Sue Bird Is a Leader On And Off The Court for USA Basketball
• Photo Gallery: Sue Bird Through the Years
Sue Bird is the oldest member of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. Let me just say that again with emphasis. Sue Bird is now the eldest stateswoman on the U.S. squad.
When did this happen? Well chronologically she is 33, of course. But wasn’t it just yesterday that she was youngest? Coming in at age 22 for the 2002 FIBA World Championship with a perfect ponytail flying while she dished rocket passes to Lisa Leslie as Dawn Staley and Sheryl Swoopes took her under their wing?
“I think from a point guard standpoint, they were kind of grooming me to take over in the future,” said Bird. “So they were both in my ear and helped me in trying to get used to the international game, because it actually was different. It can be an adjustment for some players, but overall 2002 was a great experience.”
And kudos to Staley and Swoopes, because Bird indeed has taken over and is now the one ushering in the new generation. And in true Bird fashion, she has nothing but accolades for pretty much all involved.
“To be honest, everyone has had their moments throughout training camp,” said Bird. “Particularly in the red-and-white game (at the University of Delaware last Thursday). Both those new to the national team and the others who have been here before had something for the highlight reel. It will be tough for the committee to choose the final 12-man roster.”
And while Bird is a virtual lock for that roster, maybe it’s just more unbelievable that she’s the veteran because she resembles almost exactly who she was back when she started.
As evidenced in the USA’s eventual 76-51 trouncing over Canada on Monday, Bird saw more than 17 minutes playing time and is still whipping passes; only this time to 2014 WNBA MVP Maya Moore and to the current youngest player on the team, Breanna Stewart.
“We just kept playing our game,” said the Syosset, Long Island, native Bird. “Canada may not have the names that we do, but they have a fast style of play and play well together and are physical and tough to compete against.”
So maybe a more appropriate question to put it all in perspective, is what hasn’t Sue Bird done? Oh, where to begin. There are the three Olympic gold medals, two World Championship golds and also five EuroLeague titles during her downtime. As for the WNBA, there are the two championships with Seattle, she’s an eight-time All-Star and was voted one of the 15 best players in the history of the league. And if we want to delve even further back, she’s a two-time NCAA champion with the University of Connecticut and a Naismith National Player of the Year recipient.
And just for some icing, with this 2014 FIBA World Cup she’ll make history as the first U.S. player ever to make four World Championship teams.
Geno Auriemma, who has returned for his second four-year stint coaching USA, has said he trusts her implicitly. And why wouldn’t he? He’s known her since she stepped on his Huskies court in 1999 and the one thing he’s sure of, is that Bird delivers.
And while he knows her well, it’s also vice versa as she comments on how his style differs from coaching in Storrs to coaching the national team.
“When you’re in the WNBA, you fall into a pattern and a certain professional style,” said Bird. “So in a lot of ways, he has to take his style of play and adjust to us, not necessarily the other way around. But he figures out a way to relate and does a really good job at it.”
Not that she hasn’t had her setbacks, as she did in 2013 when she sat out the WNBA season recovering from knee surgery, but says those are the times that, “you find out what you’re made of.”
She spent some of that time overcoming her shyness and speaking at youth girls’ basketball camps, reducing some of the young players to fits of giggles and/or tears at her presence.
“I think it’s important to show young girls that they can become strong, confident athletes,” said Bird. "When I was coming up, the WNBA was still in its infancy, but it's important also for the boys to realize, that hey, these girls can make it too."
And after all the titles and all the accolades, Bird is still just like one of those camp girls at heart who loves the game, thrills for suiting up for her country and can also be humble enough to admit that even she has one beauty indulgence she can’t live without it: her hair straightener.
And why not? If you’re going to go down in history by playing in this fourth World Championship, it never hurts to have an enviable perfect ponytail while doing it.