Sue Bird, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, is one of five WNBA players featured in the 2022 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
During her photo shoot in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, the four-time WNBA champ and five-time Olympic gold medal winner talked to SI Swim about her career, and how she handles challenges on and off the court.
The 2022 Swimsuit Issue will be available at newsstands starting May 19. You can reserve your copy now.
More from SwimLife
[Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.]
SI Swim: We know mental health is really important to you. Through injuries over the years and learning how to work with your teammates—just the ups and downs of life and playing professionally. How do you take care of yourself?
Sue Bird: The biggest thing I've learned, and this is more recent than you might think—it's only been probably the last five, six years of my 20-year career—you really have to be kind to yourself … you're not always going to be perfect. You're not going to get it right every time, you're going to make mistakes. It's when you beat yourself up in those moments that can cause a lot. So, I have really gone out of my way [to work on this] because it's not my strong suit to just be nice to myself, show myself some grace, be kind, whatever you want to call it.
Other things I've added to my routine is meditation. I have a busy [life], things are just constantly like ping-pong. So, if I can just quiet that and give it a break, even for just 10 minutes … I get to quiet my brain.
SI Swim: What is some advice you would give to someone who is struggling with how they're feeling about themselves or their aging? We live in a world where everything on social media is tainted and people are [putting themselves through] a lot of surgeries.
Bird: The fact that I'm 41 [and in the Swimsuit issue], it's kinda cool to be in here. I'll speak for myself with this shoot— if I appear confident, that took a lot of time. It’s not like I wasn't born with that. It can feel overwhelming to [feel like you have to] climb a mountain in one day, but that's not what it is. … If you can only get 10 minutes in [for a workout], that's great. Don't like beat yourself up because you didn't get the full-hour workout or because you had some pizza. Whatever it is. Don't beat yourself up if it's been a week or two where you weren't able to do it. Those smaller workouts all add up. Whatever it is that you have in your life … don't discount [them].
SI Swim: You and [Megan Rapinoe] are such a power couple and use your platforms to speak out on issues. Talk us through the importance and awareness of knowing your impact and what you do with that.
Bird: Megan has taught me a lot and both of us recognize the importance of representation. I had been out to my family and friends, really everybody in my life, except the public and, you know, like telling a reporter or that kind of thing. My teammates, my franchise, my agents all knew [around 2003]. So it was interesting when we met in 2016, we started dating, Megan was publicly out. Technically, I wasn't. So, we talked a lot and I was [in the frame of mind] of, “I don't hide it, everybody knows. I'm sure even the media and fans knew—I just hadn’t said it [publicly]. That was when I realized, “OK, there is a difference. There is a difference because you're going to help someone else.”
For anyone who's come out, there's always a story and progression of things and you go through it. So I had my own experience, and just because I got to the other side doesn't mean [I couldn’t help] people who are going through similar things. So, I came out publicly. It was like 2017 at this point—and I'm using the dates for a reason because, what's interesting is, when I came out, it was not a big deal, which was great.
People obviously covered it, but it wasn't the same as it was 10, 20 years ago. Really, the people’s whose shoulders we're actually standing on is the Martina Navratilovas [of the world].
SI Swim: Growing up, did you struggle with any securities or the journey to learning to accept your body and learn to love yourself?
Bird: When I was growing up, I was a total tomboy. Then, at some point, you get to middle school and you start to realize, “Oh, I don't dress girly,” and “Oh, I'm being judged for not dressing girlier.” “Do I have to dress more girly?” I was just a total athlete. It kind of continued through high school and you're just trying to find out who you are.
I think back to my early professional days, even 10 years ago. It's been a struggle because there was what I knew I felt comfortable in and then what I thought [was beautiful] when I looked in the mirror. I knew that didn't match up with, I guess, what society was telling a girl or woman what was beautiful, what society was saying you needed to wear. If I went to a photo shoot, maybe my eyes went to, I don't know, the sportier outfit. And [the people organizing the shoot would say], “Oh, the dresses are over here,” but that never was super-comfortable for me. What's been really fun for me the last five, six years is really finding myself from a fashion sense. I would much rather wear like some dope suit and sneakers. In a suit … that's like speaking to my femininity, the essence of my femininity.
SI Swim: First overall pick of the 2002 WNBA Draft. You’ve won five Olympic gold medals, four WNBA titles, a 12-time WNBA All-Star, one of the WNBA’s top 15 players of all time … just some of your accomplishments! Is there anything you’re most proud of?
Bird: I don't know if it's sunk in. I think it's one of those things you'll appreciate more when you're done. I definitely have moments where I can look back and be proud of certain moments or proud of certain achievements, but also it's about who you do it with and the journey of that. I've been really fortunate … to play with the players I've played with, some of the all-time greats. It's hard to pick what I'm most proud of, sometimes I think it's some of the things I've done toward the end of my career because I didn’t expect to still be playing.
I joke that I'm on borrowed time. I think back to some of the earlier moments, when I was proving myself, when I hadn't done anything [yet] and getting over the hump of actually winning for the first time. There’s all kinds of stuff sprinkled in between. Maybe what I'm most proud of is I've done it in different decades—not many people can say they stayed on the top of their game for this long. That might be what I'm most proud of, that's so cool.