Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.
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From the UConn WBB Weekly Premium:
From The UConn Blog:
- Paige Bueckers says she’ll return to UConn in 2023-24
- ‘I knew it was bad’: Paige Bueckers discusses her torn ACL for the first time
- How Inês Bettencourt went from junior college signee to UConn in nine days
Last week’s Weekly:
- Sue Bird retires a legend and future Hall of Famer, but the Seattle Storm point guard only made it look easy (ESPN)
An ode to Sue Bird
With tears in her eyes, Sue Bird stood in her Seattle Storm uniform for the final time, soaking in one last moment as a professional basketball player. The Climate Pledge Arena crowd chanted “Thank you, Sue” as the legendary point guard tried to find the right words following the Storm’s season-ending 97-92 loss to the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Semifinals.
“It has been my honor to play for this franchise, play for these fans,” she began before pausing to acknowledge the crowd. “I don’t know what else to say.”
The loss didn’t just eliminate Seattle from the playoffs. It marked the end of the Bird’s remarkable professional basketball career. Earlier in the season, the four-time WNBA champion, two-time college champion and five-time Olympic gold medalist announced she’d retire at the end of the year. At the time, Bird said she had no regrets and was at peace with her decision.
Even as the emotions of the true finality swept over her on Tuesday night, Bird stuck to that familiar tone.
“Of course I’m sad but there’s happiness to be able to have a moment like that with the fans, to have them chant the way they did,” she said postgame. “I know the tears don’t look like happy tears, but there’s a lot of happiness.”
Few have won more than Bird. At UConn, she tore her ACL early in her freshman year but returned to lead the Huskies to an elusive second national title the next year. After UConn lost both Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph to injury in 2001, Bird hit the most iconic shot in program history — Bird at the Buzzer, a last-second game-winner over Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament championship.
As a senior, she led arguably the greatest team in the history of the sport as the Huskies went 39-0 — winning all but one game by double-digits — to claim their third national championship.
Bird went No. 1 overall to Seattle in the 2002 WNBA Draft and only need two years to win her first title in the league. She added another four years later. When the core of those championship teams aged out in the early 2010s, Bird seriously considered leaving the Pacific Northwest. She hit free agency in 2015 and thought about signing with her hometown New York Liberty but as soon as the Storm were awarded the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft — where the team would pick Breanna Stewart — Bird made her decision.
“Stewie doesn’t know it but she kind of saved my career here in a lot of ways,” Bird told ESPN. “If we don’t get the No. 1 pick that year, I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
While Stewart — along with Jewell Loyd — took some time to establish herself in the W, Bird’s decision to stay soon paid off. In 2018, Seattle claimed its third title and two years later during the season in the bubble, captured a fourth.
All the while, Bird found even more success on the international stage. In 2021, she and former UConn teammate and close friend Diana Taurasi became the first basketball players ever to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird was given the honor of being the USA flag bearer for the opening ceremonies in Tokyo, too.
She’s also been preparing for life after basketball, too. In 2018-19, Bird worked in the Denver Nuggets front office and during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted an Instagram Live show with Diana Taurasi called “A Touch More.” This past April, the two were part of the “Bird Taurasi Show” during the Final Four.
The WNBA started play in 1997 — a year before Bird even arrived at UConn. The concept of professional women’s basketball league wasn’t new but previous iterations — the WBL in the ‘80s, the ABL in the ‘90s — had failed.
Because of that, Bird didn’t have many women’s basketball players to look up to early in her basketball career. She had to forge a path on her own and eventually, she became the standard to which all future point guards will be measured against.
“I hope I made everyone in here proud,” Bird said on Tuesday night.
It’d be an understatement to say she did.
Best of social media
Sights and sounds from Sue Bird’s final night:
"THANK YOU SUE!"— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 7, 2022
Sue Bird's final sendoff ❤️ pic.twitter.com/y9HMg8jnjJ
"You kind of feel like the girl who beat Serena. It's bittersweet." — Becky Hammon, on beating Seattle and Sue Bird in game 4— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) September 7, 2022
Breanna Stewart on Sue Bird:— Em ️ (@em_adler) September 7, 2022
"Jewell and I texted before the game, and we wanted to make sure that we left it all on the court...What's more devastating is we're no longer going to be on the court with Sue. We're not gonna see her in practice, she's not gonna be there in games."