CHICAGO — Lake County, Ill., native Kari Juszczyk remembers the first time she turned on ESPN to see Sue Bird playing basketball.
It was more than two decades ago, Bird slightly swimming in her jersey as she marshaled the University of Connecticut offense from the point. But it was an immediate connection for Juszczyk, who followed the point guard’s career from Connecticut to the Seattle Storm to the front row of Tuesday’s Chicago Sky game at Wintrust Arena.
“She paved the way for us,” Juszczyk said. “We’re still fighting to get equal pay and equal time for women. It’s just huge for us. It gives us all a chance that someday it’ll all be equal.”
A crowd of 9,314 fans gathered Tuesday at Wintrust to watch the Sky mark the final homestand of a dominant 25-9 season and say goodbye to one of the greatest players in the history of women’s basketball.
Bird announced her decision to retire midway through the 2022 season after 25 years as one of the game’s most dominant point guards. Storm and Connecticut jerseys dotted the stands, and fans greeted Bird with a standing ovation as she and fellow retiring teammate Briann January were honored before tipoff.
“It just doesn’t feel real,” Sky captain Courtney Vandersloot said. “You don’t know the WNBA without Sue in it. It’s bittersweet. She’s had an amazing career, we’ve had great matchups. ... It’s cool to be part of this and be a part of her career, even just a small part, because she is one of the best to ever do it.”
To fans grasping for one last look at a generational talent, Tuesday offered one of the final guaranteed opportunities to see Bird in action.
Audrey Goodrich and her sister, Izabelle, were raised as Connecticut fans by their dad, a proud alumnus. Throughout Audrey and Izabelle’s childhood, Bird’s ability to win was a constant: two NCAA titles, four WNBA championships and five Olympic gold medals.
When Bird announced her retirement plans, the sisters’ mother, Olive, bought tickets for the trio’s first WNBA game in the hopes of seeing Bird in person for the first — and final — time.
“She means so much, not only for the game of basketball, but just for young women in sports to grow up and see someone so dominant,” Audrey Goodrich said.