As the Seattle Storm embarked on their championship parade Sunday, there was a familiarity with the tradition for Sue Bird.
This is the third championship that she has helped deliver to the city, with the 2018 WNBA title coming 14 years after her first back in 2004. Since joining the team as the No 1 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, Bird has been the constant within the organization.
There have been new teammates, new coaches and even new owners, but Bird was always there – the heart and soul of the franchise. Over 16 seasons, Bird has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume that now includes three WNBA Championships to go with four Olympic gold medals, being the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists, her record 11 WNBA All-Star selections, eight All-WNBA selections and a deserved reputation as the greatest point guard in WNBA history.
“Just build the statue already,” said teammate Alysha Clark from the champagne-soaked locker room following Game 3 on Wednesday. “She’s amazing, an amazing leader, an amazing person, an amazing friend. She deserves this. From the very beginning she has led us and been so calm and so poised throughout the entire season and has been an amazing leader for us. So, I’m super happy we were able to get one for her.”
A common theme following the Storm’s sweep of the Mystics in the Finals was the younger players wanting to make sure the veteran point guard got another championship.
“I mean she deserves it; she deserves more recognition than she gets,” said season MVP and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart. “Obviously, everyone knows she’s a legend but she’s the one that got us here, if you want to know who actually got us here.”
One of the first and most important steps toward the 2018 WNBA Championship came years ago, when Bird decided to stay in Seattle when she was faced with a free-agency decision about where she wanted to play in the twilight years of her career.
Her loyalty to Seattle and the luck of the ping pong balls in the Draft lottery went a long way to convincing her to stick around through a rebuild that had some lean years for a player so accustomed to success. Now that Bird and the Storm have come out on the other side, she reflected on what sets this championship apart from the others she has won throughout her career.
“There’s probably no comparison to be honest,” said Bird. “Obviously each is special in its own way, but this one is probably going to have — I don’t know, just a different meaning for me because so many reasons that we already know, right, like I didn’t know if I’d even be playing at this point. Our team went through a rebuild, and yes, I decided to stay, and once we got Jewell and Stewie, we knew we would get on the other side, but how do you know you’re going to get on the other side this fast?
“We had some great additions along the way, obviously one sitting to my left [Natasha Howard]. So it’s incredible to be sitting here right now; I was just saying this earlier, I really believe it just came to me. This is probably going to be one of the defining moments of my career, to have played however many years I’ve been playing, to have won in all these places, but then to do it at the end in such a way that was different from all the others, it’s really incredible.”
There has been plenty of talk all season about Bird being the oldest player in the league at 37. So much so that Bird had custom sneakers created with an image of a grandma on them to play up the narrative that she has reluctantly embraced.
Between changing her diet, exercise and sleep routines, Bird is in amazing shape and has added years to her career. Earlier in the Finals she talked about 40 becoming the new 30 when it comes to professional athletes and she is ready to challenge Father Time.
“When people ask me that question, what I’ve gotten from Sue, I say everything, and it’s honestly true,” said Stewart. “On-the-court stuff, off-the-court stuff, the way she is — her basketball IQ is like no other, but the fact that what she does for her body, and I’ve kind of just tried to mimic that, especially this past year, working with the same person as her and really focusing in on how can I make sure that I’m prepared every single day, whether it’s practice or games or that type of thing, and now doing that, it makes you want to win with her. Obviously when I came here as a rookie, I wanted to win a championship with her, but it’s easy to say that. It’s not as easy to do it and do it at the level that she was at.”
Bird is not taking her third title and riding off into the retirement sunset. She will be back in Seattle next summer to help the Storm defend this title. With a young team surrounding her, the window for more championships is wide open.
By Brian Martin
First appeared on WNBA.com
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