Bird and Jackson Set to Shine in All-Star Game

Still short of two years playing together, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson have become almost inseparable. Bird and Jackson, Jackson and Bird. They are two of the WNBA’s top young players, playing the neatly compatible positions of point guard and power forward. Different off the court – one a laid-back, surfing Australian, the other a transplanted East Coast girl who proudly proclaimed her love for the Notorious B.I.G. in a WNBA commercial – they have blended well on it, on their way to becoming the WNBA’s answer to Stockton and Malone.

Bird and Jackson are teaming up for the second straight All-Star Game.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
For the second straight season, Bird and Jackson will combine to make the Storm one of a handful of teams with two players in tomorrow’s All-Star Game. It would be hard to find any duo that is having better seasons. Jackson leads the league in scoring at 19.7 ppg and is in the league’s top ten in rebounding and blocked shots, putting together a third season that has her amongst the top candidates for MVP. A nagging knee injury hasn’t kept Bird out of any games, but it has hampered her offense, with her scoring average down to 13.3 points per game. That has merely been an opportunity for Bird to improve her playmaking. With an average of 7.4 assists per game, she also leads the league in a key category, and Bird’s 2.33 assist-turnover ratio ranks her fifth in the league and is an improvement on last season’s performance.

Despite their connection, Bird is starting in the All-Star Game, Jackson is not. There is little doubt amongst those connected to the Storm that both deserve to be in the starting five. “Absolutely,” Storm Coach Anne Donovan responded when asked whether Jackson deserved to start. “Lauren Jackson’s in contention for MVP in my book.” The consensus is that Jackson is hurt by not being a key part of the league’s marketing effort. “I think marketing has to do with all those players. You look at the starters, and pretty much they’re all players that are in the public eye,” Donovan said. One of the people least concerned by Jackson’s omission is Jackson herself. “It doesn’t really bother me much,” Jackson said

As for Bird, she is thankful for those who sent her to New York – fan voters. “Starting in the All-Star Game obviously means I have a lot of people out there to thank – those who voted for me,” Bird said after the Storm’s last practice before the break. “It’s definitely a great honor.” Bird finished fourth overall in All-Star balloting this year and easily outpaced the rest of the West’s guards.

For the third consecutive season, Jackson was picked as an All-Star by the coaches, an honor which was expected given her performance. “It’s no big surprise to any of us that she was (selected), but still a tremendous acknowledgement nonetheless,” Donovan said. This year’s selection is better, Jackson says, because she’s comfortable with her role in the league. “I didn't even want to go the last two times,” Jackson explained. “I didn't know anybody and I just hid. This time I want to go. I'm confident in my game.”

That this year’s All-Star Game is being played in New York was important to both players, particularly New York native Bird. “I have to admit, the fact that it’s in New York City means a lot extra to me,” Bird said. “It’s a homecoming for me. We don’t get to play there this year during the regular season and I’m really looking forward to getting out there.” New York isn’t home for Jackson, but it’s a good place to spend a weekend. “I get to spend my break in New York. How cool is that?” she said. The trip might provide the two a chance to hang out off the court. “I’ll take her out after the game,” Bird said.

A year ago, both Bird and Jackson played well as the West’s All-Stars pulled out an 81-76 victory in Washington, D.C. Bird scored just two points, but handed out eight assists – setting a WNBA All-Star record in the process. Jackson played just 20 minutes off the bench, but was the game’s third-leading scorer with 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting. She contended for the MVP trophy won by Sparks rival Lisa Leslie for a third time.

Bird plans to play the same way again this year. “I just go in there to try to have a good time,” she said. “Break the assists record, right? I set it last year, now I’ve got to break it.” Bird is also hoping to get more court time with her teammate. “Last year we didn’t play together all that much. Hopefully this year we’ll get to be on the court a little bit more.”

The All-Star Game is a showcase for all of the league’s stars, but few more so than Bird and Jackson. Their team heads into the break a top contender in the West at 9-7, and Bird’s and Jackson’s first-half statistics easily put them amongst the top players at their positions. It’s a good time to be going to New York for the Storm’s dynamic duo.