SEATTLE – If this was a dinner party, rather than the WNBA All-Star Game, Sue Bird would be greeting her guests at the door with a wide smile, moving around the room to make sure everyone had drinks, pointing them to the food and generally making sure everybody was having a good time.
“This is Sue Bird’s party,” said Diana Taurasi. “It’s her city.”
Seattle is hosting the WNBA All-Star Game for the first time ever, and relying on a player who has participated in this event more times than any active player in the league to be its gracious host. There could hardly be a better choice.
Bird, who ties Tamika Catchings for the most All-Star appearances in league history when the game tips off Saturday at 12:30 p.m. local time in Key Arena, is the face of the Seattle Storm franchise.
And she is excited to have the entire league’s focus on her adopted hometown for the weekend.
“To be honest, it’s really enjoyable, I like it,” Bird said. “Our franchise has done such great job overall, and in getting this game. The franchise has stepped up, the city has stepped up and the fans of the city have stepped up to try and put on the best All-Star game, and that’s what I want.
“I want that for myself, I want that for the fans, I want that for the other All-Stars. So whatever has been needed, I think everyone has tried to chip in.”
Bird said she hasn’t been part of the day to day planning. But she’s been consulted a few times.
When the league and the city of Seattle were making decisions about the planning for this event, they called Bird. “They wanted to know what kind of gifts to get for the players and I gave them some suggestions,” Bird said. “It ended up being a Polaroid Camera and it was a big hit, so I’m excited about that. They were basically coming to me as someone whose been to All-Star games. They want to know ‘What did you like?’, ‘What didn’t you like?’. They really want to do it right. I’ve given them some suggestions and tweet, but it’s been all them.”
But it’s been Bird who has figured most prominently in the public promotion of this game, along with first-time All-Star Breanna Stewart, her Storm teammate.
Bird admits she feels a little responsible for making sure the weekend goes smoothly.
“Not from the basketball perspective, that all takes care of itself,” Bird said. “I’m not worried about that. We will go out there and have a good time. But the little things, the details, you do want it to go well. You want the players to enjoy the experience.
“Most of us have been All-Stars, we know the All-Star experience, and some people, I think miss the break and it adds more travel, and it can weigh on you. So you want to make it enjoyable, to forget all those other things.”
Bird said the All-Star experience has always stuck out for her because of the time she gets to spend with her fellow players on the bus and in the locker room. There’s not much time to hang out with opposing players and friends during the busy season.
“That’s really the only time as players that you are spending time like that,” Bird said. “We are all on different teams. You’re traveling all the time, doing our own thing. To have all these great players to have this time together, it’s great. Because it doesn’t happen often.”
For Bird, this All-Star weekend is a break from an up-and-down season that has alternated between frustrating and promising. The Storm are currently in the No. 9 position in the league standings at 9-11. They have lost six of their last 10 games and are 2-5 on the road so far this season.
“We’ve pretty much shown who we can be, who we are and kind of our worst selves, all in the first half of the season,” Bird said. “It’s been frustrating, but at the same time we know that the beauty of this league is that all it takes to get hot at the right time and anything can happen.
“We feel like we’ve shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, which is disappointing, but we also know there’s a lot of season to go. The one thing I know is there’s always going to be an opportunity in this league.”
Bird is also closing in on the league’s assist record, needing 64 assists to pass Ticha Penichiero for the WNBA’s all-time career mark. In typical deferential fashion, Bird said it’s something she will pay more attention to once she’s done playing.
“What I’m really noticing the most about these milestones is that you will appreciate them more when you are retired and the second thing is that it definitely speaks to a certain level of consistency and longevity,” Bird said. “But the thing that really sticks out the most is the other people who I’m now going to be associated with – Ticha Penichiero and Tamika Catchings – those are good people to be next to. That’s when you realize what it all means.”
At 36, Bird can’t help but wonder how many more experiences like this she will get to have in her career, even though retirement is not a topic on the table.
But she admits she tries to turn those off when they pop into her head because they start to make her emotional.
“I did that at the Olympics. Time will tell, but I had a moment where I thought ‘This could be my last one’, and I got emotional and it got the best of me,” Bird said. “I just don’t operate well in that brain space.”
The lead-up to the All-Star weekend has been a big one for Bird. Bird was profiled by ESPN.com, and for the first time she revealed her relationship with U.S. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
Bird said the reaction to the article, and her revelation has been positive.
“Obviously, I was sharing things that I haven’t shared before, it was different,” Bird said. “But at the end of the day, age and experience does this. You are just very grounded with who you are.”
Bird has now turned her attention to making sure Seattle puts on a great All-Star weekend show.
As far as fellow All-Star Candace Parker is concerned, Bird is just doing what a good point guard does.
“She’s putting everybody in the right position.”