"I'm gay. Megan's my girlfriend. ... These aren't secrets to people who know me," Bird told ESPNW.
On the eve of her record-tying 10th WNBA All-Star Game, Sue Bird opened up about her private life and sexuality.
“I’m gay,” the Storm star told ESPNW during a lengthy profile titled “Ready to let you in,” that was published Thursday morning.
Bird spoke about her girlfriend Megan Rapinoe, the Seattle Reign star and member of the U.S. women’s national team. They began dating last year and had been spotted at several events, but neither had publicly discussed their relationship.
“These aren’t secrets to people who know me,” Bird told ESPNW’s Mechelle Voepel in a wide-ranging interview. “I don’t feel like I’ve not lived my life. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.”
The timing of the announcement coincides with the league’s All-Star break. Saturday’s WNBA’s All-Star Game at KeyArena will be broadcast on ABC and usually draws the highest television viewership in a season for the league.
“It’s happening when it’s happening because that’s what feels right,” Bird told ESPNW. “So even though I understand there are people who think I should have done it sooner, it wasn’t right for me at the time. I have to be true to that. It’s my journey.”
Bird said she realized she was gay in college when she was a star at Connecticut and that it was a “non-issue” for her and her closest friends and family.
The Storm star was close to coming out before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics while filling out a questionnaire titled “25 things you don’t know about Olympians.”
“I literally had at No. 25: ‘I’m gay,’ ” she told ESPNW. “And then I just didn’t do it. I chickened out.”
She drew comfort when she heard teammate Elena Delle Donne speak in casual terms with a reporter about recently coming out and knew she, too, would eventually come out publicly.
“I almost said, ‘Yeah, it’s no big deal. I’m gay, who cares?’ ” Bird told ESPNW. “There’s another moment it was right there, but I didn’t say anything.”
In May, Bird attended the wedding between close friend Diana Taurasi, the Phoenix Mercury star and her former UConn teammate, to Penny Taylor, the retired WNBA player.
Bird has privately supported LGBTQ causes for years, whereas Rapinoe has been an outspoken activist for several social issues. Last year, the Reign star kneeled during the national anthem in solidarity and support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Bird said Rapinoe’s activism didn’t motivate her decision to come out.
“This actually has nothing to do with Megan, in terms of how free I feel to talk about it,” Bird said in the ESPNW story. “This has been something I’ve been on the verge of doing for a long time.”
Rapinoe, who is five years younger and began playing professional soccer in Seattle in 2012, told ESPNW: “Sue has the same convictions about her life and the things she believes in as I do but, I think, does it in a different way.”
WNBA President Lisa Borders applauded Bird in a tweet that read: “Proud of @S10Bird for showing the courage to be true to herself. #LoveIsLove #SeeHer”
Even before Thursday’s announcement, which drew widespread support on social media, Bird had been the headliner of the All-Star Game.
At 36, she’s the oldest player in the WNBA and still playing at a remarkably high level in her 15th season.
She’s averaging 10.8 points and is second in the league with 6.9 assists per game for the Storm, which has stumbled into the break at 9-11.
Bird, who is on pace to break the WNBA’s all-time assist record in August, is averaging 5.5 assists and 12.3 points for her career.
“A lot of these types of longevity milestones … it speaks to consistency,” Bird told The Times. “All-Star is pretty special. When you’re voted in by the fans, that gives it a little bit of a different twist.
“But this year it was the fans, the players and the media that voted for the starters, so there’s something a little extra about that. … What does 10 mean? It’s something I’ll look back on and think it’s pretty cool.”
Bird isn’t one to reflect, but she can point to three moments that shaped her basketball career.
After two years at Syosset High on New York’s Long Island, she transferred to prestigious Christ the King High in Queens, where she lost just three games and rose to national prominence.
“I went from a predominantly white environment — literally we had one black family in Syosset — to now living in an inner-city school in Queens where you’re just surrounded by all these new people and cultures,” Bird said. “It’s Catholic school. My dad is Jewish. My mom is Christian. So figure that out.
“It’s just a whole new ballgame. And my parents were divorcing. It was just a lot going on. As a 15-year-old, I grew up a little bit.”
Bird faced her first real adversity during her freshman year at Connecticut when she tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in her left knee after eight games and needed season-ending surgery.
“That probably motivated me and defined me moving forward for the remainder of my career,” Bird said. “It was the first time I had basketball taken away.
“Tearing your ACL is not the end of the world, but it 100 percent feels like it when you’re an 18-year-old kid and you’ve only played in eight college games and you have no idea what you’re going to be as a basketball player. … It’s a fork in the road. You can either let it ruin you or motivate you.”
Bird capped a brilliant college career with her second NCAA title and leading UConn to a 39-0 record while capturing the Naismith Player of the Year award.
“That season was perfect in every way,” Bird said.
The Storm selected Bird No. 1 overall in the 2002 WNBA draft. Paired with Lauren Jackson, the Storm won the WNBA title in 2004 and 2010.
Surgery to remove a cyst in her right knee forced Bird to miss the 2013 season, and her performance dipped in 2014 and 2015, which fueled retirement rumors.
Bird changed her diet, conditioning and ended her 10-year routine in which she spent the WNBA offseason playing in Russia.
Last year, she rebounded and averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 assists — arguably her best season since 2011.
“Luckily and fortunately, I was able to turn it back around,” Bird said. “A lot of this had to do with the people around me like (Storm coach Jenny Boucek), Susan Borchardt who is my strength coach, and Dr. (Susan) Kleiner, my nutritionist. I put my career in their hands, and it paid off better than I could have imagined.”
Before each season, Bird is asked when she’ll retire, and she responds the same way each time: “I’m taking it one year at a time.”
Still, she understands she’s in the third act of her career.
“To say it’s the second act, would suggest I’m going to play another 10 years, and I don’t see that happening,” Bird said. “So I think it’s the third act, but I’m going to try to make it go as long as I can.
“I would love to end with a trophy. Whether it’s this year or next year. If we won, I’m pretty sure I’d call it a day after that.”
For now, retirement can wait, because Bird has a party to plan for the WNBA players and league officials.
“I’m doing a little gathering on Friday night,” she said. “Even though I wasn’t born and raised here, I very much feel as it pertains to a WNBA All-Star Game, this is very much my city.
“So I want to make sure that everyone has a good time and we show them what Seattle is all about, because people have some preconceived stuff going on about this city.”
While being interviewed Bird was uncertain on the party’s location but is sure about one thing.
“I want a rooftop,” she said. “I feel like people need to see that about Seattle. This city, in the summer, on the roof — there’s no better place.”