SEATTLE – They’ve fielded teams with league MVPs and multiple All-Stars that went on to win the WNBA title.
They’ve fielded teams desperate for talent that finished at the bottom of the WNBA standings.
New coaches. New acquisitions. New story lines every year.
Except for one constant: Sue Bird in a Storm uniform.
The defending WNBA champions held their media day Monday, less than two weeks before the start of an uncertain season. Not only have the Storm been temporarily displaced from KeyArena, but they’ll be without reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart, who tore her Achilles tendon overseas last month – and could start the season without coach Dan Hughes, who is expected to undergo cancer surgery this week.
All of that is enough to douse any lingering euphoria from the Storm winning the WNBA title last September. But they do have Sue. They always have Sue.
The 38-year-old point guard has essentially become the WNBA’s Tim Duncan. She’s a perennial All-Star with multiple titles who doesn’t decline with age.
And like Duncan, she’s played for only one team. That might not have meant much to her a few years ago, but it sure does now.
“When you’re younger, you’re just kind of doing it. You don’t really know the magnitude of it, how lucky you are, what it could mean if you stay in the same uniform,” said Bird, a three-time WNBA champion who’s about to start her 17th season in the league. “Not many athletes play with the same franchise for their entire career. When I think about that, just when I’m out and about in the community, and how people embrace me or recognize me, the connection I have with the city of Seattle – it all comes back to putting this uniform on.”
Bird’s feelings for this town weren’t so warm at first. After playing high school ball in New York and college ball at Connecticut, she landed on a team farther from home than any other franchise in the league.
There wasn’t any WNBA history here at the time. Just two seasons in which the Storm finished a combined 16-48. So Bird traveled 3,000 miles west, and in time, helped take this organization even further up.
“It’s pretty crazy. When I first got drafted I remember being like. ‘Where am I going? What? This is so far. I don’t want to go out there,’ ” said Bird, who was taken first overall in the 2002 draft. “And now, I can’t imagine not being drafted by the Storm.”
Nobody in league history has more assists than the 2,831 Bird does. Nobody in league history has played more regular-season games than the 508 Bird has.
There have been 11 All-Star appearances, eight All-WNBA teams, and an all-decade team to boot. What there hasn’t been is any real regression.
Last year, Bird’s 7.1 assists per game were the most of her career. Her .466 field-goal percentage was the highest of her career.
Storm forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said Bird knows Mosqueda-Lewis is open before she does. Guard Jewell Loyd said she hates missing when Bird hooks her up because “it’s almost disrespectful.”
Acting head coach Gary Kloppenburg said she’s a coach on the court. Assistant Noelle Quinn said she has the greatest mind in the game.
Other hoopers have garnered similar superlatives, but few play in one place for so long.
“There might have been a period of time maybe five or six years ago where I took it for granted like, ‘Oh, you’re just coming back?’ but now I don’t,” Bird said. “Like I said, when I was younger it was like, ‘OK I’m just playing,’ and then halfway through, I probably took it for granted. But now that I’m on this side of it? No way. I embrace and enjoy every single day.”
The Storm’s season could go any number of directions. They don’t have Stewart, won’t have Hughes at the beginning, but do have returning All-Stars.
VegasInsider.com has them at 15-1 to win the title, which is seventh out of 12 teams. The site doesn’t have any odds on Bird specifically.
But if you want a player who’s going to perform consistently and drum up crowd support somewhere in Seattle, she’s about as safe a bet as they come.
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