Bird, one of the top 15 players in WNBA history, has embraced the mentorship role with players such as Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, even though her skills are still impressive.
Storm guard Sue Bird swears she hasn’t reached the nostalgic portion of her career yet. There will be no Kobe Bryant-like retirement tour this season, because after signing a multiyear contract with Seattle in February, Bird contemplates life after basketball only in the abstract.
“I didn’t want a contract to dictate my end,’’ she said. “ I kind of wanted to figure that out on my own.”
Yet the Storm couldn’t have offered up more poignant symbols of their past and future Thursday. They had Bird and No. 1 draft pick Breanna Stewart on hand at KeyArena to buttress their news conference formally announcing the team’s partnership with Swedish Medical.
The hope is that the melding of those two players in 2016 will help make the present much more successful for the Storm. Bird said it has been a long time since she has seen such a strong buzz surrounding the Storm, and it has been invigorating. But Bird, 35, couldn’t help from letting a little wistfulness seep in as the Storm prepares to begin preseason practice Sunday.
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Bird has been with the Storm uninterrupted since 2002, winning two WNBA titles along the way. She joked repeatedly Thursday about the perception of her as the “old woman” of the team; but that status also brings a perspective that is virtually unmatched in the league.
“I remember when I was Stewie,’’ Bird said, gesturing to Stewart, “and you walk in and you have this press conference. You have no idea what’s to come.”
What has come for Bird has been prodigious — the two Storm titles, three Olympic gold medals, nine All-Star appearances, and selection as one of the top 15 players in WNBA history.
But adding to Bird’s sense of wistfulness was last month’s formal announcement that her longtime superstar teammate, Lauren Jackson, has retired.
It was hardly a surprise — Jackson has been riddled with injuries and hasn’t played for the Storm since 2012, and even then only minimally. Yet the finality of it definitely was emotional for Bird.
“I’m sad,’’ she said. “I mean, I knew it was coming. I’ve known for quite a while, actually. It was a process for her to get to that point. A painful one, with a lot of surgeries and hopefulness at times.
“I’m sad to see her go. I know she’s going to have a great after-basketball life. But in some ways, it’s an end of an era, and it makes me miss her a little more, but also proud I got to play alongside her.”
It was the bonding of Bird and Jackson that led to the Storm’s first golden era. Now the organization is trying to replicate that process with Stewart and last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Jewell Loyd, but with the added bonus of having Bird still on hand to help the process along.
“I couldn’t begin to overstate how much impact she’ll have on those coming into the league from her experience, her awareness of this city, and what it’s like to play basketball in Seattle for this particular fan base,’’ Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said.
Bird has embraced the mentorship role, even though her skills are still impressive. Bird averaged 10.3 points and 5.4 assists last season in 27 games, two years after missing the 2013 season after knee surgery.
The passing of the torch, to use Storm coach Jenny Boucek’s phrase, is going to be “a beautiful thing to be a part of.” And Bird couldn’t have been more effusive about the potential of Stewart, who led Bird’s alma mater, Connecticut, to four consecutive NCAA titles. She said the inevitable comparisons of Stewart to Jackson and Elena Delle Donne are perfectly valid.
“I mean, think about that company,’’ Bird said. “The way I like to describe Stewie is a walking mismatch.”
Bird talked about how cool it is to have “generations collide” this season, in which both players could be part of another U.S. Olympic bid. Again, no nostalgia, “but I definitely have moments where I look back and feel really lucky. Lucky that Seattle drafted me.”
As for how much time Bird has left as an active player, “I’m not really stressed about it, or thought about it. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve thought about it in the long term, like what am I going to do post-basketball. But in terms of my actual retirement or announcing it, I’m not thinking about it.
“I’m taking it one day, one month, one year at a time. At this point, I think for any old player, or older player, they can tell you, it’s all about how you feel. It’s all about your health. … I’ll see what happens. I feel good. I feel healthy.”
And, best of all, she feels the buzz.