Bird leaves behind impressive basketball legacy
Published 5:45 pm Friday, September 23, 2022
ESPN Daily podcast host Pablo Torre pointed out that if Sue Bird’s professional basketball career was a person, it’d be old enough to drink.
Drafted as the number one pick in 2002, Sue Bird spent an incredible 21 seasons with the Seattle Storm, though technically she sat on the bench for two of those while recovering from injury. But still, her resume is no less impressive because of that. Her accomplishments include four WNBA championships, 13 appearances as a WNBA All-Star, the all-time assists and all-time games record-leader in the WNBA, five EuroLeague championships, four FIBA World Cup championships, two NCAA championships (while she was a student at UCONN), five Olympic gold medals, and much more.
She announced earlier this year that this would be her last season in the league, and her career wrapped up earlier this month when her team lost in the WNBA semifinals. The crowd chanted “Thank you Sue” as she lingered on the court after the game.
Most athletes aren’t able to play at such a high level of their sport for so long, making Bird’s long career even more memorable. It’s clear she put a lot of hard work and dedication into playing basketball and making sure she was in top shape to continue each year.
“This is the knee of a 70-year-old,” Bird said in a recent interview with ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. “People constantly tell me, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing it.’ I don’t know how I’m doing it either! Some of it is luck, some of it is good genetics.”
I also listened to both interviews Pablo Torre did with Bird on the ESPN Daily podcast, one back in May as the season began and one this week in the wake of her retirement. It was fascinating to hear her recall details of her time in the WNBA and how things have changed over the years. She still can remember the AOL screennames of her former teammates, for example, and she’s also the only player to have worn every version of the WNBA jersey since the inception of the league. (She complained briefly about the version featuring a “scalloped” shirt that they weren’t allowed to tuck in.)
In her follow-up interview, Bird didn’t have any set post-retirement plans yet. But it’s clear she has plenty of options available – such as broadcasting or basketball-related jobs off the court – if that’s the route she chooses. Right now, she said she’s just “chilling.” And she’s definitely earned that.
Bird’s retirement comes on the heels of recent retirements of a few other extremely successful female athletes, including Serena Williams (though she called it “evolving away from tennis”) and Allyson Felix (who’s won so many gold medals in track & field).
It feels like the end of an era to see so much talent leave in the same year, but I know there will be plenty of ladies in the future to step up and make a name for themselves too.
To be honest, when I heard about Bird’s retirement, my biggest thought was that I wished I’d been able to watch more of her career. During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (held in 2021), I stayed up late one night to watch Bird and Diana Taurasi lead the American women’s basketball team to gold in the final game. But other than that, I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to watch WNBA games on TV (and even less opportunity for me now that I only have over-the-air antenna TV). And if I wanted to watch a WNBA game in person? That opportunity is practically nonexistent here.
Of course, my ability to watch women’s sports is not really important in the grand scheme of things. I’ll be just fine reading up on what I miss. But I do wish there was more of an opportunity for people all across the country to enjoy women’s sports just as much as there is for men’s sports.
Flip on any sports channel and most of the airtime is devoted to showcasing male athletes. That’s perfectly fine, by the way. But it would be nice to lift up the accomplishments of women too, and not just the few extremely successful ones. That would go a long way in changing attitudes about women involved in sports.
I remember plenty of times when I was younger overhearing people as they turned up their noses and scoffed at women’s basketball, ranging from not wanting to watch it at the middle/high school level up to the professional level. That’s still a bit hurtful to think back on, as a young girl at the time who liked playing basketball. And it still astounds me that I’m actually older than the WNBA itself, which began in 1996. There are decades and decades of history for the men’s league, but the women’s hasn’t even hit their third decade yet.
Too many things in life are needlessly split between gender. Sports are generally thought of as an interest for men only, even though there are plenty of women out there who enjoy watching and playing sports too. And even plenty of men who have no interest in sports at all! In the end, they’re just games after all, played by people who are dedicated to putting their best effort into something they enjoy.
My hope is that one day in the future, you can ask both young girls and boys to name their favorite basketball players, and their answers will include names like Sue Bird alongside Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 252-332-7206.