Tearful Sue Bird ends 20-year basketball career as fans chant ‘Thank you Sue’: ‘I didn’t really want to leave the court’

Sue Bird did not want to leave the field of play.

It was obvious that if the 41-year-old had the choice or opportunity, she would have opted to draw a line under her career with the drama and excitement of a championship win — adding a fifth to the four that she and her team, the Seattle Storm, had already won.

Yet, it was not to be. Despite, her efforts and those of her teammates, and the fans packed into Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, the Storm failed to overcome the power and inventiveness of the Las Vegas Aces. The team went down 97 – 92 in the fourth game of five-contest Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) championships semi-finals.

Even as the odds closed against the Storm, Bird and her supporters hoped and screamed for a miraculous recovery, the sort of thing she has conjured up so frequently in her two decades with the team.

“Obviously I am so thankful for 20 years here. I’m going to miss it so much. I’m not going anywhere but I’m going to miss it,” Bird told a live broadcast on ESPN as she came off the field. “I wish we could have done a little bit more to get to the finals, but I’m so proud of this team this year.”

She added: “I’m so, so proud to be a member of the Seattle Storm. It has been my honour to pick this franchise to play for these fans.”

As she spoke, the fans chanted her name, and their gratitude for her dedication: “Thank you Sue”. “Thank you Sue”. “Thank you Sue.”

WNBA Legend Sue Bird Retires

When asked what her legacy might be, Bird said: “I guess I just hope the next person that comes in and plays point guard here, just keep the tradition going. Keep the winning going. Keep that championship level going, keep these fans happy.”

Bird, who is 5ft 9in, and born in Syosset, New York, signed to the Storm in 2002. Her signing came on the heels of a successful stint on an undefeated University of Connecticut side and emerging at the top overall draft pick.

In addition to winning four championships for the Storm, Bird bagged a record five gold medals representing the United States women’s basketball team. She became the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists and career starts, embarking on a remarkable 549 games.

Bird, whose partner is US women’s national soccer star Megan Rapinoe, had planned that the 2021 season would be her final.

She revealed to ESPN in February that it was the sound of fans chanting “one more year” when they lost in the finals to Phoenix Mercury that changed her mind.

“It really didn’t hit me in that moment until the fans chanted and then I was like, ‘Oh, they know it, too? They’re sensing this also?’. It’s weird because it immediately changed my perspective. Had the buzzer gone off and I just went home, I probably would have retired,” she said. “But having that moment, it kind of changed some things for me. During the drive home, there was a wide range of emotions, as you can imagine.”

Sue Bird holds the league record for most games started – a remarkable 549

(Getty Images)

Many cities and teams have their favourite players, the kind of individuals it is hard to imagine pressing on without their presence.

For 20 seasons, that was the case for the New England Patriots in regard to Tom Brady, 45. His dominance as quarter back in the NFL is comparable to that of Bird’s in the WNBA.

The whole world of tennis, and perhaps even beyond that, is feeling that right now in regard to Serena Williams, 40, who has said she is giving up the sport after 23 grand slams, and after losing in the third round match of the US Open to Ajla Tomljanović.

As it is, Brady has persisted in the game, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams has said she wants to focus more on other things, including having a second child.

Bird’s connection with the fans in Seattle is no doubt made even closer because of the absence of a men’s professional team on the NBA since the Seattle SuperSonics franchise was sold and moved to Oklahoma in 2007.

As such, as many of the fans holding signs saying “Sue You are my Hero” attested on Tuesday night, Bird became a role model to sports fans of all stripes. She was also a mentor to many of her teammates, often also putting on the captain’s jersey when she was wearing that No 10 shirt she made her own.

In 2017, she spoke openly about her sexuality for the first time, coming out as gay and revealing she was dating Rapinoe.

After Tuesday’s game, Vegas coach Becky Hammon lauded Bird by saying she “had a career kids dream of, and she lived it.”

“Her thumbprint on the game is forever etched,” Hammon continued. “She’s a beautiful mind. Her jumper going left is killer, too, but her mind for the game is one of a kind, so you have so much respect for her.”

One fan who was in the stadium, Sarah Rose Nottingham, a business manager and actor, told The Independent: “Watching Sue Bird play basketball is like experiencing [sensory overload].”

She added: “Her fundamentals are flawless, her playfulness spices up the game, and her vision creates plays a coach could only dream of for the players. I’m proud we got the chance to cheer for her on the court.”

Bird also received the applause of Rapinoe, her fiancé, who posted on Intstagram a rare public reference to their relationship: “The Greatest to ever do it. I am so proud of you.”

“Legend. Take a bow,” tweeted Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

With all such emotions swirling, Bird admitted it was hard to say farewell to the sport and to the fans. At the same time, she appeared certain her mind was made up.

“No, I don’t have second thoughts,” she said to ESPN this week. “Of course my body feels good, and so that can be tricky. Or it can trick you. But there’s a reason why I felt comfortable, and I felt confident in this being my last year. Being able to say that out loud was a big hurdle. And once I kind of jumped over that, I knew I did the right thing because how I felt afterwards.”

She added: “Am I gonna miss basketball? Absolutely. There’s going to be nothing like this. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replicate it. I’m not even going to try. But now I know I made the right decision.”

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