Diana Taurasi paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant on Sunday and what would have been the star’s 42nd birthday. The Phoenix Mercury great wore the No. 8 with Bryant’s last name on the back of her jersey and scored a season-high 34 points while do doing so. Taurasi lead the Phoenix Mercury to an 88-87 win over the Washington Mystics to snap a three-game losing skid.
The Chino, California native grew up as a Lakers fan and earned the nickname “White Mamba” as Kobe and Taurasi became friends over the years. The emotional tribute seemed fitting to Taurasi to wear No. 8 to honor her late friend and ally to women’s basketball, but the star admitted she was hesitant.
“I was really hesitant to wear the jersey today. I was in my room and I kept looking at it and looking at it,” Taurasi said following the game. “When you put his jersey on you just want to make sure you honor it the right way. Thats all I was thinking about the whole game, what would Kobe do today.”
The win was much needed and provided a sigh of relief for a team who struggled on and off the court the last week. On top of the three-game losing streak, the Mercury lost their dominant inside presence and teammate Brittney Griner, who left the WNBA bubble for personal reasons. It is unknown the cause for Griner’s departure and if she will return to the team this season.
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello praised the play of Taurasi despite the pressure of the situation. “When she is feeling it, she is feeling it,” said Brondello following the game. “No one can really stop her. We’ve seen that many times.”
The Mercury announced that Taurasi’s game-worn Koby Bryant jersey will be autographed and put up for auction beginning Sunday night through 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Proceeds will go to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
The Mercury sit in 6th place in the standings at 7-7 on the season. They will look to remain in the win column despite the last week’s adversity when they take on the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday at 9:00pm ET.