At 38, Sue Bird Not Even Close to Slowing Down, Either On Or Off the Court
A WNBA champ again, Bird also now works in the front office of the Denver Nuggets.
Nothing helps a player through the long WNBA offseason like having a championship trophy to admire.
Even better than that is having two trophies. Just ask Sue Bird.
She’s floating through the eight months this time around, because not only is she a league champion as a member of the Seattle Storm, she also has a gold medal from the 2018 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Add in a new offseason job working in the front office with the Denver Nuggets, and Bird doesn’t have time to think about much else.
The new season will be here before she knows it.
“I’ve got zero complaints,” Bird said. “The thing that can be tough about the WNBA is the length of the offseason. But I’ve always said, after you’ve won, it’s the best offseason you’re ever going to have. You can think back on your summer and just have a lot of good feels and good vibes, and for me it was double, times two, because we also won the (FIBA) World Cup.”
In November, two months after securing her third WNBA ring and one month after her fourth FIBA World Cup gold medal, the Nuggets hired her to join the brain trust in basketball operations. She is working with the general manager and scouts in player evaluations and loving every minute, even though it takes a different skillset than she is used to as a player.
“You forget just how many players there are in the NBA, and how many players there are that are trying to get into the NBA and how a team has to assess all of that and constantly just be on top of it,” Bird said. “You have to watch a lot of games and scout a lot of players and just constantly be in the know. So, it’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s a lot, and you’ve got to constantly be on your toes.”
She didn’t set out to be a trail blazer as one of the first women to break into the NBA, along with peers such as Jenny Boucek, Kristi Toliver, Becky Hammon and Kelly Krauskopf. She just wanted an opportunity to work in the game she loves. Breaking down barriers is a cherry on top, she said.
While this offseason job is something she enjoys, she still has the desire to compete and pursue more as a player on the court. She already has announced she will play her 17th season this year, hoping to help the Storm repeat.
Then there is the matter of 2020 and possibly taking another crack at the Olympic Games. It would be her fifth if she decides to pursue that lofty challenge. In fact, making the 2020 U.S. team and then earning another medal would cement her as the most accomplished women’s basketball player of all time.
Actually, she might already own that title, too.
With four Olympic gold medals, five World Cup medals, three WNBA titles, multiple championships in the Russian National League and the EuroLeague and two national titles in college at the University of Connecticut, it is safe to say no one else has won on the same scale at the highest levels of the game.
Teresa Edwards is the only American woman to have played in five Olympics for USA Basketball, winning four gold medals and a bronze. If Bird earns a spot on the 2020 team and medals, she would equal that mark and could improve upon it with a fifth gold medal.
“I don’t know,” Bird said when asked about another run at the U.S. Olympic Team. “I think where I am right now, the best way to say it is if I’m healthy, if I’m capable and playing at a level that is Olympic-worthy, I would love to play.
“I would love to represent my country again.”
While Bird can see the end of her playing days are not too far off, she also remembers the start of all this success like it was yesterday.
In the summer between her sophomore and junior years in college in 2000, she was invited by USA Basketball to play on the USA R. William Jones Cup team in Taipei. She said she remembers living in dorms at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for several weeks and trying to get to know her teammates while also competing with some for a spot on the roster.
“It was just very challenging but also something I think was very important to me and my growth,” she said. “At that point, I was probably 19 years old. So, it was really important to my growth as a person and as a basketball player.”
Her college coach, Geno Auriemma, was an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Team that summer. On its way to the games in Sydney, the USA team stopped in Hawaii where it played an exhibition game against Bird and the 2000 USA Select Team, comprised of college athletes, most of whom played together in the Jones Cup.
“They killed us,” Bird said. “It was not even close.”
But she remembers going out to dinner with Auriemma after the game and then having a conversation with him back at UConn later that year after the Olympic Games. It was really the conversation that ignited her unprecedented run of success.
“When he came back we chatted again, and it was in that moment when he said to me, ‘Listen, if you want to be the next point guard for the USA Basketball team, you have a chance to do that,’” Bird recalled. “Obviously, I was just a sophomore going into my junior year and still young, but he said, ‘If it’s something you want, you have an opportunity. Now you’ve got to put in the work to get there.’ It was probably that moment when I really started to take it seriously.”
Nearly 20 years later, Bird remains a master of her craft at the top of her game with opportunities still coming her way.