How popular is Seattle Storm rookie Sue Bird
? Popular enough to be voted an All-Star starter as a rookie.
With the conclusion of fan voting, Bird was named a starting guard for the Western Conference in the 2002 WNBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. (July 15, ESPN). And Bird is appreciative of the support the fans have shown.
Bird's goal in her first season is to help get Seattle into the playoffs.|
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"It's definitely a great honor, especially when you look at who's been an All-Star in the past," says Bird. "To be named one of the top players is pretty special, and I plan to enjoy every minute of it."
Her All-Star experience will pit her against New York's Teresa Weatherspoon and Charlotte's Dawn Staley, the starting guards for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. The Storm visited New York last Tuesday, giving the 21-year-old Bird a chance to square off against her 36-year-old All-Star counterpart.
"I have a lot of respect for (Weatherspoon) as a person and a player," says Bird. "I value the times that I get to play against her, because it gives me the chance to learn something from her and it's always a challenge."
Bird has risen to the challenge against the two East starters this season. In two games against Weatherspoon and the Liberty, the rookie point guard is averaging 15.0 ppg, 6.0 apg and 4.0 rpg. In her only meeting with Staley and the Sting, Bird scored 17 points and dished out seven assists.
Besides establishing a friendly rivalry between Bird and Weatherspoon, Bird's visit to New York also showed just how popular she is in her hometown. Bird grew up in Long Island, went to high school in Queens and then went to the University of Connecticut. Her wealth of local friends and family led to 150 guests showing up for her impromptu Garden party, a night that was extremely special for Bird. And while Washington is roughly 200 miles from New York, Bird wouldn't be surprised if a fair amount of friends and family made it down for her All-Star debut.
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But for all of her accolades and accomplishments -- she was even featured in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated -- Bird is still just a rookie trying to cut it as a professional athlete. This means that she faces a myriad of new challenges, one of which is adapting to the pro game and lifestyle, a change she says is more difficult than jumping from high school to college.
"College to pros has been tougher," says Bird. "It's much different. You don't have classes any more; you're an adult now. It's a much different environment."
Another challenge Bird faces is the move out West. Taken as the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft by Seattle, Bird is still adapting to life on the "other" coast.
"(Life in Seattle) is going well. It was a little rough, but I'm definitely getting into it," says Bird. "I miss New York a little bit, but Seattle's really grown on me and I'm having a lot of fun out there."
And perhaps the toughest challenge for Bird is on the court. In her last season at Connecticut, she capped a brilliant college career with a perfect 39-0 title run in her final season. The Huskies were the epitome of a team that shared the ball evenly. But in her rookie year with the Storm, she has been asked to be more selfish, and to look for her own shot first. This is a new role for Bird.
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"I think (the team needs me) to be a lot more aggressive offensively," says Bird on her role in Seattle. "They're looking for me to score more, and I think I'm one of the top three options on offense."
She also has had to grow accustomed to playing for an up-and-coming team that has more modest goals.
"Losing isn't easy, but you do learn something every time you lose a game," says Bird, who laughs when thinking about how many times this question is posed to her. "I think this team is pretty young, but with every loss we get better. So hopefully we can improve, and pull it out and make the playoffs. That's our ultimate goal."
Thanks in no small part to Bird, Seattle has improved this season. With eight wins before the All-Star break, the Storm has already come close to matching their 2001 record of 10-22.
"I'll do whatever my team needs me to do to win the game," says Bird. "Whether it's shoot the ball 20 times, pass it every time I touch it or play defense, I'll do whatever my team needs from me."
And chances are, Bird will be able to deliver.