The most credentialed backcourt mates in women’s basketball history are back, and of course they are. Certified gym rats do not abandon ship, even one that might be unsinkable without them.
“It’s such a rewarding experience,” Sue Bird said before the United States women’s national team tuned up for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with a 104-89 victory over Australia on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. “Why wouldn’t you come back?”
“If they ask and you’re hopefully playing at that level, and you get a chance to play for the U.S., you just do it because it’s bigger than you,” said Diana Taurasi, a two-season teammate of Bird’s during a storied era at Connecticut at the turn of the century.
In the run-up to Rio, the athletes getting much of the attention have been those bailing on the Games, making personal judgment calls, committing no ethical crimes.
|Let LeBron James and Others Bail From Rio. These Women? Not a Chance - ap|
“There’s always something leading up to the Olympics — it’s always something,” Bird said.
Taurasi nodded when reminded of her and Bird’s first Olympics, Athens in 2004. In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, she said, “There were moments where it was nasty. We’d ask for directions, and they would say, ‘We don’t speak Bush.’”
Taurasi being Taurasi, sardonically forthcoming, added: “I certainly don’t — I speak Clinton.”
She wasn’t ready to endorse Rio as a model for preparation and execution and — given the raging drug controversy enveloping the Russians — a global love-in. But hoping for the best, she has decided after all these years, is the point of it all.
“I always say the Olympics are a way to put problems aside for two weeks, galvanize each other,” she said.
On the men’s basketball side, there has been abundant praise for Carmelo Anthony for not following his good friend LeBron James and others who decided they had contributed enough and would sit Rio out.
Like Taurasi, Bird and Catchings, this will be Anthony’s fourth Olympics. Unlike the women — bidding to equal Teresa Edwards’s and Lisa Leslie’s record of four Olympic gold medals — Anthony and the men won only bronze in Athens, the last time either United States team failed to deliver on what most Americans see as their manifest right.
As much as the men, what might be the most talented American women’s team yet carries the burden of metronomic expectation, just without the fanfare. The United States women have won five straight Olympic gold medals, have a 41-game winning streak and have become a premier dynasty of Olympic team sports.
Coach Geno Auriemma explained that nothing was guaranteed against the likes of a tall and talented Australian team that led the Americans by 4 points at halftime in their 2012 semifinal in London.
“I don’t know why I keep putting myself in this situation,” he said, sparing no sarcasm. “It’s not bad enough that we’ve got to win every game at UConn. Now you got a job where after we beat France in the gold medal game in London, they had a parade when they got back to Paris. We won the gold medal, and people said, ‘Hey, good job, what do you got going for dinner?’”
He shrugged and said: “That’s who we are. That’s what we do. What are you going to do?”
For starters, he will trust in a roster that has five of his former Connecticut stars, with Maya Moore and Tina Charles joining Taurasi and Bird in the starting lineup. On Sunday, Elena Delle Donne carried the first-half offense with 17 points, but Taurasi heated up and finished with 20.
Bird, the pass-first point guard Auriemma needed for this high-octane team, took one shot, did not score but was conspicuously in control with six assists and no turnovers in 24-plus minutes.
Auriemma said he had to be prodded into coaching again after winning in London in 2012. No doubt, having the endearing and occasionally confounding players he often refers to in tandem — “D and Sue” — made it easier to say yes.
“There was no weakness in either one,” he said. “Both could handle the ball. Both could shoot it. Both were great passers and incredible competitors. And they’re always the two smartest guys on the floor. The only time they get in trouble is when they argue with each other — who is smarter, because neither of them has ever been wrong in their lives. Ever. Ever. If you ever catch Sue or D going, ‘Listen, I was wrong,’ get it on tape, because it’ll be the first time.”
At 35, Bird has the scars from six knee operations to show for the miles and minutes logged with Seattle in the W.N.B.A. and in Europe.
Taurasi is 34, back with Phoenix in the W.N.B.A. after a one-summer hiatus to placate her winter-season employers in Russia. As Auriemma said, these women have plenty to do, paychecks to earn, and yet they always make time.
None of three four-time Olympians — Catchings is the oldest at 37 — may get to equal the five Olympic appearances by Edwards and Leslie, who were both courtside Sunday. With the talent pool growing every cycle, this could be the last run — at least together — for Taurasi and Bird.
Last word on “D and Sue,” as usual, to Auriemma:
“I just wish the people who covered my team back home when they were playing were old enough to understand when I said, ‘Yeah, our backcourt is Jerry West and Gail Goodrich,’ and they didn’t look at me, like, ‘Yeah, Gail Goodrich, who’d she play for?’”
A version of this article appears in print on August 1, 2016, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: Let James and Others Bail. These Women? No Chance. www.nytimes.com