Sue Bird: The Winner
Sue Bird is, simply, a winner. This past off-season in Russia, the Seattle Storm's point guard added a Euroleague Championship and a Russian Superleague title to a lengthy list of championships she has won during her career - a WNBA Championship with the Storm, gold medals in both the Olympics and the World Championships, two NCAA titles at UConn, a National High School Championship at Christ the King.
Bird's remarkable run of success - "I've been lucky," she says modestly - raises a surprising question. What is there left to win?
Bird is driven by a simple desire - to avoid the painful feeling of defeat and feel the joy associated with winning.
"More so than anything when it comes to winning those things, I think about how I feel when I don't win," Bird says. "It is about the winning, but more so than anything it's just about not wanting to lose. You don't want to have that feeling, you want to have the feeling of victory, and the whole euphoria thing and what not. That's really what it's about."
Bird has taken the Storm's first-round losses the last two seasons hard. In 2005, when Houston won the final two games of the first-round series at KeyArena, Bird still had the loss on the mind that winter. From Russia, she e-mailed Storm Coach Anne Donovan to ask what she could have done differently. Last year's defeat was almost as painful. Though she was one of just two Storm players to score double-figures in the game, Bird missed several shots during the fourth quarter of Game 3 at Los Angeles.
"Even with (our) injuries, we should have advanced," Bird says. "To lose the same way you did the year before, it takes a toll. We don't want to repeat history again."
Last summer, Bird earned the highest honor possible for a WNBA player when she joined Storm forward Lauren Jackson on the league's All-Decade Team. However, the accolade brought criticism that Bird - along with Indiana's and Tamika Catchings one of the two most inexperienced players on the All-Decade Team - had not yet accomplished enough to deserve her spot.
It didn't help the argument that Bird was going through the worst season, in terms of statistics, of her WNBA career. Bird still finished the season third in the league in assists per game (4.8 apg) and third amongst point guards in scoring (11.4 ppg), but her first four seasons set a high standard. Both averages were the lowest of her career, and Bird was not selected to either All-WNBA Team after earning First Team honors during her first four seasons.
"You want to perform at the highest level all the time, but you have to take a step back and reevaluate some things," says Bird. "That's what I tried to do this off-season. Hopefully that will prepare me for the coming season here."
Bird's off-season started in Brazil, where she ascended to the role of starting point guard for Donovan and the U.S. National Team during the World Championships. While the U.S. team fell victim to an upset in the semifinals, finishing in third place, Bird played well after backing up during the 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Athens Olympics. She led all players in the tournament in assists and won the praise of her coach.
"She's played fantastic here," Donovan said during the World Championships. "She's just done a great job of taking this team and making it hers. "Sue has really stepped up her level of play here and done a great job throughout."
After taking a couple of months off, Bird joined close friend and former UConn teammate and Diana Taurasi in Russia to play with Spartak. The star-studded roster, which featured several WNBA stars, captured the Euroleague title. Then, with Jackson joining the club, Spartak also won the Russian Superleague Championship.
2007 STORM PREVIEW
"I feel like I've been working out for the last five months. I feel like I'm really healthy."
As she enters her sixth WNBA season, Bird can now safely be described as a veteran. She has made a few joking references to her age with the media, but at 26, Bird should just be entering the prime of her career.
"I think the WNBA prime is still yet to be found out," says Bird. "It's tough to say when that will be. I am getting older and I do have more experience both in this league and also internationally. That's where you see the experience really help out when it comes to things like the World Championships and the Olympics."
"She just keeps getting better," says Donovan. "She's 26, so some of her best years are still ahead of her."
As Bird says, there are more championships to be won. With each title, Bird continues to build the case that when her career is over, she will be remembered first and foremost as a winner.
"I hope so," she says. "That's not such a bad thing to be associated with."