Appreciation: Sue Bird gives basketball lasting assist
Sue Bird just knows how to win. That’s what she does. It’s what she has always done. Few in sports can rival the success the point guard has had in women’s basketball. Bill Russell and Serena Williams come to mind.
Still, despite decades of success the G-O-A-T narrative is relatively new.
The Greatest Of All Time chatter seemed to pick up traction about the time the 5-foot-8 unselfish floor general stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight a few years ago.
“Sue to me in some ways is an example, or is an illustration of how the league has grown. she came in when it was just a few years old and there was no social media then and Sue was a much more private person then,” Storm owner Ginny Gilder said. “Sue really has found her voice in the last five or six years, and the league has found its voice.”
Bird’s career came to an end Tuesday night with the Seattle Storm’s 97-92 home loss to Las Vegas in Game 4 of the semifinal series. The 41-year-old Bird had eight points and eight assists.
Bird has been more outspoken off the court on various issues, including social justice, LGBTQ issues and women’s rights over the last few years since she started dating her fiancee, soccer great Megan Rapinoe.
“I felt like I was open. Everyone in my life knew. I just hadn’t had this conversation with a reporter,” Bird told The Associated Press in 2018 about her sexuality “I understand now by saying it publicly you can have an impact. That’s what we’re talking about right now.”
People have a history of listening to what champions have to say — Russell won 11 NBA titles and Williams has 23 grand slam tennis titles — particularly when they win the right way.
Bird captured two college national titles at UConn, four WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm and five Olympic gold medals with the U.S. That doesn’t include the countless titles she won while playing overseas in the Russian league during WNBA offseasons or the five FIBA World Cup championships she won.
One of the most beloved players in women’s basketball, the guard with the nerdy sense of humor doesn’t have the public swagger of her friend and fellow basketball superstar Diana Taurasi.
Bird also doesn’t have an MVP trophy, though her value has never been questioned. Her greatness comes from putting teammates in position to do great things. The Storm saw it and they drafted her No. 1 in 2002, and she has spent her entire WNBA career in Seattle.
Bird is part a rare club; a group of professional basketball players to play 20-plus years with the same organization, including Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki.
“The bond she has with Seattle, that is a very special thing,” said Dan Hughes, who coached Bird for a couple of seasons as well as on the Olympic team in 2021. “In a major league city that has football, had basketball, has baseball has all those kind of sports. has a university close, there’s nothing quite like what she’s created.
“In that community, there are people that all have their Sue Bird story. People identify with her in Seattle and that doesn’t happen very often. When it does it’s pretty special.”
Like other aging champions in Serena, who indicated she is done with competitive tennis, and Allyson Felix, the track star who also retired this year, Bird didn’t let her career end without putting up a fight.
She hit a 3-pointer in Game 3 that gave Seattle the lead with 0.8 seconds left only to see Las Vegas hit a shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime where the Aces pulled away for the win.
Bird had a rough finale to her career scoring just eight points on 3 of 8 shooting.
The loss ended a ride she has shared with Taurasi, also a UConn alum.
“Looking back on it, it’s been incredible to be in a job with your best friend for 20 years,” Taurasi said. “You don’t get to do that, most people don’t get to do that in any job, let alone basketball. So, it’s been an incredible journey.”
One that has made Bird — the WNBA’s career assists leader — one of the most popular and respected players to ever play in the league.
After Bird announced this would be her final season, fans flocked to watch her play one last time. Storm road games routinely drew the largest crowds of the season for the host team, including 14,162 who came to see Bird’s final game in Phoenix against Taurasi.
It’s an admiration that carries over to her peers.
“When you play with her and are in her presence as a teammate, you have an appreciation of so much for what she brings,” said Jen Rizzotti, who coached her on the 2021 Olympic team. “She is so well respected, the players in the league talk so highly about her and look up to her.
And of course, the way Bird carries herself would make any parent proud.
“To see what she’s accomplished, I can’t say enough about her,” said Bird’s mother, Nancy. “It’s amazing, she’s always loved the sport.”
Bird has managed to literally share her love of the game with others.
“She’ treated people the right way and led the right way,” Rizzotti said. Bird “has been so unselfish in a way that made other players look really good, it’s hard for anyone to dislike her.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.
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