The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, October 7, 2020
Sue Bird, like Babe Ruth, is a singular figure — Interview with Sabrina Ionescu — Must-click women's basketball links
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Screenshot from postgame Zoom avail, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and confetti.
As she basked in the glow of a fourth championship — telling us at one point that even sitting and talking about her latest triumph was “surreal” — Sue Bird still managed to zoom out, and capture the essence of why she’ll be a figure that we talk about long after the sad day arrives that she doesn’t play basketball anymore.
“It’s easy to say winning and Olympic Gold medals and championships and all that stuff,” Bird said of what she’s most proud of among her many accomplishments. “But I think the fact that I’ve been able to do it in different decades, with the same franchise, not many people can say that. And to your point, there are core groups that have anywhere from a two- to four- to six- to maybe a ten-year run, but I’ve been here for technically 19 seasons, 17 that I’ve played, and to kind of be able to recreate that magic with different groups… to recreate it over time and stay at a high level over time is definitely something I’m proud of. Because it hasn’t been easy.”
In the time-honored athletic tradition, Bird only revealed the full struggles she experienced with a knee injury that cost her about half the regular season in 2020, though none of her playoff games (or any of her customary effectiveness).
But at the risk of disagreeing with Bird, I think it is the longevity that will be her hallmark when discussing her career, ahead of even the biggest single moments. As impressive as the peak performance has been, that it has gone on for two decades is a standard we’re unlikely to see anybody meet for a long time, if ever.
Sue Bird was an All Star in 2002, playing in the same league as Jennifer Gillom, who graduated from Ole Miss in 1986 and is now 56 years old. Sue Bird certainly would have been an All Star had there been a game in 2020, playing on the same team as 21-year-old Ezi Magbegor, born in 1999, when Sue Bird was already starring for Geno Auriemma’s Uconn Huskies. If Ezi plays as long as Sue Bird has already, she’ll be playing in 2039, and there will be teammates of Sue Bird active in almost four full decades of WNBA play. Sue will be 59 and a teammate of hers will still be in the league. (In a perfect world, Sue will be, too!)
Baseball writers probably thought, when Babe Ruth retired, that there’d be another one like him soon. The sport was pretty new, the live ball era even newer, and so Ruth, with his 714 home runs and larger-than-life figure, would be replaced by another like him. But there hasn’t been another Ruth. It took 39 years for his 714 to be eclipsed by Henry Aaron, and Ruth remains a singular combination of talent and pop culture that captures the 1920s like few single phrases.
What is Sue Bird, if not such a figure here in 2020, a placid organizer of people and political movements, singular standard on and off the court?
Bird was asked about returning in 2021, and let us into the process of figuring out whether she’ll return or not.
“I just kind of start working out and I see how I feel,” she said. “I wish I could give you more, and I’m not trying to be elusive. Listen, the way I feel right now, if I can go through my off-season and continue to build on that in a good way, I don’t see why I won’t be playing next summer. I’m not trying to be like elusive but as I’ve always said, things happen. That’s what the last two years have taught me. Anything can happen. So I’m just like, you know, cautiously optimistic I guess.”
Enjoy it. One of these years, like the Babe, she’s going to retire. And you’re not going to see another like her.
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