Rather than a plea, the sold-out crowd of 18,100 – the largest in Storm history and the most fans to watch a sporting event at Climate Pledge Arena – expressed their gratitude to greatest player in franchise history.
During her final game last year, Sue Bird received a “one more year” serenade from fans in Everett, which she admitted partly contributed to her returning for her 19th and final season.
On Sunday, the Storm fans chanted “Thank you Sue” over and over after Seattle’s 89-81 loss to the Las Vegas Aces in her final regular-season home game.
“Thank God it’s not a ‘one more year’ chant,” Bird joked as she took the microphone at midcourt after the game and addressed the crowd. “I didn’t really prepare anything for this moment. I don’t know if there is preparing for it.
“Right now, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart how thankful I am not only for today and all of you showing up and supporting us, but for 21 years. You all supported me from the start.”
If this was truly goodbye – the Storm could host a playoff game in two weeks – then Bird’s last game in Seattle reads like this: nine points on 4-for-9 shooting, six assists, four rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 32 minutes.
The normally guarded superstar was nearly moved to tears during two pregame ceremonies and an emotional video tribute starring a litany of celebrities including Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Jackson, Jewell Loyd, Russell Wilson, LeBron James, Chloe Kim, Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, Swin Cash, Mike Bibby, Tanisha Wright and Geno Auriemma.
The Storm ownership group gave Bird a commemorative diamond-encrusted ring as a tribute for 21-year tenure with the team and four WNBA championships. And she received a No. 6 USA Basketball jersey in honor of her two decades with the national team.
“I thought the tribute video at the top of the game was amazing,” Bird said. “You only catch every other word when you’re on the court, but it looked cool. Seeing different people in the stands. Once the ball gets tossed up, you’re just kind of in game mode.
“Every now and then I would look up at the JumboTron and you’d see a highlight from your rookie year and I’m like, I guess today is my last game. … Outside of the outcome, it was a wonderful afternoon for me.”
Bird was the epicenter of a 90-minute lovefest in which young and old fans wore her No. 10 Storm jersey hoped for a storybook finish to a Hall-of-Fame bound career.
“I’m not going to lie it kind of sucks to lose my last game here, but you know what I lost my first game too so it’s OK,” Bird said laughing while referencing her first home game with the Storm, a 78-61 defeat to the New York Liberty on May 30, 2002.
Back then, she had 18 points and six assists – both team highs – in front of 7,842 at KeyArena.
Fast forward 575 games and the seemingly ageless Bird, who turns 42 in October, still looks and plays the same.
“I am who I am out there,” said the 5-foot-9 and 150-pound point guard. “I relish in the fact that teams have to game plan for me because I’m not the quickest. I’m not the most athletic. I’m not jumping over you.
“I wouldn’t say I’m unique in any way. I think what I do, a lot of players can do, but I just found ways to always be consistent with it and it became a mind game out there and that’s when I would thrive. I am really proud how I did it.”
Still, Sunday’s game was largely decided by the leading WNBA MVP candidates.
Breanna Stewart had a season-high 35 points and 10 rebounds while A’ja Wilson led Las Vegas with 29 points and six rebounds.
“The league is in good hands with those two,” Bird said.
Tina Charles added 19 points and nine rebounds and Gabby Williams (six points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block) had several meaningful contributions.
However, the Storm needed another scoring threat and WNBA All-Star Jewell Loyd was held to a season-low one point on 0-for-6 shooting from the field and Seattle’s bench combined for just 11 points.
Former Washington Huskies standout Kelsey Plum scored 16 points while Chelsea Gray tallied 15 points and nine assists and Jackie Young had 15 points and six assists for Las Vegas (23-10), which clinched a top-four finish.
Despite being outplayed for most of the game, the Storm had their chances at the end.
Stewart drained a three-pointer to cut Seattle’s deficit to 70-68 with 7:15 remaining, but Las Vegas answered with a 7-0 run, including Gray’s layup and ensuing free throw for a three-point play.
The Storm made one last run when Stewart hit another three-pointer to pull within 81-77 with 2:35 left.
This time, the Aces countered with a 7-2 run capped by Plum’s corner three-pointer to go up 88-79 with 33.7 seconds on the clock.
“They know one got away today, but they can keep it perspective when you have Sue Bird sitting next to you and she has this infectious smile on her face and she’s ready to get it on to the next one,” said assistant Pokey Chatman, who assumed head-coaching duties while Noelle Quinn is in the league’s health and safety protocols. “When everyone gets home and we’re packing to go on our trip tomorrow, I’m going to be like damn I wish we could have gotten that done for her. And Sue doesn’t make you feel like that.
“I don’t take Sue for granted but sometimes she’s out there laughing and talking and having comedy hour and I’m crying. And I’m not a crier. You kind of step back and you’re like ‘Damn, this woman is special.’ The thing about is, it’s not over yet and we’re going to be back here.”
Well, that remains to be seen.
With three games remaining, the Storm (20-13) have a half-game lead over the Washington Mystics (20-14) for fourth place in the WNBA standings. If the teams finish the season in a two-way tie, then Seattle gets the higher seed and would host the first two games in a best-of-three first-round playoff series due to winning the regular-season matchup 2-1.
However, Washington has an easier finish with two games against the Indiana Fever, which has the worst record in the league. Seattle concludes with a three-game road trip against Chicago, Minnesota and Las Vegas.
But that’s a story for another day.
Sunday was all about Bird, who in keeping with her team-first personality, passed the praise to the organization in which she’s played her entire career.
“I know my name has become synonymous with this franchise and it’s become a little bit of a household name in this city and this community,” Bird said. “So even though I take great pride in that, I take great pride of what I’ve accomplished while I’ve played here and great pride in being a member of this franchise, I also think today was – and this isn’t me shying away from the spotlight – my name is synonymous, but what I represent is all the players who played her.
“All the championships we’ve won. All the coaches who have come through. Everyone who has come through the front office. Everyone who has been on staff here. I’m just that one name. Today was in honor of me and people showed up and showed out for sure. It really was amazing, but I think it really and truly is a celebration of Storm basketball because I am Storm basketball.”
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