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Bird Honored at NIKETOWN

The Seattle Storm won’t take the court again this year, but there was still a game-day feeling at NIKETOWN Seattle Saturday morning. There was Doppler, shaking his enormous bottom to the delight of children. There were fans, who packed the first floor, cheering when Storm guard Sue Bird was introduced. And there, naturally, was the 30-foot billboard picturing Bird that will now hang over the NIKETOWN entrance.

Bird towers over the entrance to NIKETOWN Seattle.
Liam O’Mahony/Storm Photos
Fans gathered at NIKETOWN to celebrate the new billboard after Bird was selected in a vote this summer to replace the previous subject, former Sonics guard Gary Payton. Out of 3,000 votes cast, Bird beat out Sonics guard Ray Allen, the runner-up, Payton, Lance Armstrong, Mia Hamm and Marion Jones. Despite the fact that she made appearances at NIKETOWN this summer to encourage fans to vote for her, Bird was still surprised by the result. “I didn’t know what to think,” she said Saturday. “I didn’t really believe that going against those athletes, it was a possibility. Now that I won, I’m definitely happy about it.”

Bird received an additional honor during the ceremony, with Seattle Mayor and Storm supporter Greg Nickels declaring October 4 “Sue Bird Day” in Seattle, to the applause of the crowd. However, as emcee Dori Monson noted, the day was about more than just Bird. It was also about the enormous impact the Storm has made on the Seattle community during its short lifetime, as well as celebrating women’s sports in general.

While giving credit to the Storm’s marketing efforts and the timing of the vote, Bird agreed that the result sent a positive message. “People were voting, the fans spoke on that,” she said. “For them to pick a female athlete over those guys is just another step in the right in the direction for female athletes.”

Returning to Seattle for the event was a nice break for Bird in the rehab schedule she’s been following since undergoing surgery on her left knee September 19. According to Bird, rehab will be a lengthy process. “It’s a little bit of a slow rehab,” she said. “I had to get my knee cleaned out a little bit, some of my meniscus was torn and there were other things. The doctor did some poking in there that will help me in the long run but makes for a slower rehab. Right now, I’m trying to get my muscle back, trying to work on my range of motion, things like that.”

Instead of playing pickup basketball, as she normally would this time of year, Bird is pointing towards a late December or early January return to the court.

Before being honored by Nike, Bird received a prestigious honor from the league, as she was selected All-WNBA first team for the second consecutive season. She became just the fifth player to make the first team during her first two seasons in the league, but Bird’s accomplishment was overshadowed by teammate Lauren Jackson being named MVP the same day.

Bird wasn’t expecting that accolade either. “As far as the first team goes, it’s always an honor, especially to be picked top five in the WNBA. It’s pretty incredible when you look at some of the players out there,” she said. “Was I expecting it? No, not really. Was it a surprise? A little bit. If anything, it just pushes me to work harder, get back from my surgery.”

That Bird was playing through chondromalacia in her left knee made being named first team all the more remarkable. “I also know the Sue Bird people saw this summer wasn’t me at a hundred percent,” she concluded.

Further accolades could be on the horizon for Bird when USA Basketball announces its roster for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. The roster is expected to be announced within the next month, and Bird – who played for Team USA during last year’s World Basketball Championships – is a favorite to be selected. Asked about the possibility during an impromptu Q&A session with Monson, Bird said she’d “love to” play on the Olympic team.