Sue Bird became the legend she needed: 'There was no real way'

Sue Bird glanced up as she grabbed the exit pass. Her Seattle Storm teammate Natasha Howard had preceded her as a wide receiver, as she...


Sue Bird glanced up as she grabbed the exit pass. Her Seattle Storm teammate Natasha Howard had preceded her as a wide receiver, as she usually did whenever Bird was leading the offense in transition. Howard realized it was open under the basket and stiffened. Bird, she knew, would find her as always. She just didn’t know how.

Bird slipped into the lane, drawing in a defender. Then, without looking, she whipped the ball above his head and in Howard’s waiting palms.

“My hands were always ready for Sue when she passed the ball to me,” said Howard, now with the Liberty. She added, “It’s just there, it’s like, ‘Wow, OK, Sue. You’ve got eyes in the back of your head.'”

Bird counts the pass among his favorite assists during his 19 seasons with the Storm. She has plenty of assists to choose from: Bird is the WNBA career leader in assists.

“I’ve kinda got Rain Man’s brain, so wait a sec,” she’d said as she tried to choose her favorite helper. After a second, she quoted the no-look pass to Howard, in 2018, and a goes between the legs to a dragging Lauren Jackson at the 2003 All-Star Game. She wasn’t done.

“Oh, there’s another one for Lauren too,” Bird said. “It was in the playoffs against Minnesota. I think it was like 2012 and we were down 3. We needed a 3, and it was by no means an assist, but we played perfectly. I hit Lauren. She strikes.

It’s the kind of assists that Bird built his reputation on. “The timing around a good pass is that the person you pass to doesn’t have to change anything about what they’re doing,” Bird said.

At 41, Bird is weeks away from the end of his WNBA career. In June, she announced that she would be retiring at the end of the season, even though most people expected it. At the end of the 2021 season, fans chanted “one year moreto an emotional Bird and kept the campaign going with hashtags on social media for months during the off-season. In January, Bird gave the campaign a nod in a Instagram post and wrote “OK”.

His resume had room for one more season, but barely. She is a 13-time All-Star and has won four championships. She knocked down Ticha Penicheiro’s career assist record of 2,599 five years ago and now has 3,222 regular season assists in a league-record 578 games.

As the passes piled up, Bird evolved as a passer.

“Once in a while it can be fancy,” Bird said. “Once in a while you have to watch the defense, but for me it’s always about trying to read the defense and be one step ahead, so you can find that person.

“As I got older, I definitely used non-gaze more, and when I do non-gaze these days, I’m not trying to look like Magic Johnson or anything like that. I really try not to look at the defence. I’m just trying to make them think my eyes are looking away, so I can make the play.”

No other player is more in sync with the league’s childhood and growth, its history and present, than Bird, the consummate floor general who excelled in consistency delivering the ball to the right person at the right time in the right place, year after year, decade after decade.

“She’s the WNBA,” said Crystal Langhorne, who converted 161 of Bird’s passes into buckets, the fourth most of any teammate behind Jackson (624). Breanna Stewart (345) and Jewel Loyd (217), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. “It’s going to be crazy with a league where she’s gone. Sue is the prototype.

Hearing those types of compliments was one of the pleasant and unexpected byproducts of his retirement announcement, Bird said.

“You always knew what to expect from me,” Bird said. “Everyone knew if they turned on a Storm game, what they were going to see. So, it’s a bit hard to imagine he wasn’t there, because he’s been there for 20 years.

Bird entered the WNBA in her sixth season as the first pick in the 2002 draft, bringing high expectations to Seattle after two NCAA women’s basketball championships in Connecticut.

She made him first professional assistance to Adia Barnes, now a women’s basketball coach at Arizona. Barnes, 45, last played professionally 12 years ago and spent several years as a broadcaster before coaching, while Bird continued to rack up one assist after another.

“I completely forgot about that,” Barnes said of Bird’s first assist with a laugh. “I got the shot, so it was a good thing. I don’t remember, but you can act like me. Make it sound good, please.

Barnes points to Bird’s stability from the start. The couple often stayed on the road.

“She was just a real playmaker, and I think what separates Sue is that she’s a connector, so you wanted to play with her.”

Barnes won a championship in 2004 with Bird and Jackson, who became a dynamic pick-and-roll couple, and Bird and Jackson won another in 2010. They left defenses helpless. If a defender ducked under a Jackson screen, Bird could bury a 3. If he doubled Bird, Jackson could drive to the rim or come out for an open jumper. The balloon usually arrived on time.

“There was really no way to help him,” Barnes said. “It was just very, very, very hard to keep and they made it look seamless.”

Bird said her awareness of angles and spacing was always active, even when walking around a mall.

“You always move in a way, you see things in a way similar to being on the court,” Bird said. “Obviously you’re not in a game so you don’t have to move quickly or do things with urgency, but I think you always move that way when you have that type of vision. That sounds crazy. In fact, it’s not.

Teammates would spot Bird carrying binders and notebooks to study the game. “You don’t really have to ask her how she’s doing,” Howard said. “She just does it.”

Receiving a pass from Bird inspired confidence, Langhorne said. She was one of the greats in the game, giving him the ball and playing the right game.

“Even when I was working on my 3s and I wasn’t as confident, if I knew Sue threw it back at me, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, shoot it. She’s giving it to you for a reason’ , Langhorne said, “Which I’ve never really said out loud before.”

Injuries forced Jackson out of the WNBA in 2012. Bird found his next post partner in Stewart, another Connecticut product Seattle took with the first overall pick in 2016. Both won championships in 2018 and 2020.

“She knows where everyone is supposed to be before we even know sometimes,” Stewart said. “She knows which block I’d rather put the ball on or which pass will go through and which won’t. Sometimes when you’re on the basketball court, a player makes a cut and then the pass comes, and sometimes with Sue the pass comes and then the player makes the cut because she sees the defense sometimes faster than us.

Bird said Penicheiro, who retired in 2012, and Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot are among the point guards she’s enjoyed watching the most because “they’re really fun.” Vandersloot recently passed Lindsay Whalen to become third on the WNBA career assist list. She’s the closest active player to equaling Bird – and she’s still over 800 assists.

Bird broken Penicheiro’s record with his 2,600th assist for Carolyn Swords in 2017.

“It was actually a really nice pass, and she deserves it. And records are made to be broken, and if someone breaks your record, you want it to be a player like Sue Bird,” Penicheiro said.

“Everyone loves Sue,” she added. “If she was a jerk, it would be easier to go against her and try to stick her up, but she’s too nice and so am I.”

Even an assist from Bird is an unforgettable moment. Thirteen players have received assists from Bird, according to Elias. The list includes Courtney Paris, who considered Bird one of her favorite players growing up and spent most of her WNBA career on high alert as an opponent who had the unenviable task of trying to play defense. the team against her.

“As soon as you go to help her, she will find the smallest space to send the ball to whoever needs it,” Paris said.

Paris joined the Storm in 2018 and didn’t play often during her two seasons in Seattle as her playing career wound down. Paris couldn’t remember what kind of pass she received from Bird or how she scored, but she remembered being thrilled with the streak.

“It was a loop moment watching her when I was younger,” Paris said.

Fellow Bird club assist member Ashley Walker, who played for Seattle in 2009, also enjoyed it.

“She’s one of the trailblazers,” Walker said. “She’s someone people look up to, and she did it with such grace, such confidence. And it’s just amazing to know that I’m a part of this experience and actually have the chance to say, ‘I caught a pass from Sue Bird. What did you do?'”

Bird also made his mark in the playoffs with his assists. She set a postseason record with 14 assists in a 2004 Western Conference Finals game against Sacramento, then broke it with 16 in Game 1 of the 2020 Finals against Las Vegas. Vandersloot broke that postseason record last year, with 18 assists against Connecticut.

The chapter ends with one of the WNBA’s most memorable careers. Bird said she’s accomplished everything she wants in the league, setting goals in the moment.

“The easy analogy here is, who is everybody chasing in the NBA? Michael Jordan,” Bird said. “Because Michael Jordan played a full career. He won six rings. become the norm. In our league, when I entered the league, it didn’t really exist.

She continued, “There wasn’t really a path to follow, because no one had this 20-year career yet. So, I really didn’t know what to dream about, and so to be sitting here now with all the championships I have, I feel really satisfied.

Now a young player – Bird named Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings for example – can model the career milestones of players such as Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

Many, of course, will look back on Bird’s illustrious career.

“I think there’s something that motivates you that way, but at the same time forging your own path, I enjoyed that as well,” Bird said. “I’m not sure. Maybe having something to chase is better. Maybe there’s more pressure.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Sue Bird became the legend she needed: 'There was no real way'
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