Sue Bird’s farewell to the WNBA had been highly-anticipated by everyone in the women’s basketball community ever since she announced, on June 16, that she would be retiring at the end of this season.
When the moment finally came to say goodbye Tuesday night after the Seattle Storm were eliminated from the playoffs at the semifinal stage, Bird said it “just feels kinda weird.
“I think initially you feel sad about the season and the game, or I felt sad about the season and the game. And I then think as the emotions started to come to the surface, that's also what I know deep down in that that was my last game. So it was a combination of those two things.
“I didn't really want to leave the court. It felt like that’s where everybody was going, so I followed at first. But I also wanted to kind of have one last moment to say thank you, to soak it all in. Cuz in some ways it is a happy thing. You know, I'm proud of everything we’ve accomplished here and of course I'm sad, but there’s happiness too — to be able to have a moment like that with the fans, to have them chant the way they did. I know the tears don’t look like happy tears, but there’s a lot of happiness.”
“I stayed on the floor and just watched her get the love from our fans,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. “I wasn’t here to witness her last (regular-)season game and feel that energy, so I wanted to stay and feel that today. It’s amazing what she’s done for the city of Seattle, for this organization, for this team. It’s tough not finishing the season having her ride off on a white horse with a championship, but she’s won enough for the both of us, so just proud to be a part of her journey.”
You know the key numbers. 3,234 regular-season assists. Nineteen seasons. Five gold medals. Four championships. Bird is considered to be the greatest point guard to ever play on the women’s side and while her fiancée, Megan Rapinoe, may have hundreds of thousands more Twitter followers and about 1.5 million more Instagram followers, her fame transcends the walls of the women’s basketball community. And within it, she is as revered as anyone who has ever laced them up.
She will always be known first and foremost for her distributing, but Bird averaged double-figure scoring 17 times and 14-plus thrice. She shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc for her career — good for 20th all-time, one spot behind Allie Quigley and one ahead of Elena Delle Donne. Her greatness stands on its own for all these reasons, but it will also forever be linked to the greatness of two others: Lauren Jackson and Breanna Stewart. And Bird will be the first to tell you that she couldn’t have won her championships without those two, saying, “Generally speaking, you need that one.
“I played with two like franchise, epic, Hall-of-Fame, legendary players.”
“As sad as it is that we’re not having the ability to compete for a championship, I think what’s more devastating it just the fact that we’re no longer gonna be on the court with Sue,” Stewart said. “We’re not gonna see her in practice, we’re not gonna play with her in games. That’s what hurts the most, is just having that come to a reality really, really quickly. And that’s the way sports go and that’s the way things go.
“But, like Jewell (Loyd) said, it’s been a honor to be able to share the court with (Sue) and knowing that not many people get to. Usually people only know the Sue Bird that they play against or the Sue Bird that they see from afar. And we know her from up close as a mentor, as a teammate, as a friend. And just know that she’ll always be in our corner no matter what.”
As far as championships go, Bird admitted that the two that came with Stewart just hit her different.
“I’m so proud of those championships. Those groups went through a lot, they went through a lot. Some people know, some people don’t know. And we won those together. And I think they’ll always have a special meaning, those two championships for sure. And for me it was a career rejuvenation. I’ve spoken about this before — I never thought I would even get back to the Finals once the rebuild started. So I think that’s what makes it even more special for me personally. Maybe you’re catching me in a moment, but I think 2018 will go down as my favorite for so many reasons.”
Bird stayed loyal during the rebuild and on Tuesday night spoke about playing her whole career in Seattle, saying “those who have (played with one franchise) know that it’s really special and it’s really unique.
“It means a lot, it really does. You know, I've expressed this before — just being able to share this experience with the same fan base, with the city, with the community. Being a part of their lives, them being a part of mine. ... I feel such ownership for this franchise, I want it to continue to succeed. I want to help it do that because of all that it gave to me, just all the support.
“I’ve played for two ownership groups: The one that drafted me and the one that kept the team here and I’m so thankful to them. Obviously all the people who have come through the front office, all the teammates, all the coaches. I’ve been really lucky. So I know a lot of people might say to you that they feel lucky that I stayed, but I feel really lucky that I got to have this experience. ... I will be able to take this with me for the rest of my life. And that is really special to me.”
It wouldn’t have been a Sue Bird farewell if societal impact didn’t come up at the postgame press conference and Bird alluded to the #VoteWarnock campaign the WNBA led to get Raphael Warnock to replace racist senator Kelly Loeffler in Georgia in 2020.
“We got a senator in office, that’s pretty incredible. Really proud of that. That’s probably, off the court, one of the things I’m most proud of. That our league was able to achieve that, or help somebody achieve that.”
By the time the 2020 wubble season came around, Bird was looked up to by everyone in the league and she was a leader in helping promote all of its social justice initiatives that year. It’s those same leadership qualities that made her such a great point guard and a four-time champion. She has handled being a professional athlete and an activist as gracefully as anyone ever has.
To that point, she is also great with the media and handled the Storm’s elimination with class. She is a member of the media herself, having done plenty of work for ESPN, and she has said that she won’t stray far from the game of basketball in the coming years. She did however reiterate that she’s not having second thoughts about ending her career as a player.
“My body feels good and so that can trick ya. But there’s a reason why I felt comfortable and I felt confident in this being my last year. Being able to say that out loud was a big hurdle. And once I kind of jumped over that, I knew I did the right thing because of how I felt afterwards.
“Am I going to miss basketball? Absolutely — there's going to be nothing like this. I don't think I’ll ever be able to replicate it. I’m not even gonna try. But ... I know I made the right decision.”