or you have surgery. And people say once you have back surgery, you're never the same, so my first reaction was rehab, rehab, rehab.

So for about, let's say, six weeks, I rehabbed for 6 to 7 hours a day, just trying to get sensation, feeling, muscle back, and it just wasn't happening. Through those six weeks, I had a couple of epidurals. So now, my wife Penny [Taylor] and I have something in common. She has [our son] Leo to show for it. I just had a numb leg to show for it.

The first one worked. The second one, not so much. And then I came back to Phoenix, obviously, a lot earlier than I wanted to and then got together with the physicians and our trainer and Dr. [Terrence] Crowder, and I think we made the right choice.

"I had this numbness in my leg, tingling down my knee and all the way to my big toe, and just something wasn't right." Diana Taurasi

espnW: This was your fourth major injury in 16 WNBA seasons. How have you been pretty lucky for the most part?

Taurasi: And most of the injuries I really didn't miss a lot of time. This is the first time. I really have been lucky because when they come out with that [medical] file after 15 years, and you're just like, "Holy s---. I've put my body through hell." But that's where I'm at.

espnW: How hard of a decision was it for you to have surgery?

Taurasi: Well, I consulted with a couple of people who had had it. I talked with Swin [Cash], who was someone who had it done and we chatted for a little bit, and she really gave me peace of mind that most people -- it's the most common surgery in America. You say back surgery and think holy ... they rip your back apart. I mean, it's minimal. But surgery's surgery, no matter where you have it on your body.

I was confident in Dr. Crowder. And literally the minute I had the surgery, I walked out of there and I felt 100 percent better already. It was that instant. Doc said he went in there and the nerve was getting pressed in two places and he said it was one of the worst looking ones he's ever seen, how irritated the nerve was.

The nerve is supposed to be the color of your skin and it was [red]. It was just being compressed in two different places, and when your nerve doesn't work, your mind obviously can't send the signal to the muscle. It sounds complicated, but it's almost pretty primitive. You take the pressure off the nerve and your nerve works again.

espnW: Isn't it wild how basic that was?

Taurasi: It really is. There's a lot of people who've had it, obviously, Tiger [Woods] and there's a bunch. Larry [Fitzgerald] had a bunch of back stuff.

espnW: Did you ever consider calling it a career?

Taurasi: No, no, no, no. I got ... no way. I still love to play too much. No, that wasn't even in my mind frame.