Courtside with Sue Bird
An unfiltered Q&A with WNBA players — past and present.
Hello and welcome to Courtside.
Take a break from the game. Pull up a chair. Settle in. Have some water. And relax.
As often as I can, I’ll be bringing you honest, revealing and fun Q&As with some of the greatest players in WNBA history as well as rookies, veterans and All-Stars in the league today.
Now and again, I’ll also be posting columns focusing on what’s happening in the WNBA or sharing my thoughts about basketball-related current events, issues, and/or players in the news cycle.
Now, let’s get to the conversation.
Neil Enns/Seattle Storm
Sue Bird, 40, is a legendary point guard for the WNBA and doesn’t really need an introduction, and if you’re reading this and you don’t know who she is then I don’t know what to say . . .
But in keeping with the setup of each Courtside Q&A, I’ll give you a short rundown. Bird played college basketball for the mighty UConn Huskies and Geno Auriemma from 1998 to 2002, winning two NCAA Championships (2000, 2002) and a Naismith Award along the way (among numerous other accolades). She was drafted first overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm and has been with the franchise ever since.
Throughout nearly two decades in the league, Bird has won four WNBA Championships (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020). She is an 11-time WNBA All Star, the all-time WNBA assists leader, and one of the top 15 WNBA players of all time (2011). I could go on, because I haven’t even touched on her international and Olympic career, but you get the picture.
Basically, Sue Bird is a point guard GOAT.
Now, for real — let’s get to the conversation.
The Storm roster looks a little different than it did last season. What can we expect from the reigning WNBA champs throughout the 2021 season?
Yeah, I mean, the roster is different because we lost, in terms of a couple players to retirement, but three players who were really our top, like, six/seven players. So that’s a huge shake up. Two starters. That’s a huge shake up. But I think at the end of the day, we still have Stewie (Breanna Stewart), we still have Jewell (Loyd), we still have myself, and then of course other people who are returning. So, there’s still a good base. But the story of the season will be how quickly we can develop chemistry. That’s the story of the season.
We’re doing well so far in terms of the wins and the losses, but what I would love to see is just the chemistry continue to grow. And if we can get that part down, that’s when the good basketball comes.
You’ve been in the WNBA for almost two decades. How has the league evolved overall — from basketball, promotion/marketing, social justice — since you first started playing.
The social justice part is definitely more recent, just with what we’ve seen in the league and how they’ve backed us in a lot of ways — that’s a little more recent. I don’t know. I think, if I had to sum it up, I would just say the players are more comfortable being themselves. But that’s actually been happening for years and years now, and I think overall — so two things — overall, from a player standpoint, we’re kind of just being ourselves now. And then from a league standpoint, they’re embracing who we are, which is just being authentic.
What I think you find is, you know, people are drawn to authenticity. Right? So it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do — when you’re authentic, there’s just something about that that people are drawn to. And I think as a sports league there’s something special when you allow your players to be themselves.
I think early on, in terms of marketing, there was just this push, you know, to be super feminine or maybe to be a bit more girly — and if you are those things, that’s great. But if you’re not, now there’s a space for you to be yourself. And that’s a big difference, especially in my time, early on to now.
If you could sum up where women’s basketball is at this point in time in one or two words, what would it/they be?
Um . . . I would say authentic and momentum.
There’s been a lot of talk about Paige Bueckers in relation to past UConn greats, such as yourself. Where would you rank her at this point so early in her college career?
Yeah, listen, the kid is incredibly talented. You can see it not just in her play, but in her personality, in her attitude, she definitely has star qualities. But, when you go to Connecticut, the only thing you’re judged on is championships. So, that obviously — and that’s not to challenge her, she already knows that, (laughs) I’m not trying to talk shit by any means, I hope she wins the next three years, of course — but usually when it’s all said and done, that’s how you settle this argument. And it’s really because there’s been so many great players.
Would you take Maya (Moore) or D (Diana Taurasi), I don’t know? Would you take Stewie or D or Maya or Rebecca (Lobo) or Tina (Charles) or? It’s like, gosh, how do you pick? So at the end of the day, you just gotta settle it with the ring. We’ll see how she does.
In the past, more players than not have stayed with the team that drafted them. With the new free agency rules in effect, that could become the exception rather than the norm. Is that good for the league? And had you had the opportunity to entertain max offers from other teams early on in your career, what would that process have been like for you?
I think it’s great for the league. I think there’s two ways to look at it. One, I think it’s great because these are storylines and that is what makes leagues go — people talking about it, people speculating, people having opinions, debating. We’re playing basketball but we’re an entertainment league and I think those are the things that really drive sports leagues today.
I think it’s also a nice byproduct of the fact that it also gives us, the way the CBA is set up, it’s based on a merit system now. The way the money was in the old CBA, there wasn’t movement because there was nothing to attract you. There was nothing to take you away from a team because they couldn’t really offer you much more money. So people would get comfortable and none of these decisions were made based on their salary.
Whereas now, decisions are being made based on salary. But simultaneously, you obviously have to weigh — and this is where each individual will have their own list of priorities — do you want to make the supermax and maybe be on a less talented team or do you want to take less money to be on a more talented team, are you trying to be the leading scorer on your team or are you willing to take on a lesser role to maybe win more, right? There’s all these different things that players now have to juggle. But I think all-in-all, that’s how it should be.
As far as myself, I want to believe that the Storm wouldn’t have let that happen. Listen, when it’s all said and done, there’s only one team I would have gone to and that’s New York. I made that clear my first year, I made that clear my tenth year, that’s really the only team I would have entertained. It didn’t pan out that way in my career and that’s okay. I’m cool with it.
What is it about basketball that keeps you motivated enough to keep playing and going through the season grind, as well as participating in USA basketball?
(laughs) Yeah, I mean, obviously I like it. It’s — I don’t know, not many people get to wake up every day and love what they do. Not many people get to play a sport for their job. It’s kind of the best job in the world. The way I see it, it would be crazy for me to leave this while I’m still able to do it. That’s why I always joke that I’m going to play until my knees fall off.
It’s really that simple. There’s no, like, magic answer. I still enjoy it. I’m still healthy enough where it doesn’t hurt every time I wake up and go back on the court. So, as long as those two things are true, I expect you’ll see me out there.
Do you and Megan Rapinoe ever play against each other in your respective sports just for fun?
We have but very rarely. She’s actually pretty good at basketball. Basketball is more of a one-on-one sport, so we’ve messed around and played one-on-one. Like I said, nothing too serious. Soccer, it’s more [me] being out on the field with her just kind of helping her out, if I need to serve her some balls so she can do her thing. I’ve tried kicking some corners to her, you know, I left a lot to be desired in that area (laughs). I’m probably better off just throwing it. I’ll work on it. I did buy cleats during the pandemic.
What’s something about you that people would be surprised to know or wouldn’t expect?
Um . . . maybe Megan should answer this. Surprised to know? I don’t know. I’m not sure. I guess we all have a little bit of a freak flag. I usually hide mine publicly. Megan loves that I fly it proudly when I’m around her because she’s the only one who gets to see it. But we all have one. I have one, too. I’m not unlike anybody else.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Could be a song, movie, food, etc.?
I mean, I have a ton of guilty pleasures. Food-wise, it’s probably like ice cream and cookies and that kind of jam. Hello Robin in Seattle — I always give them a shout because they’re like the best cookies in the world. Recently, I’ve gotten into Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Their flavors are pretty wild but they’re delicious.
Movies? One of my favorite movies is still You Got Mail. I still have an AOL account, so maybe that’s why. I just can’t let go.
When playing (in college and/or in the WNBA), did/do you have any pregame rituals or superstitions that you stuck/stick to before every game?
Yeah, it’s more like routine than it is superstition. You know, I don’t wear the same socks or have a rabbit’s foot or anything like that. But I’m very routine. It puts me in my happy place. So, it’s really nothing of note to tell you, it’s really boring and mundane. It’s pretty much the same every time. Do this then, do that then, boppity-bop-bop-bop.
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Great interview with the greatest of all time. Loved reading this!