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A look at Sue Bird’s legacy as she sees it

On Sunday, Sue Bird played in her final regular-season home game in the WNBA. She has played her entire career with the Seattle Storm.

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm
Sue Bird
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

After her Seattle Storm fell to the Las Vegas Aces 89-81 in her final regular-season home game and perhaps final home game, period, Sue Bird mentioned that she didn’t win her first WNBA game either.

“So, maybe it’s a sign of good things to come,” she quipped. “That turned out ok in 2002.”

Bird had nine points, six assists, four rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes and 42 seconds of playing time in the Sunday afternoon affair. She poked the ball away from Riquna Williams with 7:51 remaining and it led to her own fast break layup that cut the Storm’s deficit to five. Climate Pledge Arena loved that as there was still time for it to become a key play in a fairytale ending.

On Seattle’s next possession, Bird didn’t score or assist, but told Jewell Loyd where to pass the ball: left corner for a Breanna Stewart three that cut it to two. The fairytale potential grew stronger and it mattered beyond the emotional significance. The Storm (20-13) are still battling with the Washington Mystics (20-14) for the fourth and final home court seed in the playoffs. They were actually playing to ensure more home games for Bird.

But it mattered to the Aces too; they still have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed. And Chelsea Gray was simply too good down the stretch for the Storm to pull off a win. She scored nine of Vegas’ final 19 points and finished with 15 to go along with nine assists, six rebounds and two steals.

Bird would get another layup, one that cut it to six with 54 seconds remaining. But Kelsey Plum pretty much wrapped things up with a trey on the ensuing Aces possession.

“They know that one got away today, but they can keep it in perspective,” acting Storm head coach Pokey Chatman said of the mood in the locker room afterwards. Actual head coach Noelle Quinn was in health and safety protocol for the historic game. “When you have Sue Bird sitting next to you and she has this infectious smile on her face and she’s ready to get on to the next one, it helps. ... The good thing about it is it’s not over yet. And we’re gonna be back here.”

Stewart posted a game- and season-high 35 points in defeat. The story of the game, aside from Bird, was the clash of this season’s top two MVP candidates in Stewart (10 rebounds) and Vegas’ A’ja Wilson (29 points, six rebounds).

“To see Stewie, A’ja dominate tonight, obviously they’ve been like the two MVP candidates for the last couple years, the two most important players on USA basketball, so it’s no surprise,” Bird said. “But it’s exciting to know that we have players like that who can kinda take that torch and carry it. And they’re gonna have to set it up for the next generation, that’s just how it works.”

It was fitting to hear Bird comment on the next generation as she has always been about continuing the legacy of the league and the game. She also commented specifically on the legacy of the franchise she has called home for 21 years.

“I know my name has become synonymous with this franchise and it’s become a little bit of a household name in this city and this community. ... I also think ... my name is synonymous, but what I represent is all the players who have played here, all the championships we’ve won, all the coaches who have come through, everyone who’s come through the front office, everyone who’s been on staff here, you name it. I’m just that one name. So I think today was yes in honor of me and people showed up, showed out for sure, it really was amazing. But I think it’s really and truly a celebration of Storm basketball.”

During her postgame press conference, Bird was also able to sum up the experience of her final regular-season home game quite simply:

“Outside of the outcome, it was a wonderful afternoon for me.”

It was also the final regular-season home game for Bird’s teammate and Washington native Briann January, who has spent 14 years in the league, appearing in one All-Star game and winning one championship (so far).

“It’s been really fun sharing this retirement tour with Bri,” Bird said. “To have somebody else who’s going through the exact same things as you at the exact same time. We’ve shared a lot of pregame moments together, where a team honors her and then they honor me. It’s been nice because, I’ll be honest, I don’t really like the spotlight like that. So it’s been a perfect little balance.”

Of course, it was hard to shy away from that spotlight on Sunday, as January had already been honored in the team’s second-to-last home game. Eighteen thousand one hundred fans came to watch the point guard GOAT in what felt like the finale of a very hyped-up farewell tour.

Bird, the U.S. flag bearer at the 2021 Olympics, has always received a ton of attention because she is great with the media and the league has marketed her personality. She plays a position that is defined by unselfishness and leadership and she has fit that mold perfectly. She never needed a scoring title or an MVP award to become legendary.

“I am who I am out there,” she said. “And I relish in the fact that teams have to game plan for me. Cuz I'm not the quickest, I'm not the most athletic, I’m not jumpin’ over ya. And yet ... for a really long time there, you had to talk about me in shootaround. You had to try to figure out what to do with me in shootaround. Because I played it my way. I used my smarts. And then of course I mean I could shoot a little bit, I could pass a little bit, all those things, don’t get me wrong.

“I wouldn't say I’m unique in any way. I think what I do a lot of players can do. But I just found ways to always be consistent with it and it became a mind game out there and that’s when I would thrive. ... So I am really proud of how I did it.

“Coach (Geno) Auriemma drilled into me that basketball wasn't a game of ‘how to.’ And what he meant was, it’s not a game of how to dribble, how to shoot, how to pass, it’s a game of when to do those things. So when you say ‘how I played,’ it’s actually knowing when to do those things. And that I think is the story of how I’ve played this game.”

It’s a game that she’s played longer than anyone on the women’s side.

“There wasn't this model to copy or emulate,” she reminded the media. “Now we have players and we have franchises who are setting bars because they have had the time to do that. But when I was a rookie, who was I really going to aspire to be like in terms of a really long career? I mean, I didn't even know how long I wanted to play. It wasn’t even a thought process. So I think 21-year-old me would be surprised that I'm still going. Not that she didn’t think we had it in us, but she wouldn’t have even thought those things. ... So I think she’d be really proud. And, you know, she’s still inside here.”