Sue Bird was out of uniform, striking a side pose without any clothes.
The Seattle Storm point guard stood with a basketball balanced on her right middle finger while her girlfriend, Seattle Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe, stood sideways next to her in a similar clothing-free state, left foot forward on a soccer ball.
The two well-toned players made a transparent statement for more than just physical fitness with their recent appearance as the first gay couple on a cover of an ESPN The Magazine Body Issue, which had 10 covers for this 10th edition.
“It’s celebrating the athlete’s body,” Bird said, standing on the Westchester County Center court before Tuesday’s win over the Liberty. “It’s celebrating the hard work that goes into that. It comes in all shapes and sizes as you see when you flip through. There’s all different ways to look as an athlete. But more than anything, it really celebrates a healthy lifestyle, and that’s something that I’m really passionate about.
“When you add the fact that it’s myself and Megan on the cover, the first gay couple, yeah, I think that is huge. I just think 10 or 15 years down the line, Megan and I will be able to look back and feel really proud of the fact that we were the first and know that we probably won’t be the last. Any time you can be a trailblazer in that regard in terms of equality and diversity, I’m all for it.”
Even though the WNBA’s all-time assists leader is set to turn 38 in October, Bird still looks good in her uniform, too.
The Syosset native and former Christ the King and UConn standout is in her 17th season with Seattle after being chosen first overall in 2002. Yet she’s averaging 10.0 assists in her last six games and 7.5 overall after averaging a career-high 6.6 last year. She was second in the league entering Saturday’s play. Bird has helped power a Storm team that is tied with Phoenix for the WNBA’s top record at 14-5.
Indeed, part of Bird’s success stems from the state of her 5-9, 150-pound body.
“Physically, she just works so hard 365 days of the year to put her body in the best position,” said Dan Hughes, the Storm’s first-year head coach. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more diligent worker to try to address the needs to play the game at the high level on a daily basis in the offseason as I’ve seen [with her].”
But it’s about more than that. Just ask her teammate from the 2011 and 2012 Storm.
“What she brings to the table doesn’t really go away,” Liberty first-year coach Katie Smith said. “Obviously, she takes great care of her body, but she still . . . has great vision, hits shots when she needs to and is always aware of how to get everybody involved and asserts herself when she has to. And she’s got great pieces that she’s playing with.”
Breanna Stewart, who also posed nude for one of the ESPN covers, came into the weekend averaging a league-high 22.2 points. The third-year forward out of UConn has learned a lot from Bird.
“How to obviously play in the WNBA at a high level,” Stewart said. “Learning how to be a leader, learning how to be the best on the court and just how she manages her body outside of basketball.”
Bird’s relationship with Rapinoe, a longtime standout with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, dates to 2016. That didn’t make the photo shoot easier for Bird. She already was comfortable in her own skin.
“I mean, I’m 37,” Bird said. “I’ve played sports my whole life. I’m showering in locker rooms my whole life. Being naked is not that big of a deal.”
The 10-time All-Star is averaging 9.1 points per game and needs five to become the eighth in league history to reach 6,000.
“I think Diana Taurasi said it best: ‘If you play long enough, you’re going to achieve some stuff,’ ” Bird said.
Her pile of stuff also includes two New York state high school titles, two NCAA titles, two WNBA titles and four Olympic gold medals. So what’s still driving her to play?
“I’m still enjoying it,” Bird said. “At some point, it became not less about championships — it’s always about championships — but you really take pleasure in the journey, in the process of a team going through a season and trying to get better and, of course, win a championship. I just have a lot of fun with that. So I keep coming back.
“Listen, if I wasn’t enjoying it, if health-wise I wasn’t doing well, I would have different answers for you. But because those two are still there, why not play?”
Sue Bird needs five points to become the eight player in WNBA history to score 6,000 or more points in a career:
6,263Lisa Leslie 363
5,995Sue Bird 494