Diana Taurasi went out and honored Kobe Bryant the best way she could on the Hall of Famer's 42nd birthday.
The Phoenix Mercury star scored a season-high 34 points while wearing a No. 8 jersey with “Bryant” on the back in the team's victory over the Washington Mystics on Sunday night.
The WNBA's career scoring leader said she was hesitant to wear a jersey honoring the Lakers great who died in a helicopter crash in January when the idea was broached to her by Vince Kozar, the Mercury's chief operating office .
“When you do something like that, you can't not give that Kobe effort,” Taurasi said. “When I got to the game I was like, `Is this the right thing to do?' Once I put it on there was only one way to play. I'm not talking about scoring points, I'm talking about loving basketball and competing and putting that effort that he taught me by watching him.”
She helped the Mercury snap a three-game losing streak.
“I just did his Detail game when he played Portland. They had just lost seven in a row. The way he played that game you thought they would have won seven in a row,” Taurasi said. “Play with passion and play together. That resonated with me the other day and I carried that with me.”
The WNBA celebrated Bryant all weekend with his jerseys hanging behind both benches and his Nos. 8 and 24 on the court. Other players besides Taurasi honored Bryant. Breanna Stewart wore bracelets that featured the initials and jersey numbers of both Kobe and Gianna.
Bryant had been a huge supporter of women's basketball taking daughter Gianna, also killed in the helicopter crash that claimed all nine onboard, to many WNBA and college women's games over the years.
“It’s a bittersweet moment. We celebrate him but still mourn him.,” Taurasi said. “We mourn him, Gigi everyone on that helicopter. We lost a lot that day. We’ll continue to do so that Kobe, Gigig and his family are honored the right way.”
Taurasi, who earned the nickname “White Mamba” from Bryant, said that the jersey she wore on Sunday night will be auctioned off to raise money for the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
“That’s what Kobe’s vision was. He invested so much time into Gigi, women’s sports and women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “That’s’ the one thing that Kobe would have made sure kept going in his honor.”