Now 37, she has already won two WNBA championships, a national title with UConn, four Olympic golds, four European League titles, and is one of the best to ever play the game
By Arnie Leshin
Sue Bird just didn’t feel comfortable playing basketball for her hometown high school.
She lived near-by Syosset High in Nassau County of Long Island, was popular, had plenty of friends, and was way ahead of the game. She led the team in every department, was among the best underclassmen in the state, and she and her parents, Nancy and Herschel, thought she might be better off playing for a recognized program and tougher competition.
At the end of her sophomore season, they made some visits, one of which was Christ the King in New York City, and that’s where she made her next stop, settled in, made the starting lineup, was a different person, a better player, and her senior year found her named NYC Player of the Year and New York State Player of the year.
Her parents and older sister, Jen, attended almost every home game, as well as some on the road. Her friends and coaches from Syosset did the same.
She was recruited heavenly, but it didn’t take long for her, and her parents, to make their choice of the Connecticut, also known as UConn. They had met head coach Gino Auriemma, had visited the school in Storrs, and were impressed. Her junior season, the Huskies went undefeated in 39 starts and won the national championship by rolling over Tennessee in the semifinals at San Antonio, Tex., and Oklahoma in the final. Bird was National Player of the Year and she and teammate Diana Taurasi made the All-America team.
Just to update. In the WNBA college draft, she was the first overall pick and became a Seattle Hawk. It was a franchise that hadn’t made a stir since day one.
But with Bird in the lineup, the team ran more, defended better, and now had a sharpshooting guard. It went on to win a pair of WNBA championships and was top-seed this year and favored to win a third title.
But after winning both games over Phoenixand her best friend, Taurasi, down went Bird in game three at home, breaking her nose late in the first half. She was not in tears, but you could tell how down and out she felt. She knew her team needed her, so in the fourth quarter, she entered the game with her team behind and wearing a mask to protect her nose, and was simply awesome as she took the court for the first time since game three.
She scored 14 points in that final quarter, hit four-straight jumpers, three of which were 3-pointers, and handed out nine assists while swiping the ball four times. When it was over and the hugging and high-fives were going on, the Seattle crowd called out her name, “Bird, Bird.” and gave her several standing ovations, as well as a hug from Taurasi.
With her heroics, skills and leadership, Seattle is now in the finals, playing host Friday night to Washington, which makes its first appearance in the title game. But as the No. 4 seed, Washington has to play the first two in Seattle.
Maybe Bird won’t need the mask, maybe she will. But just to have her out there before the home town crowd is special.
Sliding past her marriages, gossip, and other personal things not related to the game, she plays with heart, she has played hurt, she is only one of 10 women to win an Olympic gold, an NCAA championship, and a WNBA title. She has also won four European League championships, and is often regarded as the best point guard in the world. She makes the clutch plays and is a true sharpshooter.
She is the only one to win the Nancy Lieberman Award three times, and Lieberman is one of the finest to ever play the game.
On Sue Bird “Bobbie Head Night,” in Seattle, she turned in 31 points, gave out 11 assists, and led her team to a tough win over Los Angeles before a capacity crowd.
She stands 5-foot-9, is now 37, her original familiar name is Bonda, and she is an Israel-American Russian Jew who never regrets leaving her friends back home and going to Christ the King to win back-to-back state championships.
Taurasi is the WNBA’s highest-paid player at close to a million a year, but Bird settles for $390.000, and her net worth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million.
Not only does she stand out as a player, but is shockingly feminine when seen in basketball shorts.
And she sure hasn’t forgotten UConn and her favorite coach Auriemma. She is often sitting behind the bench to watch the record 11-time national champions.