The year was 2004 and a then 24-year-old Sue Bird was in the midst of her first taste of Olympic action as member of the Women’s National Team.
Bird was drafted 1st overall by the Seattle Storm two years earlier and had burst onto the scene as an imaginative virtuoso with the ball in her hands. Her superb ball-handling and prolific court vision earned her spot alongside proven stars like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, and Dawn Staley in Athens, Greece. Bird won the first of what would be three Olympic gold medals that summer, and added more credence to her place amongst the greatest guards in women’s basketball history.
An ocean away, a then 10-year-old Breanna Stewart was just figuring out that her wiry frame would prove invaluable on a basketball floor. Undoubtedly, she watched Bird and the other members of the 2004 Women’s National Team with admiration. She would go on to become the most decorated player in women’s collegiate basketball history, and would be selected 1st overall by the Storm in 2016.
More importantly, she would see her name as one of the final 12 that chosen to represent the United States at the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro this summer. Her Seattle Storm teammate, Sue Bird, was also selected, and has a chance to capture a record fourth Olympic gold this summer.
Although 14 years separate the two Storm teammates and now co-inhabitants of the red, white and blue, they couldn’t be more similar, and in turn more valuable to each other.
First, both attended the University of Connecticut and played under Geno Auriema, who just so happens to also be the coach of the Women’s National Team. The trio has six National Championships between them and four Naismith National Players of the Year awards.
They both were the first overall pick of their respective drafts by the Storm, and both were looked upon as game-changers from the first second they stepped foot in the WNBA. Bird’s dynamic play, and fondness for flair revolutionized the point guard position, while Stewart’s fully-loaded offensive arsenal and tenacity on the boards have her poised to be the next face of women’s basketball.
Heading to Rio these two trailblazers find themselves in very different points in their careers though. At 35, Bird is in the dying embers of what was a fiery blaze of a career. On the other hand, at just 21, Stewart has only scratched the surface of her potential. When it comes to Olympic experience Bird is now the Dawn Staley of the 2016 team, and Stewart has assumed the role that Bird found herself in as the eager newcomer in Athens.
“I talked to Sue a lot, just because we’re on the same team in Seattle,” Stewart said after Sunday’s practice. “The biggest thing I got from her was to just enjoy this moment, enjoy being part of the Olympics, because you don’t know if it’s going to happen again and you don’t want to take that for granted.”
Over a decade ago Bird likely expressed many of the same sentiments as she embarked on her first Olympic journey, now wearing the United States uniform is like a second skin.
She showcased her veteran mindset after the team’s narrow win over the Select Team on Monday with this matter-of-fact answer to a question on the game: “For us, we are focused on the whole process, the whole journey, and this was just the first game. We’ve only had a couple practices together, so it was really good to be challenged in that way by the Select Team. It really showed what we’re going to need to work on and the level that we have to play at moving forward.”
Bird and Stewart will be looked to as key contributors on another loaded Women’s National Team roster. The squad is a who’s who of the top women’s basketball talent the world as to offer. But two Seattle Storm teammates, in particular, can take comfort in learning from each other along the path to gold.