As the Seattle Storm warmed up for their game against the Phoenix Mercury on July 10, one player was always in front of the rest of the team. One player was doing extra stretches and taking extra layups. One player was putting herself in a leadership role. That player was longtime Seattle point guard Sue Bird.
Bird’s 14-year WNBA career, all of which she has spent with the Storm, has been one of the best in the league’s history. She has led the Storm to two championships and has received eight All-Star selections. This past Sunday night she became the first WNBA player to score 5,000 points and reach 2,000 assists.
At 34 years old, however, and after undergoing eight surgeries, all on the lower half of her body, Bird is no longer in her prime. The Storm also have a young, inexperienced roster, which has been evident this season. They have endured two five-game losing streaks on their way to a 3–12 start over their first 15 games.
Bird is also scheduled to become a free agent this off-season, which will prompt a major decision at the end of this year: Will she continue to play basketball in the WNBA, and if so, where?
Sue Bird was a proven winner. She helped Christ the King High School win two New York state championships. She led the University of Connecticut to two national titles. Then the Storm selected her with the first pick of the 2002 draft.
“Being the number one pick, I think there is a little bit of pressure. People expect things of you, they want to see you perform, but luckily I was in a really good situation here in Seattle,” said Bird of her first season in the league. “There was another number one pick who had been there for one year, Lauren Jackson, so we got to do it together.”
Jackson and Bird immediately clicked on the court and that season led the Storm to their first playoff appearance since the team was founded in 2000. One year after missing the ’03 playoffs, Bird and Jackson captured their first WNBA title. “Looking back on that 2004 team, that friendship [with Jackson] did help us win,” reflected Bird.
However, after the 2004 season, the Storm struggled to find success in the playoffs. From ’05 to ’09, Seattle was eliminated in the first round of the postseason. “You don’t necessarily cherish [success] at the time,” said Bird. “It wasn’t until 2010, when we were able to win it again, that I realized that it’s actually really hard just to get back to the Finals.”
The Storm’s 2010 season was their best in franchise history. They finished the regular season with a 26–8 record and went undefeated in the playoffs. At the core of the team was Bird, Jackson, and fellow point guard Tanisha Wright.
After being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round in 2011 and ’12, Bird missed the following season while recovering from surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee. Returning to WNBA action in ’14, she was met with a heavily remodeled Storm roster. Jackson had to sit out the year after operations on her right knee and left Achilles, and longtime WNBA star Tina Thompson had retired. The Storm finished 12–22 and missed the playoffs.
A New Home?
With the Storm struggling, there was discussion about Bird possibly leaving Seattle for another team. Said Bird, “There was some talk about staying or leaving. I feel really connected to this franchise, not just because of the basketball, but also because of the fans and the community. I feel a part of it, and I wanted to see it through.”
This year, Bird once again has a younger roster with which she has to work. However, she doesn’t see her role changing much. “I’m just more aware that they’re younger and inexperienced,” she said. “Since the day I got here I’ve had to be a leader, both by example and vocally. This year I’ve had to be a little more vocal. There were some other players throughout the years who picked up that slack for me.”
Apart from playing on the court, Bird also worked as a commentator for college basketball on ESPN networks this past offseason. Many have speculated that this may be Bird’s next step after basketball.
Ultimately, Bird hasn’t decided what’s next. “I haven’t even thought about that. I think it’s one of those things that you cross that bridge when you come to it,” Bird said. “I want to finish my career on the right note, whatever that might look like, go from there, and see what life brings.”
Photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images (action), Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images (resting)