Seattle Storm fans wanted another yr. Sue Bird gave it to them.
She slicked back her signature ponytail, laced up her custom Nike sneakers and added to her legend with a farewell tour.
When the Storm set a W.N.B.A. single-game assists record for the regular season with 37, eight of them were hers. She stretched her formidable margin because the league’s profession leader in assists and inched higher on the steals and 3-point lists. She helped the Storm make the playoffs for the sixteenth time within the 19 seasons she played.
After which she was done.
The Las Vegas Aces beat the Storm, 97-92, in Game 4 of their semifinal series on Tuesday to advance to the W.N.B.A. finals. For Bird, 41, who had said in June that she would retire after the season, the loss on her home court marked the top of an incredible profession. As fans cheered and chanted “Thanks, Sue,” Bird stood on the court and cried.
At a postgame news conference, Bird said that she hadn’t wanted to depart the court in order that she could “soak all of it in.” She began to cry again. “I do know the tears don’t appear like joyful tears, but there’s lots of happiness,” she said.
Aces Coach Becky Hammon said it was “bittersweet” to have defeated Bird to finish her “fairy-tale” profession. Bird had 8 points and eight assists within the loss.
“You form of feel just like the girl that beat Serena,” Hammon said, referring to Ajla Tomljanovic, who beat Serena Williams in her final match on the U.S. Open last week. Williams had said she planned to retire after the tournament.
Bird said it was a “huge compliment” to be in comparison with Williams.
Storm Coach Noelle Quinn, who also played with Bird in Seattle, called Bird “the most effective point guard to ever play this game.”
Bird won 4 championships with Seattle, the last in 2020. That season showcased the traits which have come to define her: resilience and keen court vision. She missed half of the regular season with injuries. But she proved invaluable during Seattle’s six postseason games. Seattle never lost during that playoff run. Bird set a then-W.N.B.A. record for assists in a playoff game with 16 in Game 1 of the finals against the Aces. Then she had a double-double — 16 points and 10 assists — in Game 2. Within the series-clinching Game 3, Bird spent the top of the fourth quarter on the bench laughing with forward Breanna Stewart. The Storm won by 33.
“The indisputable fact that I’m sitting here, I believe I’m having this, like, in-shock moment, since it doesn’t really feel real that we just won and that I used to be in a position to contribute in the best way that I did,” she said afterward.
Much of Bird’s 21-year profession has come as a surprise, if only because there wasn’t enough time for somebody to perform such feats before her. “I actually didn’t know what to dream,” Bird told The Recent York Times last month, “and so to take a seat here now with all of the championships I even have, I just feel really satisfied.”
The Storm drafted her No. 1 overall in 2002 out of UConn before the W.N.B.A.’s sixth season. She immediately became Seattle’s franchise leader in assists, with 191 that yr. She got here in second for the Rookie of the Yr Award, but she and the player who beat her — Indiana’s Tamika Catchings — became the primary rookies ever named to the All-W.N.B.A. first team.
Over the subsequent 20 years, Bird would pile up honors, including a record 13 W.N.B.A. All-Star selections and five Olympic gold medals with the US. Last yr, she was voted to the W25, the W.N.B.A.’s list of the highest 25 players ever because the league celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary.
“These athletes have played the sport at the best level on the court — they’re scorers and rebounders, assist makers and defensive stoppers, leaders and mentors,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in announcing the W25. She added, “Together, they’ve transformed the best way the sport is played, modified the best way athletes are viewed, grow to be incredible role models and inspired generations of young, diverse athletes.”
Bird, who’s engaged to the ladies’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, is one of the vital visible gay skilled athletes. For a lot of the W.N.B.A.’s history, its most outstanding stars weren’t openly gay, and players have said that they felt pressured to evolve to heterosexual standards of femininity. But Bird is amongst a wave of stars — including Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, Elena Delle Donne and Diana Taurasi — who’ve been open about their sexuality and spoken about L.G.B.T.Q. rights and acceptance.
Bird has also used her platform as one in every of the league’s biggest stars to support social justice causes, especially regarding Black women. And because the W.N.B.A. continues to push for the discharge of Griner, who has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February, Bird has been vocal.
“All of us feel rattled by this and just want her home,” Bird said at a news conference with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, in July.
Bird’s off-the-court influence has gone beyond politics to style. She is understood for her love of sneakers, and her custom Nikes — from the signature line of the N.B.A. star Kyrie Irving — have “Keep Sue Fresh” printed on them each night.
However the core of Bird’s legacy is on the court.
“That’s a legendary player right there,” said Aces guard Chelsea Gray, who scored 31 points and fueled Las Vegas’s victory in Bird’s final game.
Stewart, who had 42 points in Game 4 for Seattle, said that knowing it will be her last game with Bird was more “devastating” than losing.
“That’s what hurts essentially the most,” she said, adding that Bird had been a mentor and friend.
Storm guard Jewell Loyd said the Game 4 loss was “obviously not how we wanted to complete for her.”
Loyd added, “We’ve been very fortunate to play with a generational player like Sue.”
But Bird wasn’t too hung up on losing on her way out, though she desired to win a championship. “It’s not the story,” she said. “It’s not the story of a profession.”
Bird said though her body felt good, she was not having second thoughts about retiring. But she’s going to miss basketball.
“There’s going to be nothing like this,” she said.
Bird gave fans someone to imagine in until the top. Her final points within the W.N.B.A. got here on a layup with 21.8 seconds to go on Tuesday and Seattle down by 6. It was harking back to a play on Sunday, in Game 3. The Storm turned to her once they were down by 1 point with lower than two seconds to go. She sank a 3-pointer and held her follow-through, as her teammates went wild round her. Seattle would lose to the Aces in time beyond regulation, but that play was what this final season was for.
Another likelihood to have a good time. One last moment with Bird.