Seattle guard Sue Bird sat down in her post-game video interview with an amused smile and a little comical look at teammate Breanna Stewart, who threw her Storm green and gold confetti. Bird was thrilled to celebrate her fourth title following her 92-59 win against the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
But there was also a hint of disbelief after a tough season in Florida̵
“Being younger, you talk about being in the moment and you don’t even know what that means. But as an older player, I totally understand,” Bird said, and then tried to describe the environment. “Listen, out there, it’s weird. There are no fans. Like the level of excitement – and just the way the game ended with the score, it was – we didn’t really know how to react.
“So I think for me right now, it’s kind of – it’s almost surreal, shock. I’ll be honest, even today I’m getting ready for the game, thinking about it, I was getting excited at the thought of potentially winning. I have a feeling it will hit more later, and for me as an older player, I think it’s coming out more exciting than exciting. “
Bird became the second-oldest player to win a WNBA title behind Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was 13 days old from the age of 41 when she won with the Minnesota Lynx in 2011.
This is the fourth title for the storm, tying them for most of all time with Houston (1997-2000) and Minnesota (2011, ’13, ’15, ’17). But Storm’s titles didn’t all come in a tight cluster of years; the previous ones were in 2004, 2010 and 2018. Bird is the only common denominator for all of them, as he has once again concluded his 17th season in the WNBA.
“I think the fact that I’ve been able to do that over several decades, with the same franchise, not many people can tell,” Bird said. “Recreating it over time and staying at a high level over time is definitely something I’m proud of, because it wasn’t easy.”
Bird underwent knee surgery in May 2019 and missed all last season. He then suffered a bone bruise to the same knee earlier this season and was limited to 11 of 22 regular season games.
“This is the only time I’m not going to sweeten it. It’s been hard,” he said. “Lots of ups, lots of lows. I think the hardest part of being an older player is when there is physical discomfort, you start wondering if you can do it again. You start wondering why you are doing it. You start wondering. if it’s worth it because it can be difficult. “
However, once the playoffs began, Bird was again in charge, as if he wanted the years to fade away. Bird has averaged 9.5 points and 9.2 assists in these six games. His 16 assists in Game 1 on Friday were a career high and the WNBA Finals and post-season overall record. On Tuesday, he got five points and seven assists in a game he decided long before the fourth quarter, which Bird happily spent on the bench trying to take it all.
Bird has earned universal praise in the basketball world, even since LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, who is also in his seventeenth season and is aiming for his fourth NBA title.
“The fact that LeBron recognizes me that way is obviously a huge compliment,” Bird said. “I think we’re two of the players – you can throw Tom Brady and Diana [Taurasi] in there – the four of us are kind of an elite company of people who are closer to the end than the beginning but still able to have a huge impact on the game. “
Combining college, WNBA, overseas leagues, and international competitions such as the Olympics, Bird has celebrated championships around the world. In the WNBA, she first came in front of the sold-out crowd at KeyArena in October 2004. Bird was just days away from her 24th birthday and admits that at the time she thought playing for the titles would be a normal occurrence.
Sue Bird opens up about winning her fourth WNBA title with Seattle Storm after defeating Las Vegas Aces 92-59.
But with so much talent concentrated in a relatively small league, even making it to the WNBA Finals is a challenge. The Storm didn’t do it again until 2010, when they wiped out the Atlanta Dream. When Game 3 concluded in Atlanta, Bird leapt into the arms of teammate Lauren Jackson, who was the league’s MVP that year.
Nobody realized how close Jackson, 29 at the time, was to the end of his career due to injuries. He would only play parts of two more seasons in the WNBA.
Another eight years passed before Bird returned to the finals in 2018 and won again in one fell swoop, this time against the Washington Mystics.
UConn manager Geno Auriemma was in attendance at that game, and he continued to proudly watch his former point guard win.
“For Sue, her incredible consistency as a player comes from her consistency as a person,” Auriemma said. “She is an incredible leader on the basketball court of epic proportions. As long as she has the opportunity to lead the team, they will find a way to win.”
Six years ago, however, Bird questioned herself. She underwent knee surgery that cost her the 2013 season. In 2014, Storm lost the playoffs and coach Brian Agler left to take control of the Los Angeles Sparks. Bird had felt physically poor all season and knew some people thought it was almost over by the time she approached 34.
Bird is committed to getting into the best shape of her life. He also decided to stick with Storm rather than explore options as a free agent.
His faith in the organization paid off with good luck, as Storm got the No. 1 in 2015 (guard Jewell Loyd) and 2016 (forward Breanna Stewart) who became key contributors to Storm’s last two championships. Stewart was Finals MVP in 2018 and again this year, averaging 25.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists this post-season, while Loyd averaged 17.8. , 5.2 and 3.2.
“With Stewie and Jewell, their talent is really insane,” Bird said. “I’m the current generation, but I’m also the next generation for the next five, 10, 15, who knows how many years”.
In recent years, Bird has become more outspoken on many issues, including those involving the LGBTQ community. In 2017, Bird came out gay publicly and talked about her relationship with US soccer star Megan Rapinoe – who was with Bird in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida – and the two have become a popular power couple in the sport.
“It’s her leadership on the pitch,” Seattle manager Gary Kloppenburg said of what Bird means to the storm, “but also how she developed as a leader off the pitch defending a lot of things that need to be done, and for a lot of progress we need to make in this country. “
Social justice wasn’t just a trendy slogan for this season’s WNBA; it was the foundation of the bubble. Bird was an important part of the Vote Warnock movement, as players urged people to vote against one of the league owners, Atlanta Dream’s Kelly Loeffler, in his Senate run against Raphael Warnock. Loeffler’s remarks calling into question the league’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement have alienated players.
“A league of women, a league of black women, a league of gay women,” said Bird, who admitted he tended to stay away from anything controversial in the past. “We are somehow checking all these boxes of people who are simply being left behind, or not talked about. And so who is better to stand up and talk about these issues than the ones they directly concern?
“There was a lot of things on everyone’s plate, and for a variety of reasons. What I came to find is that when you are in this world of activism and organization, there is this other energy that you spend. And then, oh By the way, you have to be a basketball player too. For many people, it was exhausting at times. Everyone had to hit the “Wubble” at some point. [WNBA bubble] wall and find a way to overcome it. “
Appreciation post from Sue Bird 🐐 pic.twitter.com/LlkKtOPrki
– SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) 7 October 2020
He did and now has his fourth WNBA championship. Bird hopes to play at least until next year, during which time he could go to his fifth Olympics.
“The way I feel right now, if I can get through my offseason and keep building on that in a good way, I don’t see why I won’t play next summer,” Bird said. “I’m not trying to be shifty but, as I’ve always said, things happen. That’s what I’ve been taught the last couple of years. Anything can happen. So I’m like, you know, cautiously optimistic.
“Throughout my career, I’m lucky in a way. My position and the way I play allows for longevity. I’ve never relied on just my quickness or speed or size, of course. So as long as I keep adding to my game mentally, I would always be able to stay on the floor, provided the physical part stayed with me too. “
Auriemma credits Bird’s determination and willpower.
“Sue’s discipline is: ‘I want to win championships every year I’m in the championship. And I’ll give up all the things that stop me from doing it,'” Auriemma said. “It’s unusual, but that’s how you hold out for so long.”
Sure, Bird said, ignore the extra piece of cake or glass of wine. He diligently kept an exercise and sleep program. He fought over the pain and monotony of rehabilitation that come with injuries.
For someone who never talks about their greatness, who instead always frames it as part of the collective effort of everyone around them – teammates, coaches, properties, fans – Bird has reached the pinnacle that few athletes in any professional sport do.
“There are definitely some sacrifices you make,” Bird said. “There is a certain lifestyle that I feel like I am committed to. But I don’t see it as giving up something, because you get in return.”