BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Nancy Bird looked on from a courtside seat as Storm players loosened up before Sunday’s contest vs. the Liberty. And with just over an hour to go until tipoff, she was greeted by the person she was most excited to see play. At 41, Sue, is Nancy’s daughter. Of course, though, she is also now a five-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time WNBA champion and member of the W25 team (among other accolades), as well as a Syosset, N.Y. native who was making her final on-court appearance in the area that she grew up.
On this morning, Nancy wore a black T-shirt, with a printed image of her daughter’s recent Slam magazine cover on it. “ICON,” the magazine tag line reads in block letters. But before Sue became the transcendent basketball star she has grown into, Nancy remembers taking Sue to Knicks games at Madison Square Garden. Together, they watched a young Michael Jordan and New York forward Kenny “Sky” Walker, Sue’s favorite player as a kid. “She knew every move and all the players,” Nancy said.
Now, everyone tries to mimic her.
On Thursday, Bird publicly announced her plan to retire at the end of this season, spurred in part, she said, by this being the Storm’s final trip to New York. So it came as no surprise that the nearly 7,000 people in attendance at Barclays Center rejoiced whenever Bird made her presence felt. Before the game, more than two dozen stood by the tunnel leading to the arena’s underbelly, eager to snap photos and record video of the Seattle star running out onto the court. Fans rose to their feet during a video tribute for Bird, which spanned more than two and a half minutes and featured messages from the likes of Billie Jean King, C.C. Sabathia, Steve Nash and her fiancée, Megan Rapinoe. Bird jerseys from different stages of her career—Seattle, UConn and Team USA—were in surplus among the crowd.
“It’s a homecoming for me because I get to see my family and friends,” Bird said.
Added Nancy: “It’s very special. I don’t know how to phrase it any other way.”
Bird finished Seattle’s 81–72 win over the Liberty with 11 points and four assists in 28 minutes of action. But she said afterward she would have been thrilled had she failed to score a point or record an assist in a victory at Barclays Center. That she hit a three-pointer with 20.6 to play in the contest, stretching the Storm’s lead to nine and sealing the result, however, made the afternoon all the more special.
“Normally I’m not big on scoring, but that three-pointer at the end, I will remember that forever,” Bird said. “This felt pretty much like a fairy tale. So I’m gonna take it.”
The 21-year pro informed her teammates of her plan to retire on Wednesday evening. The Storm had gathered for a team dinner at TAO Asian Bistro & Lounge in Connecticut, where a celebration for forward Stephanie Talbot’s 28th birthday had also been planned. Ahead of the meal, Bird said she “rambled” to her teammates about her next-day intention.
Scroll to Continue
“She tried to make it real short, sharp and not make a big deal out of it,” Talbot said. “Sue doesn’t like to make a big deal about things, so we try to respect that. But she deserves a big deal.”
That was fully apparent Sunday, as evidenced by how Liberty players wore shirts pregame that said, “Thank you, Sue. Love New York.” Or how when after Bird checked out for the final time, she was shown up on the Jumbotron, despite being a visiting player.
“That was special,” Bird said. “Even for the Liberty to do that.”
Bird, who starred at Christ the King High School in Queens, recalled attending Liberty games during the team’s inaugural season in 1997. Throughout her time at UConn, she said she tried to see the team whenever she was in New York City. Once Huskies started graduating and joining the W, Bird said she was “always going to the Liberty games to watch when their teams came to town.” In the future, Bird said, she plans on being both a New York and Seattle resident, and holding season tickets to both of their WNBA teams.
Bird called the reception she received on Sunday a “taste” of what’s to come as she makes her way across various other WNBA cities for the final time. (The Liberty gifted her with a jersey and jacket with the various New York teams embroidered on it). But of being in her native New York, the future Hall of Famer said, “This is always going to be a little different, or always was going to be a little bit different.”
Bird said she had close to 100 family and friends in attendance Sunday. Around 30 minutes after the final buzzer sounded, she returned to the arena floor, still in uniform, one final time to greet those who had stayed. “Sue, we’re matching,” a girl wearing a black Storm jersey repeatedly called out.
For nearly half an hour, Bird shared warm embraces, signed autographs and posed for photos. When a group photograph with all her supporters—which featured Bird standing front and center—was being taken, those still in attendance belted out “Sue” after a three-two-one countdown.
“It was just really about soaking it all in and enjoying the moment,” Bird said. “I really couldn’t have written this any better.”
More WNBA Coverage: