In 10 years, Sue Bird will be 50 years old and at this rate, she will still be dominating the game of basketball. The 11-time All-Star has four WNBA Championships with the Seattle Storm, four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cups and two NCAA Championships with the Connecticut Huskies.
If Bird takes the court during the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, she will join Team USA's Teresa Edwards as the only basketball player in the world — male or female — to win five Olympic medals. Bird’s former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi is also positioned to capture a fifth Olympic medal if she plays and wins this year.
The top overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bird's name is all over the WNBA record book.
In her 17 seasons, she has played 16,430 regular-season minutes and 519 games — both WNBA records. Her 2,888 assists entering the 2021 season is also a record and nearly 300 more than previous record-holder Ticha Penicheiro. She ranks third all-time in three-pointers made with 878 and eighth in scoring at 6,262 points, one point shy of Hall of Famer and former Olympic teammate Lisa Leslie.
Seattle point guard Sue Bird directs traffic during Game 2 of the 2020 WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces. (Photo: Mary Holt, USA TODAY Sports)
As Bird enters her 18th season as the oldest player in the league, 58% of WNBA general managers say she has the best basketball IQ — tops among all active players. When GMs were asked which active player would make the best head coach someday, the overwhelming majority (83%) said Bird.
USA TODAY Sports caught up with the icon as she prepares to play in the WNBA’s 25th season. Bird and the Storm host the Las Vegas Aces in their season opener, Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.
You are 40 years young. You will likely be playing in your fifth Olympics this summer. You have been dominating the game for years, and it doesn’t seem like you’re letting up anytime soon. What is driving you to continue to play this game?
Bird: I mean it's a pretty simple answer. It's just that I enjoy it. You know, not many people get to be as passionate as I am and have as much fun as I'm having when it comes to their job, you know? And, I think as a professional athlete, that can be said for a lot of us and we're really lucky. So the way I see it, you know, I get paid to play a sport, I still enjoy it, I still love it. And honestly, even in the moments of defeat, they're still enjoyable parts. Obviously, nothing is better than when you win, that's for sure. When I get up in the morning, I still want to do it, and I feel like I'm lucky that I can say that about my job (because) not many people get to say that.
- TIPPING OFF: Five storylines to watch as 2021 season begins
- IONESCU: Former No. 1 pick kicks off WNBA season with buzzer-beater
- PICTURE PERFECT: Hall of Fame only part of Tamika Catchings' journey
- BREANNA STEWART: Becomes first WNBA player since 2010 with signature shoe
You are very much embedded in today’s conversations around social justice, equality and equity. And it’s not only you being vocal, but Megan Rapinoe, your partner, is just as vocal. Do you influence each other to keep pushing for change?
Bird: Yeah. I mean obviously, Megan and I talked about these issues and topics a lot. I think it takes a different shape every time something happens. There might be kind of a brainstorming session, where we're just throwing different things at each other, trying to both see what feels right. But we are also educating ourselves at the same time, you know? So that's always good to have somebody to do that with.
I think there are times where we learn from each other. Whether through somebody's experience or something lived through, we share those things. It is wonderful to have somebody that you both love and trust because some of these topics are difficult conversations.
Sue Bird, right, and Megan Rapinoe wave to the crown during a 2019 NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
Last season, in the Wubble and relatively safe from everything that was going on in the ‘outside world.’ What are your thoughts going into this season where the bubble has been stripped away and the 25th season will feel like a normal basketball season would? Any hesitations or nerves?
Bird: No, not really. I mean I think you know watching the documentary (ESPN's "144") actually, definitely took all of us back, myself included. I think you kind of remember just like how long the season was, in terms of every aspect. If you want to talk specifically about COVID, you know this year, there's obviously the fact that we're not in a bubble. We're flying or traveling commercial and will be staying in hotels. So I think as we are heading into the season, there's definitely some apprehension around it.
But I have to be honest, being able to get vaccinated, knowing that a lot of my teammates are vaccinated and a lot of the league is vaccinated, we're lucky in a way. There were leagues that didn’t have that luxury. The NFL didn't have that luxury. So we're lucky to be able to start our season from a place of being vaccinated. It does change things for me.
Personally, it has kind of settled any nerves that I may have had. Something that actually plays a role in our league is that we are also really serious about vaccine education. We went out of our way to make sure our league was vaccinated but also wanted to make sure we could be knowledgeable in order to spread the word.
We want to continue to change narratives. Whether you want to talk about pay equity or Black Lives Matter or Say Her Name and everything in between, we are going to continue to fight those fights. And to be honest, we’re like a walking protest just being here. We just have to continue to do our thing.
Sue Bird has taken an active role in social and political causes in recent years Here she wears a "Vote!" shirt before Game 2 of the 2020 WNBA semifinals. (Photo: Mary Holt, USA TODAY Sports)
Last season there was a 68% increase in viewership and people are excited for the WNBA season to start. There's much more momentum than we've seen in a long time, heading into the 25th season. What are you looking forward to most?
Bird: I think I'm just looking forward to getting back out there on the court, trying to defend our title and seeing other great basketball being played because at the end of the day, as a basketball league we're always going to be focused on that product, and I'm super excited to see everybody back out there simultaneously.
It's an Olympic year, so that's exciting. Obviously, I'm trying to make that team, but regardless, Olympic years, always have a different vibe and excitement to them.
And then, as far as the momentum piece, I think there's a lot of people that are starting to tune into our league and pay attention. So, just continuing to build on that, and understanding that that's always a goal, to continue to build that momentum.
We don't want this to just be a fleeting moment of momentum. We want to build on it because that is really important in terms of the growth of the league long term. I think, especially as an older player you know, it's just so important that (when) I do leave, I helped leave the league in a good place so it can continue to grow. So that's always in the back of my head.
Sue Bird, playing during the 2016 Rio Olympics, has won four Olympic gold medals with Team USA. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
With that growth continuing, where do you see the league in 10 years?
Bird: To be honest, I don't necessarily have an answer that is like, 'oh I hope to see a million-dollar contract or I hope to see charter flights.’ I don't necessarily have that kind of answer, although those two things would be amazing.
I think for a long time it felt like the world of female sports and in the WNBA — particularly the world we live in today — every time we have had a little bit of gain in the momentum department, it is usually two steps forward one step back, but it has felt like two steps forward and three steps back for a really long time. And to be honest, for the next 10 years, I would just need to change that ratio. Even it is two steps forward, one step back, that’s progress. If it could be 10 steps forward and only one step back, that’s even better. As long as we’re continuing to push forward, the momentum we have now can eliminate those setbacks, the league is guaranteed to grow in the next 10 years. And yes, I would love it if somebody was signing a million-dollar deal and we’re charting flights because that means all of this work now and all of the efforts we are putting in now is worth it.
So in 10 years, you'll probably be thinking about retirement. Maybe —
Bird: Are you talking about me? If I am still playing at fifty… Woooow.
When that day comes, what do you see yourself doing?
Bird: I can’t imagine a world where I’m not involved with women’s basketball. I just can’t. I love it too much. I just care about it too much. I want to grow it. So I just can’t imagine not being involved. Now, what does that look like? T.B.D. (To be determined.)
Have you had thoughts of coaching or ownership?
Bird: Coaching would obviously be just kind of this natural progression, especially with the way that I play the game. But there's a part of the life of coaching, I know, it's difficult and I feel like as an athlete, I've kind of already lived the life, you know what I mean? Like, the life on the road and the daily grind, so I might want to get away from that part of it. So maybe that does look like something in ownership. Maybe that does look like something in broadcasting. I'm not quite sure. But like I said, I do know that I can’t imagine that I am not connected in some way shape or form. I just got to figure out what that is.
Contact Analis Bailey at [email protected] or on Twitter @analisbailey.
Source: Read Full Article