MINNEAPOLIS — Between the two of them, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have 10 gold medals, seven WNBA titles, five NCAA championships, too many pairs of Nikes to keep track of and two red Solo cups.
Well, actually, they’ve got a whole stack of red Solo cups. On the second level of the Target Center, where USA TODAY Sports was granted exclusive access Sunday evening, ESPN had set up a makeshift studio for “The Bird & Taurasi Show” (BTS).
Alternate title: “Bird & Taurasi Get Tipsy on Air, Make Producers Nervous With Detailed Storytelling.”
In 120 glorious minutes over the women’s Final Four weekend, the UConn alums traded jokes, told stories, and made fun of guests and their former coach, all while expanding the women’s basketball community in a fun and—sometimes expletive-filled—manner.
“We’re on the U tonight, you can say whatever you want on the U,” said Taurasi on Friday. Sunday on ESPN2, they didn’t exactly hold back even though they were on a more widely distributed channel. They told of the time when Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, hot about a lackluster first half, came into the locker room and saw a player wearing a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet.
“You know what Jesus would do?” Auriemma thundered to his team from him. “He would rebound and (expletive) run!”
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The show follows the format of Peyton and Eli Manning’s “Monday Night Football” telecasts: two people chatting it up and bringing in guests to be roasted and participate in the roasting of others. As for what’s in the red solo cups, a question every viewer kept asking, the answer was underwhelming considering these GOATS have million-dollar endorsement deals. Bird and Taurasi, it turns out, prefer to sip on Bud Light black cherry hard seltzer while entertaining some of the biggest names in basketball.
A sampling of the highlights:
Friday night during the semifinals, Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton expressed surprise that neither Bird nor Taurasi is in the Hall of Fame. “We’re still playing, Bill,” Bird reminded their ESPN color commentating colleague.
Also on Friday, Taurasi revealed that she applied to Stanford as a high schooler and was rejected. Who knew, UConn was her safety school from her.
With Twitter abuzz Friday night about the hilarity of BTS, Auriemma was asked after UConn’s semifinal win over Stanford if he planned to catch the replay at some point.
His answer did not disappoint: “When you’ve been around those two as long as I have, I really, truly have no interest in hearing anything they have to say,” he said. “On any topic, especially me.”
On Sunday night, Bird and Taurasi watched that clip live. Bird’s takeaway: “Something tells me he actually wants to come on the show,” she said teasingly. Then ESPN cut to an Auriemma “head shot,” an animated picture of Carl Fredricksen, the 78-year-old curmudgeonly main character of the Disney movie “Up” who, shockingly, closely resembles the coach who’s won 11 national titles.
You think Michael Jordan could get away with doing this to Phil Jackson?
The show works because Bird, one of the best point guards ever, directs traffic with ease, setting up Taurasi and other guests and smoothly transitioning from reading ads to taking social media questions to reminding everyone they should, you know, comment on the basketball game they’re watching.
Their comfort in front of the camera, and with each other, rubs off on their guests. Early in the third quarter, as Bird questioned Auriemma’s coaching — “Why is Paige (Bueckers) bringing the ball up? That’s so tired. Is this just the 41-year-old point guard talking?” — US women’s national team and OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe went in on her outfit. “I’m happy he’s not wearing the Dri-Fit anymore, that’s just not flattering on anyone,” she said.
The women’s game is exploding in popularity and parity. Having two of the best to ever play guide fans through it is sure to only help that growth accelerate. Don’t be surprised if there’s heavy demand for multiple BTS episodes next season to accompany nearly every women’s NCAA Tournament game.
During the title game, to 64-49 South Carolina break over UConn, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James dropped by. He was so enamored with the show that he hung out the entire first quarter.
But for as entertaining as the on-air moments were — at one point Friday, when discussing how important small details are in the quest for a championship Taurasi quipped, “It’s a game of inches, just ask the ‘Cocks” — it’s the commercial breaks that viewers would undoubtedly love most.
At halftime, when they were joined by Rapinoe, Bird’s fiancée, who took the break in action to tell Taurasi, famously always dressed in dark monochromatic looks, “You know, no one gets versatility out of black like you do.” Taurasi rolled her eyes before admitting that earlier that day, her wife Penny Taylor, a former WNBA player, teased her, “Are you going to wear your bright black tonight or your dark black?”
When Rapinoe teased Taurasi about being dormant on social media, Taurasi revealed what many have long suspected: “When Penny goes to sleep at night, I steal her phone.”
As Bird and Taurasi shared a memory of a wild night in 2000 when they went out in Storrs to celebrate UConn’s national championship in men’s soccer — Taurasi lost her shoe in the snow — a production assistant off set frantically waved his hands in the universal “do don’t go there!” sign.
During the commercial break, Taurasi and Sue explained to Rapinoe the part of the story they left out — which will not be shared here, because red solo cups were not distributed to everyone and therefore, not all inhibitions were lowered.
Their former coach appreciates how appealing they are to both the established fan and otherwise.
“They represent something they helped create,” Auriemma said after the finale. “I think they’re going to water it, nurture it, and take care of it in some way, shape or form for the rest of their lives. And people are going to gravitate to them because people have gravitated to them since the first day they ever saw them play.”
There are serious moments, too: When a fan walking by offered her “Free Britney Griner” sign, Taurasi and Bird both reached for it, before a producer stepped in.
There’s no doubt that the show said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, “you have grown our game. I don’t really think it’s that innovative … like we could have been doing something like that (before). But I do think it takes someone like Sue and Diana, who people want to hear. They want to hear their greatness, they want to hear the stories of who impact their lives and their careers.
“And I think they’re pretty darn funny. They’re hilarious. I did record it because I want to watch it when I get home.”
It’s likely that Staley would tune in regularly if BTS gets inked for an extended episode run when Bird and Taurasi withdraw from playing.
If and when that actually happens, let’s make sure there’s money in the budget for real refreshments.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism