Seattle Hurricanes fans wanted one more year. Su gave them a bird.
She slipped on her signature ponytail, custom-made Nike sneakers, and added to her legend with a farewell tour.
While the Storm held the WNBA single-game assists record for the regular season with 37, eight of those were hers. She extended her impressive streak as the league’s career leader in assists and topped the steals and 3-pointers tallies. She helped the Hurricanes make the playoffs for the 16th time in her 19 seasons.
And then she finished.
The Las Vegas Aces advanced to the WNBA Finals with a 97-92 win over the Hurricanes in Game 4 of their semifinal series on Tuesday. For the 41-year-old Bird, who announced in June that she would retire after the season, the loss on her home court was the end of an incredible career. Bird stood on the court and cried as the fans cheered and chanted, “Thank you Sue.”
In a postgame news conference, Bird said she didn’t want to leave the court to “take it all in.” She started crying again. “I know the tears don’t look like happy tears, but there is a lot of joy,” she said.
Aces coach Becky Hammon said it was “bittersweet” to win a birdie to end her “fairytale” career. Bird had 8 points and 8 assists in the loss.
“I feel like the girl who beat Serena,” Hammon said, referring to Ajla Tomjanovic, who defeated Serena Williams in her final match at the US Open last week. Williams said she plans to retire after the tournament.
Hurricanes coach Noelle Quinn, who played against Bird in Seattle, called Bird “the best point guard that ever played this game.”
Bird has won four championships with Seattle, the last in 2020. That season displayed the qualities that have come to define her: tenacity and strong court vision. She missed half of the regular season with an injury. But in Seattle’s six regular season games, she proved invaluable. Seattle never lost in that playoff run. Bird set a then-WNBA record for assists in a single playoff game with 16 in Game 1 of the finals against the Aces. Then she had a double-double — 16 points and 10 assists — in Game 2. In the series-clinching Game 3, Bird spent the fourth quarter laughing on the bench with Brenna Stewart. The Tide won by 33.
“Just sitting here, I think I have this, like in shock. ” she said later.
Much of Bird’s 21-year career has come as a surprise, simply because there hasn’t been enough time for someone to accomplish such feats before her. “I honestly didn’t know what to say,” Bird told The New York Times last month, “and I’m really satisfied to be sitting here now with the championships I have.
The Hurricanes drafted her No. 1 overall out of UConn in 2002 before her sixth WNBA season. She immediately became Seattle’s franchise leader in assists, with 191 that year. She finished second for the Rookie of the Year award, but she and the player who beat her—Indiana’s Tamika Catchings—became the first rookies to be named to the All-WNBA first team.
Over the next 20 years, Bird would accumulate honors with the United States, including 13 WNBA All-Star selections and five Olympic gold medals. Last year, she was named to the W25, the WNBA’s top 25 players, as the league celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Introducing the W25, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “These athletes have played the game at the highest level on the court – scorers and rebounders, helpers and defensive backs, leaders and mentors. Together, they have changed the course of the game, changed the attitudes of athletes, become incredible role models, young and “Different athletes have inspired.”
Bird, who starred alongside women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, is one of the most visible gay professional athletes. For most of the WNBA’s history, its most famous stars were not openly gay, and players said they felt pressured to conform to heterosexual standards of femininity. But Bird is among a wave of stars — Britney Griner, Simone Augustus, Elena Delle Donne and Diana Taurasi — who have been open about their sexuality and spoken out about LGBTQ rights and acceptance.
Bird has made her platform one of the league’s biggest stars in support of social justice issues, particularly those involving black women. And Bird chimed in as the WNBA continued to push for the release of Griner, who has been held in Russia since February on drug charges.
“We’re all upset about it and we’re looking for her home,” she said at a news conference with Griner’s wife, Cheryl Griner, in July.
Bird-court’s influence extends beyond politics to style. She’s known for her love of sneakers, and her custom Knicks — from NBA star Kyrie Irving’s signature line — have “Keep Sue Fresh” printed on them every night.
But the core of the bird’s legacy is on the court.
“He’s an elite player right there,” said Aces guard Chelsea Gray, who scored 31 points and sparked the Las Vegas victory with Bird’s final game.
Stewart, who had 42 points in Game 4 for Seattle, said knowing it would be her last game with the Bird was more “devastating” than losing.
“That’s what hurts the most,” she said, adding that Bird was a mentor and friend.
“It wasn’t clear how we wanted to finish her,” Hurricanes guard Jewell Lloyd said of the Game 4 loss.
“We are very lucky to be playing with a player of his generation,” added Lloyd.
Even though her body felt better, Bird had no second thoughts about retiring. But she misses basketball.
“There will be no such thing,” she said.
Bird gave fans someone to believe in until the end. Her last point in the WNBA came with 21.8 seconds left on Tuesday and Seattle down by 6. It was reminiscent of the game in Game 3 on Sunday. When the storm was reduced by 1 point, he turned to her. Over two seconds to go. She sank her 3-pointer and grabbed her follower, as her teammates walked around her. Seattle would lose to the Aces in overtime, but this game would be the last of the season.
One more chance to celebrate. One last time with Bird.