When Sue Bird talks, we listen.
So, we sat down after a recent practice for an exclusive Q&A with the venerable Storm star and asked her 19 questions in lieu of her 19 seasons in the WNBA.
Here’s what she said.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Seattle Times: Once and for all, let’s settle the debate. Favorite city: New York or Seattle?
Bird: [Laughs] That’s not fair. It’s an impossible question. I’m completely torn. If someone can be in love with two things, this would be the case. I’ll put it this way, the way I picture the future, I’ll have homes in both places.
ST: Well, this interview is off to a horrible start if you’re not going to answer the questions.
Bird: [Smiling] I’m sorry, I won’t do it the rest of the time.
ST: Twenty years ago, you finished a perfect 39-0 season at Connecticut. What’s your fondest memory from that season?
Bird: The easy memory is winning a championship. At the end of every season, there’s only one team that wins an NCAA tournament and that means there’s anywhere from 1-5 kids who get to leave college on a good note. From my class, there were four of us. We’re the only four that year that got to leave on a good note. Of course, there’s more off-the-court memories; and when we get together, it’s never about basketball. But winning your last game, there’s nothing that can replace that.
ST: I saw a tweet the other day with photos from that day in 2002 when you got drafted by the Storm. What advice would you give the gal in those pictures?
Bird: The only advice I would give her is to maybe be a little more open minded about the city and the experience off the court. When I first got out here, I was a little homesick. I hung out with my teammates, but for the most part, I kicked it in my apartment. … The on-the-court clicked pretty fast, but I never gave the city a chance. I would advise that 21-year-old to get out and explore a little more and try different things.
ST: Twenty years later and you still look like that kid who got drafted and not somebody who is about to retire. So, I gotta ask — again — is this really your last year?
Bird: It’s hard to say. I’m hesitant to say because whether or not it is, I don’t know I want it to be. I would love to play forever. It’s something I don’t want to give up, but the reality of every athlete is at some point it comes to an end and I do feel like that end is coming. [ …] I’m not thinking in terms of “last.” [But] I’ll say this, it’s closer to the end than it is to the beginning.
ST: How will you know?
Bird: Great question. I think you just know. I don’t think I can give you some quantitative thing. It’s not like that. You just know.
ST: I tried tabulating your win-loss record since high school. It’s 609-269 with Connecticut, the Storm and USA Basketball, not including your 10 years playing in Russia. Do you ever get tired of winning?
Bird: No. In fact, my hatred for losing has grown. Losing is something that burns. It really burns. The older you get, the more experience you have and the wiser you are and you feel like you have more control. The reality of sports, there’s some things you can’t control and losing is something that happens. But it’s a bugaboo. It’s annoying.
ST: I can recite parts of your résumé. Here goes: 2 NCAA titles, 4 WNBA titles, 4 FIBA World Cups, 5 Olympic medals and 12-time All-Star. What’s left to prove?
Bird: I don’t know if I ever played to prove anything. I didn’t step on the floor to prove I was the best point guard or prove I was a winner. [ …] I’ve been asked this before and I’m sure I’ve answered I want to prove this and that, but I’ve thought about it more in depth and I’ve never played that way so why would I play that way now? It’s more about maybe at times wanting to prove to yourself that you belong. But for the most part, it’s about being on a team and trying to build a championship team and go on that journey to win trophies. Because that’s the moment. That’s why I play.
ST: Any regrets?
Bird: Off the top, no. If I did a deep dive, there’s things that you learn about health and wellness. It’s been documented that I’ve changed my diet and workout. It’s hard to say regret because I wouldn’t change anything, but maybe I would have done it sooner.
ST: Since you brought it up, what’s your diet and recovery routine during the season?
Bird: It’s not that crazy. The best way to explain it, it’s all about fueling for a workout and fueling for a game so you have enough in you to get through it and then refueling because you just tore yourself to shreds and now you got to replenish that. I eat to get ready for practice. I eat right after. And then within that, there’s certain things I avoid like sugar and sweets. But at the same time, I’m very much 80-20. 80% of the time, I’m on it and 20% I go to Hello Robin. I’m at Via Tribunali getting pizza. I’m eating what I want because that makes you happy. They call it comfort food for a reason, and you do have to have that balance. That’s not just in the season, that’s my whole year.
ST: You took a significant salary cut, which is unusual for veteran stars. Why did you do that?
Bird: I told you, it’s why I play. I play to win. It can turn into a somewhat complicated answer because the way the WNBA salary cap is set up given that it’s a hard cap. With our new CBA, we got so much more money added to that cap, salaries rose, which is great news. Now that it’s played out a couple of years, I think you’ll see more players who are veteran important players take pay cuts. We’ve already seen it. It’s not as big as mine, but A’ja Wilson and Jonquel Jones. They were eligible for the supermax and took a little less, and that benefits the rest of the roster. And that’s just the reality of the WNBA. I was in a situation where I needed to take that pay cut in order to have a championship roster. I’m also in a place of privilege in that I’m able to make money in other ways and that offsets my WNBA salary. Even without that off-court money, I don’t know that I would have been demanding more money if it meant we couldn’t sign the players we signed. I just want to be on a team that’s able to win. What I find in sports, and this may be specific to women’s sports, you get all the things you want when you win. You don’t necessarily get those by looking at your bank account. Everyone has to figure that out for themselves, but that’s what I found for me.
ST: Favorite WNBA moment?
Bird: Personal or overall?
ST: This is the Sue Bird story so let’s make it personal.
Bird: I don’t think anything is going to beat that fourth quarter against Phoenix in Game 5 of the semis. It’s not one moment, but that was for me all time.
ST: What’s the key to this season?
Bird: Whew. Man. So there’s some obvious ones. What goes without saying, a healthy (Breanna Stewart) is important. How we get Gabby (Williams) and Briann (January) acclimated within our system and the quicker we can do that, the better off we’ll be. But I actually feel similar to last year, which was we just need to be peaking at the right time. We’re probably going to take some bumps early on and we can’t let that get us down the way we did last year.
ST: What off-the-court accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bird: Oooh, man. What we did in the bubble. It’s a combination. The CBA I was really proud of until that bubble season came. The fact that we were literally part of changing the course of democracy is something that I’ll forever be proud of. It took 144 of us. There’s a laundry list of things that happened in the bubble that I could say, but really to me defending ourselves against an owner (former Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler) essentially telling us to shut up and dribble. In that defense, it became political because she was political. The beautiful byproduct of that was helping getting a Democratic senator a seat. You turn around two years later and that’s why we have the Supreme Court justice that we have because the Senate was blue. It’s pretty crazy to know we played a role in that.
ST: You launched a digital media company last year, but what does life after the WNBA look like for you?
Bird: I don’t know exactly, but it’s going to be something in that world. I’m always going to stay in the world of women’s basketball as well. Whether it’s working with Togethxr and putting out content, that’s a way for me to share the spotlight and shine the light on stories that we need to see. It’s not that they don’t exist, we don’t know them. I really had a great time doing the BTS thing (on ESPN) with (Diana Taurasi). I’m not saying it has to be that specific, but something in that world would be fun.
ST: Last I checked, you’re in 10 national ads, including CarMax and Capital One. Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
Bird: I do. It’s fun. I’ve been really lucky. All these ads have a humorous bent to them and I get to be deadpan. I get to be sarcastic. I get to make a weird face. And I actually enjoy that kind of stuff. It plays to my strengths. It can be a little stressful at times because you don’t want to be the one that messes up, which is similar to sports. I have to say my favorite part about the Capital One commercial was that it was my first time really being with an actor. Samuel L. Jackson is an actor and watching him was like, oh so this is what acting is.
ST: You’re a renowned sneakerhead. Tell me about this collaboration with Kyrie on the Dynasty shoe and what’s your review of the final product?
Bird: What’s been really fun about the iterations of the Keep Sue Fresh, the ones that came out last year I actually got to design those. It was really fun. It’s this whole process. The colorways all had meaning. One shoe was a nod to New York. One shoe is a nod to point guards. What’s cool about this Kyrie 8 is he designed it. It’s kind of like his gift to me. It’s green and gold. The green is for Seattle. The gold is for the gold medals. That was all Kyrie and that was a surprise to me.
ST: Finish the sentence, in 10 years the WNBA will be …?
Bird: Signing million-dollar contracts.
ST: What do you want your legacy to be?
Bird: Whew. There’s an on-court legacy where I definitely want to be known as a winner. Somebody who was easy to play with. Who helped make people better. [ …] But I realize I can have an even longer lasting legacy with all of the other aspects. Paying it forward. We’re all standing on the shoulders of the people before us. I want to help the younger generation understand what that is. I think I’ve been able to showcase that in things like the CBA negotiations. Part of my legacy what I’m trying to say is somebody who came into the league at a certain point and by the time they left, helped push it forward.
ST: Confession, my kid who is one of your biggest fans, gave me this last question. You and Megan (Rapinoe) have been engaged for a while (since October 2020 to be exact) and everybody wants to know, when are y’all getting married?
Bird: It’s funny. It’s more Megan. We’re on Megan’s schedule. My schedule is open in the offseason. I got time. WNBA is only in the summer. I got time. We’re basically waiting to see what Megan’s soccer future holds and then we’ll go on that. The soccer schedule is a nightmare. They literally play all year. If I had to guess a year, I think the World Cup is 2023 for them. It’ll probably be after that. It’s purely based on schedule. It’s not even what we want. If it was up to us, we would have done it a year ago.