FAIRFAX, Va. – Every minute counts.
That’s how Sue Bird approaches basketball. It’s how she approaches life. It’s why before the start of the Seattle Storm’s practice Tuesday that Bird could be seen multitasking behind the bench, conducting an interview via phone while also warming up on a stationary bike.
Bird, the oldest player in the WNBA, can’t say how many minutes are left in her legendary playing career. So the 37-year-old point guard who learned the game as a kid in Syosset is trying to squeeze the maximum out of every moment as she attempts to win her third WNBA championship with the Storm.
“In some ways I feel younger than ever because this is probably my last chance at doing this,” said Bird, whose team enters Game 3 of the Finals Wednesday night with a 2-0 lead over the Washington Mystics in the best-of-five series.
Bird isn’t saying she’s going to retire after this season. It’s just after 17 seasons with the Storm – after a WNBA-record 508 regular-season games and 196 playoff contests – she knows just how hard it is to get to this place, one game away from winning it all.
“The reality is I’ve played now for something like 100 years,'' Bird said. "I’ve gone to the finals three times. OK, it’s three out of 17 years? That’s not a very good ratio. You never know when you’re going to go back.
“I’m not saying that this team doesn’t have a lot of talent. Maybe we could do it next year. Or the year after. But I know if you don’t take advantage of now, you never know when the next time is going to be.”
Bird won her titles in 2004 and 2010 playing with 6-6 star Lauren Jackson, and after Jackson retired in 2012 Bird went through some very tough years. Bird was the top free agent in the league in 2016 but agreed to help the Storm rebuild.
She said Tuesday that when she agreed to stay with the team, she thought she would be more of a bridge to the next generation. She never expected such a quick turnaround, never expected that with the help of league MVP Breanna Stewart and rookie Jewell Loyd that she would be back in the finals this year.
Stewart said the 5-9 Bird is the engine that makes everything happen.
“She’s the best point guard in the game,” said Stewart, who averaged 22 points and 8.6 rebounds in the regular season. “When I think of what Sue’s done for me, it encompasses everything. Teaching me how to be the leader of this team, how to handle big playoff games, how to take care of your body. Anything she does, I’m just trying to follow in her steps. She is a legend.”
A legend who is arguably having one of her best seasons in the twilight of her career. Not only has she set career records for assists and games played this season, she has turned in some jaw-dropping performances, with Game 5 of Seattle’s win over the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals leading the list. Playing with a broken nose, Bird stole the game when she scored 14 points in the final six minutes to clinch her third trip to the Finals.
Bird said afterward it was one of the best games of her career. And this run to the Finals may be her most satisfying.
“I think the thing I take pride in is the duration of the entire thing,” she said. “I wasn’t on one great team that went to the Finals three years in a row. I’ve been with three different teams and three different points. I think it speaks to an ability to figure things out.”
And get the most out of every moment.