When the all-day lovefest for Sue Bird was over, and the scores of posters expressing pure adulation had been taken down as the record crowd dispersed, the woman of the hour reflected on what it all meant.
Specifically, she was asked what the rookie version of herself would have thought of Sunday’s raucous celebration at Climate Pledge Arena as Bird played her final home regular-season game for the Seattle Storm at the age of nearly 42. It has been 21 years of first earning respect from the fan base (and the league at large), and then admiration, and finally devotion and deep affection.
“I think 21-year-old me would be surprised I’m still going,’’ she said with a laugh. “Not because she didn’t think I had it in me. She wouldn’t have even thought those things. So I think she’d be really proud. And, you know, she’s still inside here.”
Along with everything else, all the tributes and rapturous ovations, it was a day of connections — between Bird and her youthful self, between Bird and the adoring fans, Bird and her family and friends, who all poured into Climate Pledge to tell Sue goodbye (at least until the Storm return for a playoff game, which Bird vowed would happen).
But mostly, it was a day that connected the WNBA’s past with what appears to be a bountiful future, as reflected in the woman who has become synonymous with Seattle and the league itself. And as the last player standing from the WNBA’s early days, Bird watched with almost maternal pride as she prepares to pass the baton to the likes of Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum.
It was almost an afterthought that the Las Vegas Aces of Wilson and Plum defeated the Storm, 89-81. But it was hard to ignore the sellout crowd of 18,100 at Climate Pledge Arena — largest ever to see the Storm play — and the energy that crackled through the arena starting hours before tip-off, right through Bird’s brief but heartfelt postgame address (she promised a much more thorough one at a later date).
“I’ve played here 21 years, so I know my name has become synonymous with this franchise,’’ she said. “And it’s become a little bit of a household name in the city, in this community …. But what I represent is all the players who have played here, all the championships we’ve won, all the coaches who have come through, everyone who’s come through the front office, everyone who’s been on staff here, you name it.
“I’m just that one name. So I think today was, yes, in honor in honor of me, and people showed up and showed out for sure. It really was amazing, but I think it’s really, truly a celebration of Storm basketball … because I am kind of Storm basketball.”
Mind you, that’s a statement made with no ego or self-promotion. If anything, it’s Bird trying to deflect the attention that’s been flooding down on her ever since she announced her pending retirement in June. But there is also a sense of keen pride in watching the steady advancement of the WNBA, and seeing next-generation players in their mid-20s like Stewart and Wilson — the two leading lights of Team USA — continuing their fierce MVP battle with brilliant efforts (35 points and 10 rebounds for Stewart, 29 points for Wilson).
“The WNBA has turned a corner recently in the last couple of years in terms of popularity, in terms of notoriety, people talking about us, covering the story lines, marketing opportunities,” Bird said. “And that wasn’t always the case.