As Sue Bird contemplated retirement, she loosely started putting together a list of people that she wanted to tell before announcing her decision to the world. Geno Auriemma made the list, so when the legendary point guard tweeted that the 2022 WNBA season would be her final one on Thursday, it didn’t come as any surprise to her former head coach.
“He was like, ‘I guess this is a big deal, huh?’” Bird relayed.
There are fewer retirements that would be a bigger deal, though. Bird played 21 years in the WNBA, all with the Seattle Storm, where she won titles in 2004, 2010, 2018 and 2020. She’s the league’s all-time assists leader and the only player in league history with more than 500 games under her belt. Bird also captured two national championship at UConn and, along with Diana Taurasi, became the first basketball player to win five Olympic gold medals this past summer in Tokyo.
At every level, Bird has been a serial winner. The final trick will be to go out on top with a championship in her final season. But even if that doesn’t happen, Bird is still proud of all she’s done over the last quarter of a century from the time she stepped on campus in Storrs to now.
“Anybody would would want it to be this fairytale, the last season. Win the championship do the amazing things, go out on this huge high,” she said. “But the reality is one season, one game, one moment, it doesn’t change your career.”
“I have no regrets,” she added later. “I feel wonderful about my career, the people I’ve met, the things we accomplished.”
At age 41, Bird is still playing at a high level. However, her decision to retire doesn’t come as a surprise. Bird has struggled with injuries over the last few seasons and even contemplated walking away this offseason, only to be swayed to return in part by fans chanting “One more year!” following the Storm’s playoff loss to the Phoenix Mercury. She went into this season unsure without any clear idea of her future but as time went along, she started to come to grips with it.
“I’ve really — deep down — known for a while now,” Bird said. “Sometimes it really just comes down to: you know when you know... I feel like I’ve played as long as I can at a really high level, both physically and mentally, and it’s just gotten harder.”
That doesn’t make the end any easier, though.
“I’ve been doing this since I was five or six years old. It’s really all I know. So of course I’m sad. It’s a little bit of like a mourning knowing I’m gonna miss it,” said a teary Bird. “This is probably why for, like, a lot of years, I’ve been saying I’m not going to announce my retirement, because I know I would go with this. I’m sentimental. I don’t like change.”
While the decision itself might’ve been expected, the timing of Bird’s announcement was a bit of a surprise. Ultimately, it had to do with the Storm’s upcoming games: First in Connecticut — the state where she made her name as a star at UConn — on Friday and then in her home state of New York for the final time on Sunday. The Syosset native wanted to let everyone know it’d be the last chance to see her play.
“Knowing it was gonna be my last game in New York is really what started the thought process around announcing that this will be my last year,” she said.
So what’s next for Bird? She’s been on television — the Bird Taurasi Show during this past Final Four was a big hit — and worked in the Denver Nuggets front office one offseason as well. But as of now, she doesn’t have any definite plans for her future.
“In the last couple years, I’ve definitely tried to dabble in some different things outside of basketball,” she said. “I realized 41 is actually young — currently I don’t feel that way in my line of work. So it’s really exciting just to know that what’s ahead of me, I can be young again, I can try new things and see what’s out there.”
That’s all for after the season, though. Until then, Bird can focus on the last games of her career, where she’ll be free from the constant bombardment of retirement questions. At least, that’s what she hopes.
“Now that it’s final,” she said with a laugh, “maybe we can all kind of treat it that way and just move on and not talk about it too much? Deal?”