By Seth Dahle
For five All-Star games, 15-year veteran Sue Bird was joined on the hardwood by eight-time All-Star and three-time MVP Lauren Jackson. The duo, which shared an unmatched chemistry on the hardwood right from the get-go, spent countless seasons picking apart opponents’ defenses with an unstoppable pick-and-roll sequence and a balanced attack of outside shooting and inside finishes.
Players come and go, even superstars. And while Bird’s longtime Aussie partner is gone after retiring in 2016, fellow Storm teammate and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Breanna Stewart joined Bird in this year’s All-Star Game, and all of the sudden, that 1-2 guard-to-forward magic was back for Verizon WNBA All-Star 2017.
Bird said she was excited for Stewart in that Seattle played host to her first All-Star Game.
“If you’re ever feeling down, just have your WNBA team host an All-Star Game, because it brings you right back up,” commented Bird. “Our fans were obviously excited for all the All-Stars, but especially for Stewie. It was her first, and she got to experience it on her home court.”
While the on-court, All-Star chemistry between Bird and Jackson was unique in that it include jaw dropping plays like the pass below from the 2003 All-Star Game, Bird and Stewart’s harmony on Saturday was strikingly similar and just as impressive – minus a blown layup by Stewart off a no-look beaut from Bird, which drew both gasps of awe and roars of laughter from the KeyArena crowd of 15,221.
Bird, who said she still enjoys All-Star games, admits that part of the fun is watching newbies react to the serious, but carefree nature of the show.
“All-Star games are interesting, because it’s like we’re serious, but we’re not,” said Bird. “Some people are, but some aren’t. All in all, you want to put on a good show. To see Stewie navigate through that, miss a couple layups, but navigate, was cool.”
Regardless of a couple on-court hiccups, the talented Storm tandem gave the home crowd at KeyArena plenty to cheer about. Bird recorded a WNBA record for the most assists in an All-Star Game with 11 to go along with eight points, while Stewart debuted with nine points and six boards off the bench.
After the final buzzer, Bird said this year’s All-Star Game was the most memorable, but what stood out the most was her starting lineup introduction.
“It’s hard to pick the best moment,” said Bird. “I think everybody involved has been amazing. The moment I’ll remember most is being introduced during the starting lineups, coming down and high-fiving fans. The energy that was in the building – that’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Even Diana Tarausi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and Bird’s longtime teammate and friend, felt thankful to be a part of that special moment.
“During introductions, you felt that vibe – especially when Sue came down,” added Tarausi. “They gave her a standing ovation. You felt that energy.”
Stewart and Bird helped the West to a 130-121 win, and the game’s 251 points combined set an All-Star record. Meanwhile, the West’s 130 total tied for the most in an All-Star Game, which coincidentally was set back in 2009 – Bird’s final All-Star Game with Jackson when the two led the West to a 130-118 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
In addition to playing at KeyArena on Saturday, Stewart said her favorite part of the weekend was being surrounded by superstars.
“The best part of All-Star Weekend is being here and being around all of these great players,” said Stewart. “Being able to hangout with them on and off the court.”
When it came to advice for Stewart, Bird said it was about enjoying the experience because of how quickly it passes by.
“She [Stewart] needs to enjoy it,” said Bird. “All-Star games go by fast. You’re out there, you’re just trying to have fun, and that’s really all there is to it.”
The duo’s All-Star recognition has certainly been well deserved. Both players reached milestones in Seattle’s last time out at Los Angeles on Tuesday. Bird passed Jackson for the most field goals made (2,091) in franchise history and also eclipsed the 600-steal mark, while Stewart scored her 1,000th point in her 54th-career game and tied WNBA great Tamika Catchings for the fourth fastest in league history to achieve this feat.
A seemingly timeless player in Bird said she was surprised it took this long for an All-Star Game to come to Seattle because of the city’s “true” love for the game. Nevertheless, Bird and Stewart enjoyed every moment – from showing the culture of Seattle, to playing in front of an electric crowd on Saturday, most of whom donned the Storm’s gold and green.
“From a city standpoint, it’s a beautiful city,” said Bird. “I think a lot of times these players, you know, they’re on road trips, they’re trying to rest, and they don’t really get to see the city itself. They got to see a little culture. [On] The basketball side of it, the city supports basketball, it really does. It’s a great community for it.”
Now that the All-Star break is over, the Storm is looking to turn its season around and climb into the middle echelon of the WNBA standings. Seattle (9-12) currently sits in ninth place behind Atlanta, and only eight teams reach the playoffs. Bird records 6.8 dimes per contest to rank third in the WNBA, and much of those assists find the hands of Stewart, who leads the team and ranks fifth in the WNBA in scoring with 19.9 points per game.