Every once in a while, a Tweetstorm speaks volumes. And in the wake of the latest Team USA women’s basketball Olympic gold medal over the weekend, there was one that caught my eye, detailing the astonishing list of championships earned by Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart over the course of their careers.
Space limitations prohibit me from running the full list. It took at least four tweets at 280 characters each, even with abbreviations and succinct nomenclature, to fit all the high-school, college, WNBA, European and Olympic crowns worn by this duo.
Suffice it to say that when you see a compendium of those titles all together in one place, it drives home how one word, above all others, summarizes the spectacular Seattle Storm duo.
Bird and Stewart, along with U.S. Olympic teammate Jewel Loyd, are back with the Storm now. They were cheerfully bedraggled after journeying from Tokyo to Phoenix to play in Thursday’s Commissioner’s Cup against the Connecticut Sun.
“I keep looking up (at the screen). We look like crap,’’ Bird said during a midday Zoom session with reporters.
After competing for country and career legacy in Japan, the stakes were slightly different for the Olympians in Phoenix. The first-year Commissioner’s Cup, which doesn’t count in the WNBA standings, matches the team from each conference that had the best record in designated games over the first part of the season. The winning team stands to earn $30,000 per player, while the losing team gets $10,000 per player. The game’s MVP earns an additional $5,000.
When asked what winning the Commissioner’s Cup would do for her résumé, Bird said archly, “It would do something for my bank account.”
Bird’s résumé hardly needs any bolstering. The Olympic title was her fifth, and presumably the last one, as Bird will be 41 in two months. She always sidesteps questions about retirement, but Bird has acknowledged that her Olympic days are over. She will, after all, be nearly 44 when the next Games are staged in Paris in 2024.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Bird won’t be back with Team USA next year for the FIBA Women’s World Cup; she’s won four of those — not to be confused with her two high-school state titles, her high-school national title, her two NCAA collegiate titles, her five EuroLeague titles, or her four (so far) WNBA titles.
Bird justifiably takes tremendous pride in her overflowing trophy case, which brings to mind another icon in our midst: Bill Russell, who has lived in the Seattle area since he coached the Sonics from 1974-77.
“I mean, that’s why you play,’’ Bird said. “That’s why I play. You know, you play because it’s fun, and you play because you enjoy it. Ultimately, you’re playing to have that success, to win that championship, to win that gold medal.
“It’s pretty crazy to go through a whole career and be able to win as many championships as the two of us have. Teams go to practice every day and try to get better every day. Why? It’s all about trying to win.
“I always say, they can’t argue championships. You can sit here and argue, who’s the best of all time. You could sit here and argue who is a better scorer, who’s a better passer, a better rebounder, so on and so forth. You can’t really argue championships. It’s like the one trump card that you either did, or you didn’t.”
Invariably, and repeatedly, Bird did, and continues to do so. And so has Stewie, though at age 26 her list of titles, while formidable, doesn’t have the heft and gravitas of Bird’s. … Yet.
“I know for me, at the end of my career,” Bird said. “I look back feeling a lot of gratitude that I was able to win, a lot of gratitude toward my teammates and my coaches that helped me put me in positions to be able to do that.”
“For Stewie. I look at her and I’m like, ‘Sheesh, sky’s the limit.’ She’s going to have eight tweets before this is over.”
Bird and Stewart have teamed up for two WNBA crowns and two Olympic golds. Stewart also has four NCAA championships to her name at Connecticut, an alma mater she shares with Bird. We won’t even get into the copious Player of the Year, Tournament MVPs and All-American honors Stewie has racked up, nor what she’s accomplished overseas.
A recent ESPN article quoted Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who built the Huskies’ dynasty, calling Bird and Diana Taurasi “two of the greatest teammates in the history of sports.”
Taurasi has been alongside Bird, her great friend, since college and is the only one who was right there alongside for all five Olympic golds. But there needs to be a spot reserved for Bird and Stewart on the list of great teammate duos, despite Stewie’s late start in that partnership.
If they could swing a third WNBA title together this year to go with the two Olympic golds, it would make a convincing case. It’s a distinct possibility. As the league sets up for a sprint toward the playoffs, the Storm has the best record in the league at 16-5. As Stewart pointed out Thursday, they are gunning for the double-bye into the semis awarded to the two teams in each conference with the best records.
The Commissioner’s Cup could well be a preview of the WNBA finals. And one thing we’ve learned with certainty over the years: Once Bird and Stewart take aim at a title, they rarely let it out of their grasp.