Sue Bird has flown the coop. The Seattle guard had hoped to win her fifth WNBA championship with one last postseason run, but the Storm was eliminated Tuesday night by the Las Vegas Aces in the playoff semifinals. Now is the time to look back on and celebrate the 41-year-old’s career, n ot just on the court, where she is clearly one of the greatest to ever play the game, but also with her advocacy for causes near to her heart.
Bird took the Seattle franchise to new heights during her 21 years in the city. In the pros she always demonstrated what she had learned from coach Geno Auriemma at UConn, where she won two NCAA titles and was the Naismith player of the year. “He would always say, ‘Basketball’s not a game of how to – it’s a game of when to.’ You learn this very quickly,” Bird says. “When you become a professional, everybody can pass. Everybody can shoot. Everybody can dribble. Everybody can do the things, but not everybody knows when to do those things. Like when to pass, when to dribble. And that subtle difference is what makes a player make the WNBA or not, literally, so I’ve always tried to live by that.”
Despite having to sit out two seasons due to injury, she won four championships (in three different decades), was named to a record 13 All-Star Games and is the winningest player in WNBA history. In 2017, she broke Ticha Penicheiro’s all-time assists record, ending her career with 3,234. With Team USA, she has won five Olympic gold medals and four FIBA world championships.
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Though she contemplated retiring after the 2021 season, fans asked for one more year and Bird obliged. This past June, though, she announced that the 2022 season would be her swan song. For her last regular-season home game, on August 7, the fans turned up to show their appreciation and support, with the largest crowd (18,000) in team history. Bird was visibly moved. “I just want to say from the bottom of my heart how thankful I am, not only for today and all of you showing up and supporting us but for 21 years,” she said after the game. “I mean, listen, I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks to lose my last game, but you know what, I lost my first game, too, so it’s O.K.”
Following the playoff loss to Las Vegas, the home crowd at Climate Pledge Arena chanted “Thank you, Sue” and gave her a standing ovation. “It’s sad and obviously I’m so thankful,” a teary Bird said in an ESPN interview mid-court. “I’m going to miss it so much. It’sbeen my honor to play for this franchise and these fans.”
So what will Bird do next? Will she coach, work as a commentator, simply enjoy retirement? Whatever it is, it’s clear she isn’t afraid to step out of her comfort zone, having appeared in the 2022 SI Swimsuit issue. In July, Bird joined an ownership group for the NWSL’S NJ/NY Gotham FC and is expected to have a significant advisory role. (Fiancee Megan Rapinoe is the captain of the NWSL’s OL Reign.) Bird co-founded the media and commerce production company TOGETHXR with USWNT striker Alex Morgan, snowboarder Chloe Kim and swimmer Simone Manuel to ensure that women athletes get the coverage they deserve. “Women only get 4% of total [media] coverage,” she says. “It came as a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ moment [for all of us] because we complain about this… We want more coverage. The whole idea is sharing the spotlight. Giving the spotlight right to women. Women of sports, women of color, but it’s not just sports. It’s also lifestyle culture because it’s all interconnected these days anyway.” No matter what Bird decides to do next, we know her voice will be heard.