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Meet Team USA star Sue Bird: Time flies

Time has defined Sue Bird’s career, as she enters her fourth Olympic Games, alongside familiar faces. For her she sees that since the team is older, they’re better too.

USA Select Team v United States Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Time.

The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.

For USA Women’s Basketball three-time Olympic gold medalist and Seattle Storm guard, Sue Bird, time has been good.

The 35-year-old All- Star knows that her time with Team USA is finite; an expiration date attached with purchase.

In an interview with Newsday, Bird reflected on time passed.

“Now that I'm here. I definitely look back, and I realize so much has to go your way in a lot of ways to get to this point. I just feel really thankful and very excited."

A lot has undoubtedly gone the Syosset, New York native’s way, whose love for the game started when she was six years old.

“The way I got started with basketball was a simple story of a little kid who wanted to be like her older sister,” explained Bird in a WNBA Revealed interview, “I pretty much followed everything she did and luckily enough for me she picked up a basketball.”

Basketball in hand, Bird made a name for herself early, leading Christ the King High School to two state titles during her junior and senior campaigns, taking home the personal nod as the 1998 state tournament’s MVP.

And with college offers aplenty as a top high school recruit, the decision to play for Geno Auriemma at UCONN should have been easy, but Bird found herself faced with the classic tale of two evils: emotion versus logic.

“I was on the phone with Coach Auriemma,” said Bird “[and I told him] I feel like in my heart I want to go to UCONN, but I think my head is saying Vanderbilt.”

Coach Auriemma’s response: “Well I hope you follow your heart. Click.”

Bird followed her heart.

But what has made Coach Auriemma one of the winningest collegiate coaches of all time, surpassing John Wooden’s record with 11 NCAA titles, is the understanding that greatness is also about timelines. The ability to seize the opportunity. For Coach Auriemma, he saw his opportunity.

“Sophomore year Coach Auriemma took me into his office, and he said that, ‘Anything bad that happens is your fault,’” explained Bird. “He was basically saying I had to take responsibility for everything. I had to be a vocal leader.”

It was just the motivation Bird needed.

During her reign at UCONN (1999-2002), Bird lead the Huskies to a 136-9 overall record, four NCAA tournament appearances, and two NCAA titles to round out her sophomore and senior year in 2000 and 2002.

A struggling Seattle Storm franchise would be Bird’s second investor, selecting her No.1 overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft, desperate that her winning ways would transpire when she arrived in Seattle.

However, almost 3,000 miles from home, Bird found herself in uncharted territories as she opened her rookie season in Seattle.

The forecast: Losing.

“Going from college where we didn't lose a lot at all,” said Bird “[and then] in Seattle we had lost seven in the first three weeks. I remember coming into the locker room after our very first lost and being pissed. I realized this is just the way it is, and I need to deal with it.”

Time.

Adversity would test Bird in her young years in the league. Forcing her to stabilize her role, which included learning to play alongside another former No. 1 draft pick and then Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson, while remaining a vocal leader who had the weight of a franchise on her back.

Bird would find equilibrium and a pro-style that proved complementary to winning championships, earning the Storm two championship titles in 2004 and 2010.

Bird’s road to Rio would appear, dare to say, paved of gold. She is one of only nine players to have earned an Olympic gold medal, FIBA World Championship gold medal, WNBA title and NCAA title. With four of the remaining nine being members of this year’s National Team (besides Bird) with Tamika Catchings, Maya Moore, and Diana Taurasi.

But Bird is the first to dispel any false fallacies that what USA Women’s Basketball has been able to accomplish (with five consecutive Olympic gold medals) is easy.

“Contrary to what the scoreboard might tell you, it’s really not that easy,” said Bird. “It can be stressful at times trying to come together with these other players and figure it out and make it work. Yeah, we might make it look easy with some of the ways that we play and some of the teams that we’ve dominated, but it’s really not.”

With a jammed-packed Olympic schedule, Coach Auriemma and Team USA had little over two weeks to find team chemistry before playing in the world’s grandest sporting spectacle. However, with familiarity Team USA’s biggest asset, Coach Auriemma, Bird, and the rest of this year’s national team, know they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to report history -- to go for gold one final time, together.

And why not?

Coach Auriemma lead Team USA to gold in the 2012 London games. But when offered the position to return as the head coach in 2016, Auriemma reflected.

In an article by NBC Sports, Auriemma stated:

“I was reminded that the opportunity to represent your country is one you don’t take lightly,” said Auriemma. “This is not an opportunity that comes along too often. I was humbled by the request, and I’m honored to do it again.”

But the true catalyst for Coach Auriemma’s return was in large part the opportunity to coach both Bird and three-time Olympian, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi one last time. With comparisons to Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, Coach Auriemma should take credit for putting together the best backcourt in women’s college basketball in Bird and Taurasi, but his respect to their game is simply too high to do so.

“I wouldn’t be good enough as a coach to guide the team through a gold medal [at Rio 2016],” Auriemma said at the end of a three-day national team camp at the University of Connecticut on Tuesday.

“I need [Bird and Taurasi] to help me. That’s how good they are, and that’s how smart they are. And that’s how used to winning they are. So, I wouldn’t trust myself to be able to do it without them,” he shared via his interview with NBC Sports.

Vulnerability, familiarity, humility, respect… the list goes on when it comes to what Team USA is built off of, but Bird knows what’s at stake as she enters what could be her final dance with Coach Auriemma.

“I understand that right now we are standing at five gold medals in a row, hopefully going for our sixth, and yeah, that’s a lot of time. People see that streak, and they view it as dominant, which it is, but each team has its own journey, its own path.

“There is some stress involved there. And yes, have we been dominant, the U.S. as a whole? Absolutely, but there are no guarantees.”

No guarantees, no absolutes. These are simply fundamentals of competitive sports, of life.

And for the three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Bird is the first to appreciate that older may, in fact, be Team USA’s winning grace.

“We had the right pieces [back in London 2012], clearly, because we won a gold medal, and now it’s just we are all four years older, wiser, better – I hope, and now we added some amazing talent. It’s not anything different. I think it’s just older.”

Time is fickle, and for the maturing Bird the question remains: What’s next?

For Bird, the response use to be: “To win more. But I realize now that can’t be the answer anymore.”