Seattle point guard Sue Bird walked onto the court minutes before the national anthem, finding her spot at the end of the line of Storm players. Instead of wearing the Storm-signature yellow warmups and jersey combination, she sported a shirt that read “Reigning Champ.”
It’s been almost six months since the three-time WNBA champion has played a game of basketball. A few weeks before training camp Bird began having pain in her left knee — which received surgery in 2013 in order to remove a cyst. After further evaluation, doctors found what she referred to as a “loose bone” the size of a golf ball, which not only would require surgery to remove but take Bird out of the season indefinitely.
Since undergoing surgery in late May, Bird has remained around the team, serving a vital role in both coaching and supporting her teammates during a season filled with multiple setbacks, including injuries and playing away from KeyArena as it undergoes construction.
“When she is playing and when she is not playing, she is still a coach,” Sami Whitcomb said. “She is brilliant. She sees the game really, really well. Obviously with her off the court she can see even more, so it’s really great that she is able to dissect what’s happening and what’s working and what’s not working. She is just really great at giving us that feedback when we need it.”
During the Storm’s 84-83 loss to the New York Liberty Wednesday afternoon, Bird watched the game from the team’s bench. She cheered on and supported her teammates, making sure to be a part of every team huddle just like she has during the majority of the team’s homes games this season.
“We’ve opened the door for her to be a voice of this team,” said Storm head coach Dan Hughes. “I told her, ‘I think this will be good for you. Now you got to learn the timing, you got to learn when there’s moments. Just like when she’s on the court and able to direct her team, there’s also an open door for her to communicate with this team in her position off the court and she wants to do it.”
Bird said during the surgery the doctor found “more things that needed fixing” which has extended the rehab process. Without a specific timeline of when she expects to be back, Bird said this season might be similar to the 2013 season in which she returned around the start of playoffs after the first surgery on her knee.
On Tuesday, Bird published an article via The Players’ Tribune in which she backed her girlfriend Megan Rapinoe amid backlash from President Donald Trump over her comments of the USWNT not attending the White House.
“A lot of people might say, ‘Just shut up and dribble’ or whatever it is that you do, and my response to that is that it becomes really hard because people challenge you when you ask questions, you have to use your platform,” Bird said. “Being on the inside with Megan, it is pretty wild to have the president tweet at you. My take on it is just, I’ve been playing professional sports for a long time. We won last year and we weren’t even invited [to go to the White House]. It used to be nonpartisan but now has a line in the sand.
“To me this isn’t a matter of tax reform or things of that nature. This is about treating people with respect and treating people like they’re human just like you are, that’s where I stand with it. It’s what I believe in. It’s very similar to what Megan believes in.”
Bird also used the platform to explain her stance on the current movement toward equal pay within women’s athletics, comparing the USWNT’s lawsuit with the WNBA.
“There are similarities in that it’s women fighting for equal rights,” she said. “The difference is the WNBA is a business and U.S. soccer is not a profitable organization that’s got both men and women underneath it. To not treat people fairly under the same organization is not the quite the same as the WNBA. But at the end of the day, it’s women fighting for equal pay and equality across the board.”
Bird will miss the Storm’s game on Friday against the Atlanta Dream as she will fly to France to watch the U.S. take on the Netherlands in the World Cup Finals on Sunday.