Meet The U.S Olympic Women’s Basketball Team Going For Gold In Tokyo
By Paulina Vairo
The U.S Women’s Basketball team is one of the most successful teams in summer Olympics history. Since the introduction of women’s basketball in the Olympics in 1976, the U.S has won eight gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal. They have won six straight gold medals dating back to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and look to win their seventh straight this year in Tokyo.
The 2021 Olympic roster has a mix of experienced Olympic veterans and plenty of new faces, who are new to the Olympics and international play. Guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are two of the longest members on the team in USA Basketball history and will return for what is most likely to be their last Olympics. Bird and Taurasi both made their debut in 2004 in Athens and will look to be the first USAB players to win five gold medals.
Bird and Taurasi are legends in both the WNBA and for their teams, and two of the most decorated women’s basketball players in history. Bird has been with the Seattle Storm since 2002. A native of Long Island, New York, Bird has won the WNBA Championship with the Storm four times and has broken almost every franchise record for the Storm. Taurusi has been with the Phoenix Mercury since 2004 and has won three WNBA Championships with her team. She also won WNBA Finals MVP twice and has also broken almost every record for the Mercury. Coming into the 2021 season, Taurasi is the all-time leading scorer with 8,931 career points and counting.
Another veteran on the team is Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles. Fowles has participated in three Olympics and has played for the national team since 2007. She won two WNBA Championships with the Lynx in 2015 and 2017 and was named WNBA Finals MVP both times. She also won WNBA MVP in 2017, and is the league leader in career rebounds.
Other returning players from the 2016 Olympic team are centers Tina Charles, Britney Griner, and forward Breanna Stewart. A native from Queens, New York, Charles will be playing in her third Olympics while Griner and Stewart will make their second Olympic appearance. All three players are expected to make a huge impact behind the longtime veterans on the team.
Guard Ariel Atkins, wing Naphessa Collier, and forward A’ja Wilson will be playing in their first Olympics with the national team. At just 24 years old, all three have already had huge success in the WNBA in just a short time in the league. Wilson is coming off an MVP season in 2020, while Napheesa Collier has improved each year — going from Rookie of the Year in 2019 to an All- WNBA Second Team honor in 2020; Ariel Atkins won a WNBA Championship during her rookie year and has been named to the All-Defensive Second Team all three years in the league
Guards Chelsea Gray and Jewell Loyd have years of experience in the WNBA and will be playing in their first Olympics. Gray just began her first season with the Las Vegas Aces after spending the majority of her career with the Los Angeles Sparks. She won an WNBA Championship with L.A in 2016, and is one of nine players to record a triple-double in WNBA history. Loyd has been with the Storm her entire career and has two championship rings. She is also a two-time WNBA All Star and has played with the national team since 2018.
Guard Skylar Diggins-Smith will also make her first Olympic appearance at the age of 30. She was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft, behind Olympians Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne. She now plays alongside Griner and Taurasi with the Phoenix Mercury, and along with being a four-time All Star, Diggins-Smith became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 3,000 career points in September 2020.
This current team has a perfect mix of rookies, rising stars, and long-time veterans. South Carolina head coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley will serve as head coach in Tokyo after working as an assistant coach during the 2016 Olympics. She will be joined by recently retired WNBA coach Dan Hughes, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, and Connecticut Sun team president Jennifer Rizzotti as her assistants.
This year’s team looks to be one of the best in years. The U.S is the heavy favorite to win gold again, although Australia, France, Canada, and Spain are looking to upset the U.S. from a seventh straight finish at the top of the podium. If the U.S wins another gold medal, they will continue to go down in history as one of the best Olympic teams ever.