August 27 -- Back in June, when the Seattle Storm were in town to play the New York Liberty, teammates Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson envisioned and even predicted this very scenario. Prior to conducting a Read to Achieve reading event with a group of children, the three of us sat in a tiny office in the back of the NBA Store in New York City and talked about the Olympics, still far enough down the road at that point where the two friends could speak freely about their hopes, expectations and goals without offending the other.
Bird and Jackson at the NBA Store in June
Lauren has been here before. In 2000, she was a young newcomer, not quite the star on the Australian National Team, but good enough to help lead her team to the gold medal game. At the time, Sue Bird was not yet even a junior at UConn. The Opals fell to the U.S. team in that game, but Jackson has come a long way since Sydney. Now Bird is the Olympic newcomer, but finds herself in a very different position than Jackson was four years ago or even this time in Athens: the favorite.
After chatting with them, I tried to conduct separate interviews for our pre-Olympic features, but the questions and answers overlapped, as they talked more with each other, as much responding to each other's answers as my carefully pre-scripted questions.
Me: Sue, are you worried about fatigue with a longer WNBA season and a tough Olympics mixed in?
Sue: Our WNBA coaches are really cool in that if we need a mental or physical day off, they understand. That was the first thing they said to us coming into training camp this year was that if we needed a break or a rest, that it wouldn't be a problem.
Lauren: Coming over here to play in the WNBA this season was the best preparation I could do for the Olympics. I don't think I would have the same competition over there and playing with Anne Donovan is helpful because she is such a great coach and gets the most out of me. She makes me work really hard and that is something that you can't necessarily get in the offseason in Australia. Everyone is all over the place until June over there so we don?t have that time to train with each other.
Sue: You know, I didn't even think of that. Anne is the assistant coach for the U.S. and she's helping Lauren get ready for the Olympics. That's weird.
Me: So what will it be like going up against Sue? You know you'll have to go through the Americans if you want a shot at the gold.
Lauren: Sue is a great point guard. She is fearless. I've seen her go out there and just ball it up every time. I am going to laugh when I have to play against her. I'll probably pass her the ball. No, I won't. She'll probably pass me the ball. I can't wait. I am really looking forward to it.
Sue: And I bet you want to know what it's going to be like playing against Lauren, right?
Me: You're good.
Sue: It is going to be fun playing against her. If anything, hopefully I can come visit her in the Olympic village, check out what's going on over there and hang out with the Australians since I feel like I am one already at this point with all the Australians on our team. But Lauren is a great player. She is the "it" girl for her team and I'm actually glad that I do not have to guard her. She's too tough.
Lauren: You know, I really do not know what to expect this year. I?ve heard a lot of mixed things about it. I'm looking forward to the basketball. I'm not sure about the travel because the first Olympics I participated in, in Athens, was all so close to home for me. It is definitely going to be tough coming straight out of the middle of the WNBA season, but hopefully my focus will be with the Australian team when I'm over there and I know that we are going to win a gold medal.
Sue: Those are some bold words, man.
Perhaps. But Jackson and Bird will play one game for opposing teams with an Olympic gold medal on the line. Then they fly back to Seattle together and attempt to lead the Storm to its first WNBA title. They won't be able to do it alone.