After helping the Seattle Storm secure its fourth WNBA title Tuesday, Sue Bird was asked about her longevity. She’s been around for all four championships and been a starter and major contributor since her first game in May 2002, when she dropped in 18 points and had six assists.
She joked that one way to not think about how long she’s been playing is to never ask her current teammates how old they were the first time she won a WNBA title in 2004.
For the record, 2020 Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was nine. Center Mercedes Russell and guard Jordin Canada were eight. Center Ezi Magbegor was four.
Bird, 40 next Friday, is that rarest of finds in professional sports. She has played her entire career with one team, and as was evident from her performance in the 2020 Finals, she’s not just hanging on for some ceremonial victory lap.
She set a record for assists in a single Finals game with 16. She also broke the mark for assists in a Finals series with 33. She’s been the author of a number of no-look passes in her career, but the one in the first half of game three against over-matched Las Vegas was jaw-dropping, a half-floor beauty on the run to her right while she looked to her left. The pass hit Natasha Howard in the hands for an easy layup.
The game was still close but Seattle used a 32-14 blast in the third quarter to put things so far out of reach that Bird spent the fourth quarter enjoying her team’s performance from the sideline.
Much about Bird’s career in Seattle borders on the unbelievable.
She’s played for six head coaches and her titles have each come under a different coach (Anne Donovan in 2004, Brian Agler in 2010, Dan Hughes in 2018 and Gary Kloppenburg — pinch hitting for Hughes, who is taking the year off due to health concerns — in 2020). Numerous general managers and front office staffers have come and gone in her time, including three ownership groups, and the team’s roster has turned over several times.
In 2015, she considered leaving when the Storm decided a tear-down and rebuild was necessary. She decided to stay and struggled with her new, younger teammates through four sub-.500 seasons in a row before breaking through in 2018.
She’s also staged a relentless battle against two enemies of all athletes: Injuries and aging. Asked after the title-game win over Las Vegas about her ability to recover from physical adversity and still play the game at the highest level, despite time’s inevitable march, Bird credited simple hard work.
“I don’t cheat the game,” she said.
Bird missed two seasons (2013 and 2019) after knee surgeries, coming back both times to put up numbers and performances beyond what any reasonable person would expect. She missed half of this shortened 22-game regular season dealing with a severely bruised left knee. In her career, she’s had several off-season surgeries, and on at least five occasions her nose was broken.
The most recent was in 2018, and led to her most legendary performance.
In game four of the Western Conference finals, Bird’s beak ended up on the wrong end of an inadvertent Stewart elbow. The Storm lost and next faced Phoenix in a deciding fifth game. Wearing a mask, and shaking off a subpar performance through the first three quarters, Bird came alive in the final six minutes. With Seattle trailing by four, she knocked down four threes and a jumper from the foul line that ignited a series-clinching, 28-14 run.
Her confidence was so high, she launched a three and began backpedaling to play defense while the ball was airborne. The performance is preserved for future generations to watch on YouTube (which didn’t exist when Bird began her playing career).
What they say is, “Game recognizes game.” That night, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Isaiah Thomas all checked in via Twitter with accolades and praise. Tacoma native and former University of Washington star Thomas offered up an idea for a permanent honor.
“Go head and build a statue for Sue Bird,” Thomas wrote. “She’s a legend in the town.”
Several fans have echoed that thought on social media channels this week. Four WNBA titles, four Olympics gold medals with the USA Women’s National Team, and enough awards from various basketball organizations to fill a small house, make the case for consideration.
That along the way she found her voice in regard to social issues is a bonus for those who recognize that many sports stars stopped sticking to sports several decades ago.
“Sue Bird should get a statue somewhere,” Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner said this week. “No matter where it’s at, she should get a statue.”
Where it should be is on a plaza outside the new Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center. In an arena being built primarily by and for an NHL expansion franchise that has made diversity in hiring a major part of its DNA, the idea of a statue honoring one of the greatest athletes in Seattle history who happens to be female is fitting and just.
If Bird keeps playing (she says that’s the plan) and the arena opens in late summer, she could get to play some games there next season. Even if she doesn’t, the site is a fitting location for a statue. The site remains where, as KeyArena, the place Bird did most of her work.
“She helped keep the Key alive and vibrant in the years after the Sonics left,” is how former Storm CEO Karen Bryant put it.
Here are two suggestions for the statue builder.
First, consider including a face mask or nose guard. That way, there’s no mistaking it.
Second, keep the plaque simple and clean. The message will inspire generations of Seattle hoops stars:
Don’t cheat the game.
Storm fans can join a virtual celebration of the team’s fourth championship at 4 p.m. Friday by registering here.
a statue of Sue Bird – excellent idea. enjoyed the article too. I know there’s a Griffey Jr statue at safeco, and one of Dave Niehaus in center field, and Don James at Husky Stadium. Are there any others, Seahawks or Sonics maybe?
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Ifedi has been a statue for years.
Which is worse–a statue or a turnstile?
Ice cold. Hey, his Bears are 4-1.
Jim Owens at Husky Stadium. and JP Patches in Fremont.
Also Jimi Hendrix on Broadway. Just sayin’.
“Hey Joe”, right on!
Hey Art, you blew it! Lenin in Fremont qualifies since you brought up a non-athlete in JP, who I watched every day growing up. He may be the unofficial face of Seattle, as everyone loved JP Patches.
And of course, don’t forget the Troll!
You’re right, I forgot about the more distant dictator.
There is a statue of Walter Jones (Seahawks legend)… at Sea-Tac Airport of all places! i have no idea why. Hard to think of another Hawk that would deserve a statue, but I have a feeling that by the time he’s done, Russell Wilson could be statue-worthy… especially if he sticks around and takes them to a few more Super Bowls.
Could not agree more – both with the idea of a Sue Bird statue outside the new arena, and with the inscription.
Mike nailed it.
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I’ve always felt that there should be something, maybe a statue, of Lenny Wilkens outside the new arena when its completed. His history and connection to it over the years is well established as a player, coach and executive for the Sonics. But after Lenny no one can compare to Sue. Her success and longevity can’t be denied. She has been amazing to follow over the years both on and off the court. Looking forward to when her number is raised up to the rafters, but not just yet. The one thing the Storm haven’t done is win titles consecutively. There’s some unfinished business there.
As player, player/coach and championship coach, Lenny’s one of a kind. There’s no reason both can’t happen as a salute to Seattle’s basketball heritage.
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Kind of early to be talking statues. Maybe wait until her Naismith induction first.
I haven’t seen that rulebook. Care to share?
Which part of my comment has you vexed? She, nor her jersey have even been retired yet but we’re already contemplating a statue outside CP Arena. You don’t think that’s a bit premature?
It’s as annoying and questionable as the media’s other obsession of labeling pretty much every halfway decent pro athlete who has a few really good seasons as “a future Hall of Famer”.
Remember the keyword: “premature”. I didn’t say “undeserved”. Same goes for the local yokels who want to put Russ in Canton ASAP.
Her body of work over time speaks volumes. We’re talking a civic honor here, irrespective of the sports-industry customs. And the reason for immediate discussion is the obvious: The potential location near the arena, which you may have heard is under construction. The footprint is small, so if there is to be an honors plaza, it needs to be discussed now.
What about her work suggests she won’t make it?
Point out to me where I said “she won’t make it.”
I’m saying it’s all PREMATURE talk, seeing as she’s still an active player who’s neither retired nor been inducted into the Hall yet. How’d YOU, of all people, manage to miss that in my previous comment?
Birds’ career achievements speak for themselves – she is a WNBA HOF first ballot inductee, no question. She has earned a statue. Period. So let’s put that to rest.
I vote for Gary Payton as the face of the Sonics, and I go back to their founding. There have been names that bring back great memories, but Payton had the numbers, the longevity and also the every game, 48 minute aggressive mind set that I admired his entire career here. He would not have left if the team had been managed competently and was competitive.
Just make sure when it is built it captures a “no look” pass. Be better than a jump shot or just dribbling or a pose with a ball under her arm.
Fantastic article, Mike. Agree with all of it… except maybe the mask. I watched the Storm championship celebration thing on Zoom, and Elise Woodward directly asked her about the mask on the statue. Sue said, “No mask… but someone should then put one on it.” She said it with a smile — she is humble (as much as any driven-to-be-the-best athlete can be) along with everything else. In awe of Sue — we’re so lucky to have her here in Seattle!