Diana Taurasi got the biggest ovation Saturday. Candace Parker got the sterling silver Tiffany trophy.
During pre-game introductions at the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game, Taurasi got a bigger ovation than Tina Charles, bigger than Lindsay Whalen and even Maya Moore. She got a bigger ovation than the other UConn players, bigger than the Sun players, past and present. A decade after leaving Storrs, the love for Taurasi in Connecticut remains ear-splitting loud and arc-weld strong.
During post-game ceremonies, after the West beat the East 102-98, Parker got the Tiffany trophy as the game's most valuable player. She was named the MVP because she set an All-Star Game record with 23 points. She was MVP because she hit eight of nine shots in a second-half comeback and, in her first All-Star Game, completed her double-double with a game-high 11 rebounds. The West won, as East coach Lin Dunn put it succinctly because, "They had Candace and we didn't."
Apart, Taurasi and Parker are from UConn and Tennessee.
Together, they arguably are the best two basketball players in the world.
Apart, at least in our forever collegial Connecticut minds, Taurasi and Parker should never agree on anything.
Together, on a day when the best in women's basketball were celebrated, they agreed on something important.
On a day when they both wore No. 3 on the same team, Parker and Taurasi were of one mind. They spoke out for a resumption of the best rivalry in the history of women's team sports.
"It is good for the sport," Parker said. "When you think of the NBA, you think of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Same thing with football, same thing with hockey, you have these rooted rivalries. People I haven't even met, that are Connecticut fans, who despise me just because I wear orange. And I happen to be in the blue country right now.
"I have Tennessee fans that come up to me and tell me how much they despise UConn and they've never even met a UConn player. I think it's important from the sense that you have that rivalry, you have the identity, you have that separation. There's more talk about it. It helps women's basketball."
Are you listening, Rocky Top?
Are you listening, Husky Nation?
Candace Parker says, let's get it on.
"They'll have to make it to a Final Four first and then we'll play them," Taurasi said at the post-game press conference minutes after Parker had spoken.
Tina Thompson, playing in her record ninth — and final — All-Star Game was sitting next to Taurasi on the podium. Houston Comets, Moscow Spartak, Olympics, national teams, the all-time WNBA leading scorer has been around the world and back. She has won multiple championships, but she was never part of UConn-Tennessee and you should have seen the look on her face when Taurasi said what she said. It was priceless.
"Shots fired," Thompson said, breaking into a laugh.
Taurasi, the Great Chain Puller, was pulling everybody's chain. She wanted to bust on Tennessee for not getting back to the Final Four since 2008. Taurasi wants a resumption of the series, too. On Friday, she said, "I think it's time. If I have to wear an orange shirt [the West colors ], the least they can do is give us the game back. It's classic. When you hear UConn-Tennessee, that brings up a lot of good memories and intense matchups. I think it would benefit both states, both schools, both programs."
She said her favorite memory was from 2002 when she hung 32 points on the Lady Vols in a 14-point victory in Knoxville and punched a basket stanchion in emotion because she needed to hit "something orange."
Look, few people have banged on the computer keys more than I have in documenting the back and forth, the love and hate, the respect and the disrespect of UConn and Tennessee. When Pat Summitt pulled the plug on the series in 2007, few screamed nastier words. It's deep. It has been ugly. It has been complicated. It came to a head with the recruiting of Maya Moore. But, really, it can be as simple as this now:
If the two best players in the world, two players who define their great programs, want UConn-Tennessee, shouldn't their opinion count more than anyone else's?
"It's a great rivalry," Taurasi added Saturday. "When I think back on being young, it was the two teams I always wanted to watch play. In the absence of that, some really good rivalries are forming, Stanford, Rutgers, Notre Dame. But if those two can get back on the same court, I think it would be a lot of fun."
Although there are folks in Knoxville and in certain WNBA cities who probably don't think so, nobody is more fun than Taurasi. Cheeky, forever playful, claiming every WNBA All-Star Game should be at Mohegan Sun, she showed up this weekend with material that Geno Auriemma would have envied. Taurasi has picked up a whopping seven technical fouls this summer, getting fined, even getting suspended for a game. Lamont Simpson wore a "referee cam" during the game that looked more like some kind of sci-fi head weapon. You could have sworn if Taurasi said one cross word he would have disintegrated her.
"I've tried to do the dog-in-submission thing," Taurasi said Friday in explaining how she couldn't change. "It doesn't work for me.
"I think I'm in the red this year. I don't think I've gotten paid. They probably made money off me this year."
The UConn basketball team is heading back to the White House Wednesday to be honored for its eighth national championship. Taurasi, who has been there four times between UConn and WNBA titles, riffed into a funny story how UConn associate coach Chris Dailey "had a fit" because Carmelo Anthony, there to celebrate Syracuse's national title, wore a headband.
"She just would not let it go," Taurasi said. "I'm like, 'You got a necklace on. What's the difference?' And that's my fondest memory of going to the White House."
On Friday, Taurasi was talking about the 2016 Olympics and announced, "I'm going to Rio. I'm dancing. I'm taking my bikini. I don't know if I'm playing, but I'm going." On Saturday, she ditched the bikini. When asked if Swin Cash outdid her 1-on-1 posing in the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue, Taurasi, who appeared in 2010, said, "We'll go full frontal if she wants."
Still, Taurasi, who shot 1-for-5, didn't have nearly as much fun as Parker did in the game. Throwing down a few dunks in warmups, Parker took over in the second half. At one point, she shook off a Tamika Catchings foul, completed a layup and flexed her biceps for all Connecticut to see. By virtue of the Olympics, an injury in 2011, giving birth in 2009, this was Parker's first All-Star Game. She made it count. Parker plays great in Connecticut. Remember Jan. 6, 2007? Parker not only dunked, she scored 30 points to beat the Huskies at the XL Center. No opponent had ever played a better game in Connecticut.
Last month, reports surfaced that Auriemma and Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick briefly discussed the possibility of reviving the series. Auriemma made a $10,000 donation to Summitt's foundation to fund education, support and research for early onset dimentia. The two have talked and the relationship is much better. Yet according to a report by John Altavilla of The Courant, Warlick won't schedule UConn out of respect for Summitt's wishes. "I don't think it's going to work out," Warlick told the AP. "I put it out there. We haven't discussed it since."
Discuss it again.
It's time to bury the garbage. If the best players in the series history say bring it on, shouldn't that matter plenty?