by Mark Moschetti, Seattle Storm
From Syosset to Seattle … from Queens to Climate Pledge … Sue Bird’s basketball career has always been about other people.
Same her life outside of basketball.
So it should come as no surprise that Bird made sure her Seattle Storm jersey retirement ceremony on Sunday afternoon was that way, too:
About other people.
Team owners Ginny Gilder and Lisa Brummell, former college and Storm teammate Swin Cash, agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, former Seattle coach Jenny Boucek, and of course, Lauren Jackson spoke and lauded Bird’s legendary achievements – as did fiancée Megan Rapinoe and Seattle music artist Macklemore, the ceremony co-hosts.
When Bird got her opportunity with the microphone, she dished the credit right Back to them, and to dozens of others.
Kind of similar to dishing an WNBA-record 3,234 assists during her 21-year career that concluded last year.
“This is an out-of-body experience,” Bird said, eliciting laughter from nearly off of the crowd 13,213 who stayed for the ceremony after the game against the Washington Mystics. “I’ve been, in some form, waiting for this day for a year or so, knowing that it was coming. Even sitting here now, I’m frozen. It’s overwhelming – I’m in a state of shock. It’s finally hitting me that it’s over.
“All of the things you heard, all of the things I have done or meant to someone – I didn’t do that by myself. Not even close. I’ve been so blessed to have so many people bring things out of me. That’s what this is about: to say, ‘Thank you.’”
LOTS OF FAMOUS NAMES
Among those in the arena for the ceremony were numerous luminaries from previous Storm teams.
Jackson, who teamed up with Bird for league championships in 2004 and 2010, flew all the way in from Australia with 6-year-old son Harry Gray, was among them. So were Cash, Camille Little, Ashley Robinson, and Le’coe Willingham, all part of the 2010 championship team.
Adia Barnes and Sheri Sam from 2004 were there. So was 2018 title team coach Dan Hughes, along with Karen Bryant, the original Seattle general manager who had that role when the Storm selected Bird at No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft.
Current co-owner Brummell, part of the Force 10 Hoops group that purchased the Storm in January of 2008, spoke of an encounter with another coach in an arena hallway after a loss one night.
“We were talking about who we had or who we didn’t have, who could play or who couldn’t,” Brummell recalled. “Then she said, ‘But you have Sue Bird.’
“And that was it.”
Among many things that Bird was well noted ford was taking care of herself and being ready to play at all times – something that Cash was well acquainted with from the time both of them starred at Connecticut.
“Sue didn’t win all those medals, win all those championships just by showing up. She was prepared,” Cash said. “Preparation is not for perfection. Preparation is a good habit. If you’re a young player playing today, you gotta watch a lot of Sue Bird. She was prepared.”
Added Boucek, who coached Bird and the Storm from 2015-17, “She’s like this super hero with bionic knees and hips and brains. But at the same time, she’s always just Sue.”
It’s likely that no one in the building new Bird better than Jackson, both on and off the court. But in her remarks, Jackson put a bit of a qualifier on that.
“Watching her play these last 12 years from Australia, I’ve evolved from thinking that I knew her so well into someone that I didn’t know existed,” Jackson said. “She has been nothing short of inspirational to me and to everyone. … She’s highly intelligent and very confident in herself , and that confidence is what made her the best point guard in women’s basketball.
“I’m pretty sure,” Jackson added, drawing laughter as she spoke, “she coached every coach her teams ever had.”
MORE THAN JUST A ‘THANK YOU’
When it was Bird’s turn with the mic, she didn’t just rattle off a bunch of thank-yous in order to rush through a speech.
Instead, the vast majority of those thank-yous came with a heartfelt story attached to them, whether it was her second-grade CYO coach. to her parents, to her personal trainer who helped her stay in one piece (or get back into one piece) over the course of two decades, and naturally, to many teammates and coaches.
Even now, Bird is especially appreciative of Lin Dunn, who coached Bird just during her rookie season before stepping away.
“She threw the Storm keys at me and let me take it for a spin,” Bird said. “That was so important for my growth – have fun, make mistakes, team up with Lauren. She allowed me to find my way as a player.”
When Jackson retired in 2016, Bird took the opportunity to tell some funny stories about their relationship, both basketball and personal, before turning to the serious stuff.
On Sunday, she got into the serious stuff right away.
“I loved playing with you,” she said to Jackson, who was seated right next to Bird during the earlier part of the ceremony. “You brought out the best in me and brought out the best in all of us. We were so different, but we were the perfect complement.
“I loved being your teammate, but I loved being your friend more.”
Bird spoke for more than an hour. Everyone seemed to know that her final remarks would be directed at the Storm fans … and they were.
“I always felt so much love, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I feel part of the fabric of this city, but also part of your lives, and I don’t want that to get lost. I impacted you, but you impacted me. It goes so far beyond banners or rings or wins or losses.’
Bird brought up the now-famous incident at the end of a playoff knockout loss to Phoenix inside Everett’s Angel Of The Winds Arena in 2021. While she and best friend / rival Diana Taurasi were waiting for an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, the fans started chanting, “One more year,” and Taurasi waved her arms as a way to tell those fans to keep chanting.
“I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t do that. You guys brought me back for one more year – I can’t sugarcoat that,” said Bird, who at that point hadn’t made any retirement decisions yet. “I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t do that.”
When her career finally did end after last year’s Western Conference semifinals, many of those same fans stood inside Climate Pledge Arena and chanted, ‘Thank you, Sue.” On Sunday, she said playing that send-off season “was my thank you back.”
Then, the smoke began rising in two columns in front of the scoretable, with the green and gold banner bearing “10 Bird” rising between those columns. Gold-colored confetti rained down onto the court.
It was at that moment, Bird said later, that she knew her career was officially complete.
“It’s not the last time I’m going to be in the building; it’s not the last time I’ll be around or anything like that,” she said. “But it’s the last time as a player. I’m going to be around even if I don’t have a basketball jersey or shoes.
“I think the fact that my jersey is in the rafters is – I’m not sure who said it – is a period. End of sentence.”