SEATTLE — They line up hours before the game, meandering around the Climate Pledge Arena, most of them in No. 10 jerseys and shirts, determined to get in the paint early to enjoy what they’ve got. Every second she could have, not just the best point guard women’s game of all time, but also the most influential women’s player of her era.
Sunday was a fast-paced, high-level game in the Seattle Storm’s 89-81 loss to the Las Vegas Aces (Bird finished with 9 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds) ), becoming the four-time WNBA champion double the regular-season final home game. Granted, it wasn’t the goodbye she was hoping for, and Olympic teammate A’ja Wilson (29 points, 6 rebounds) felt a little bad about it.
“I didn’t mean to spoil Sue’s party, she invited me!” Wilson said with a smile. “I just wanted to have some fun. I’m happy for Sue. We all have to respect her for what Sue does on this team.”
The Storm are already locked in the playoffs and will likely play more home games — none of us should rule out Bird’s brilliance in her 21-year career and the Aces spoiling her festivities The possibility of a fifth WNBA ring before she retires this offseason. But to be on the safe side, and to make sure her career ended on the trip, she got the credit she deserved, Seattle fans forced an appearance on Sunday.
Given the roar of Bird’s run to the floor and the fact that there were no vacancies in the arena, most of the city showed up, and their point guards were poised. To make sure everyone in the room understood her importance, Storm handed out a black shirt with a gold goat emblazoned on the front. Those who looked closely discovered that the animal was actually made up of a series of Bird honors, a tribute to GOAT (the greatest ever).
But perhaps more importantly, she’s also the most influential player in WNBA history and one of the most influential athletes in Seattle sports history, regardless of gender.
Assisted by Storm superstar Lauren Jackson, who retired in 2016, and 2018 MVP Brianna Stewart, who won again this season, Bird has made Seattle a mecca for women’s sports. In honor of Bird’s legacy, the sports world in general — Seattle in particular — will continue to benefit from the Suburd effect.
Consider the following:
— Storm made his debut in the 2000 season, then drafted Jackson with the No. 1 overall pick the following year. In 2002, Seattle was once again the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, selecting Bird. The Storm’s staying power can be attributed in part to the rabid fan base who keeps showing up on Bird. Not only did Seattle lead the league in average attendance, but on Sunday, the team set a franchise record with a sellout of 18,100.
– Without Bird, who helped Seattle fall in love with women’s sports, the Washington women’s basketball might not have had the raucous crowd when Kelsey Plum starred in the Huskies and led them into the 2016 Final Four.
— Without Bird, whose excellence demands taking women’s sports seriously in a city long defined by professional men’s teams, Seattle’s NWSL team might not have OL Reign.
Perhaps no young WNBA player is more qualified to talk about Bird’s impact than Plum, now in her sixth professional season in Las Vegas. Plum, who finished Sunday with 16 points and four assists, was a beneficiary of Bird’s impact on the Seattle sports market. Bird was one of thousands who watched the Plums in Washington during the 2013-17 season at the Alaska Airlines Arena, where she ended up breaking the NCAA scoring record.
“She’s great at going beyond the game,” Plum told USA TODAY Sports. “She’s one of those athletes who break through barriers — she’s got the ultimate respect from both sides. Seattle is great. It embraces the sport, regardless of gender…but the city’s love for women’s basketball was built by Sue.”
As far as she was concerned, Bird never thought about it — until Sunday.
Once a point guard, she delayed the game first, saying “you have to give a little nod to the Seattle Dominance,” the city’s former ABL team. Then she also recognized her character.
“What I’m really thinking about…you always know what you’re going to get from me,” Bird said. “Having players like that, in the same city, you can attach to it, you can connect with it, you can connect with the team — the fans here have done that. They have a connection with Lauren, they’re now connected with Stewie (Breanna Stewart has connections to other people, but I’m a constant, a constant constant. So it’s easy to take the bait.”
She cited other standouts, including Plum and fiancé Megan Rapinoe, the star of OL Reign, who said the players are “doing their own thing” to keep Seattle sports fans involved in the women’s game. But she admits, “I kept going. It’s good to know that I helped create other opportunities.”
Creating for others is exactly what a great point guard should do. And for Bird, there was no more fitting or fulfilling role.