Sue Bird is 35 now, and has spent her professional basketball career based in Seattle and Russia. But her family still lives in Syosset, and Syosset still lives in her.
Bird described on Wednesday what she called one of the favorite memories in her three Olympics, all of which ended with gold medals for the United States.
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It was during warmups before a game in London in 2012.
“All of a sudden I hear my name being screamed loudly, so I look over and there’s a group of five, six, seven student-aged kids — high school, college — and they have a huge sign, like, ‘We’re from Syosset!’ ” she said.
“Obviously, I don’t know them. It’s in those moments when you realize where you’re from is extremely important, and those people that know where you’re from, they can cheer you and you know you’re representing them.”
Bird was telling the story on a makeshift court in Times Square, where minutes earlier she had been chatting with First Lady Michelle Obama as part of an event promoting the Rio Olympics 100 days before they begin.
Many athletes from a variety of sports were there, few as prominent as the members of the newly named women’s basketball team.
For Bird and the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings — as well as the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, who was overseas and unable to attend — it will be a chance to match Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie by winning a fourth gold medal.
What would Bird have said before her first Olympics if someone had told her she someday would be in a fourth in 2016?
“I would have laughed, for sure,” said Bird, a point guard for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. “I actually think it was Dawn Staley around that 2004 Olympics, she was like, ‘Oh, you have a couple more in you,’ and I was like, ‘What?!’
“I think when it’s your first you’re not thinking that far down the road and now that I’m here I definitely look back and I realize so much has to go your way in a lot of ways to get to this point. So I just feel really thankful and very excited.”
Bird, who signed a multiyear deal to remain with the Storm in February, will not announce her retirement in advance, not after watching Kobe Bryant and others go through the farewell process. “I don’t know if that’s really my thing,” she said.
Still, while she insisted she is taking her career one year at a time, she said it is “safe to say” this will be her final Olympics, in which case she is happy to be sharing the ride with her former coach and a former teammate at Connecticut, Geno Auriemma and Taurasi.
“It’s something we’ve talked about,” she said. “I think it’s a really unique and special experience for D and I to enter our professional careers through Coach Auriemma and now finishing. It’s pretty cool.”
Bird still can play, but she feels her age. “Now I have to warm up and I have to take the time to really take care of body,” she said, “whereas when you’re younger, it’s, if I get two hours [sleep], I get 12 hours, it doesn’t affect you when you’re 25. But at 35 little things like that affect you, so I find I have to be a little more detailed about making sure I’m ready go.”
When told she doesn’t look much older than a decade ago, she said, “Say that to my knees.”
Bird said that for years she did not get back to Long Island much other than for visits to her family. But for the past two winters she has not played overseas and currently is living in Greenwich, Connecticut, during the WNBA offseason.
“I’ve been living predominantly on the East Coast and now I finally feel like I’m back in my roots a little bit,” she said. “But I do consider myself bi-coastal in that I’m very comfortable in both places and I feel like both are home at this point.”
Bird believes when she does retire she will keep homes on both coasts. She said she will consider post-playing careers in television, coaching and/or other businesses. She has invested in restaurants already.
“I’m trying to branch out while I’m still playing so when I am done I know what I want to do,” she said.
One of Bird’s teammates in Rio as well as in Seattle will be a fellow UConn star, Breanna Stewart, who earlier this month concluded her college career with a fourth national title.
“I can’t wrap my head around it,” she said of Bird’s fourth Olympics. “I can barely wrap my head around the fact that I’m going to be able have the opportunity to play in my first Olympics.”
Stewart said of Bird, “Sue is one of the most respected players, I think, in basketball in general, not even women’s basketball. Even in just the sports world. The way she handles herself on and off the court, what she does for the game, is huge. I’m lucky because I get to play with her on the Storm as well as on the Olympic team.”