Storrs, Conn. -Sue Bird's dad, Herschel, sits placidly in his seat, clapping
only after the good plays of last Tuesday's Big East championship game between
No. 1 Connecticut and No. 8 Rutgers. Husky fans around him applaud just about
every dribble their beloved team makes. A few rows up, Bird's mom, Nancy, is
dancing. Her hands are in the air and she's grooving to the beat of UConn's
"It's embarrassing, it's like, Mom!," UConn point guard Sue Bird says,
mortified but mostly amused.
"I like to dance. I can't help it," Nancy says. Christ the King assistant coach
Jill Cook chuckles at Nancy's metamorphosis during games, from bookworm to
dancing queen. When Sue played at Christ the King, Nancy would bring a book to
most games and read intently in the stands.
"That's a terrible rumor," Nancy protests. "But it's partly true. I did bring a
book, because I love reading. But I read it before the game and at halftime."
Now, Nancy does nothing of the sort. She dances and high-fives the other UConn
parents in her section.
"I think it's because of the music. At our high school games there wasn't any,"
Nancy Bird has been to all but three away games this season. But she's watched
those three on TV. Nancy, a nurse at Syosset High, and her boyfriend, Dennis
Burden, drove from her Syosset home to a restaurant in Greenwich, Conn. to see
those three games on CPTV, the station which televises the Huskies.
Herschel Bird has been to about 15 of his daughter's games this season, "just
the good ones," he says. Herschel, a cardiac rehab doctor, has flown from his
Las Vegas home to those games and has watched others on TV and listened to some
on the Internet.
As a result, Sue Bird sees mom and dad more than most college kids. "Maybe too
much," she jokes. Her 24-year-old sister, Jennifer, who works in Washington,
D.C. for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), also makes it to the games she can. For
Sue Bird, basketball has made home, and a family scattered in disparate places,
seem not that very far away.
"Dad's into it," Sue says. But that may be an understatement. Herschel Bird
fell in love with the game when attending his daughter's national AAU
tournaments every summer since Sue was 11 and a "4-11 peanut," he says.
Herschel, who has a computer chip for a memory, can recite specific details
from many of those games. Now it's fun for him to watch how many of those kids
have developed into college players.
Thanks to Direct TV, he tapes women's college games from all over and knows
more about the national scene than probably most coaches. He prefers to watch
games on TV because replays give him a better sense of the action. Though he
was at UConn's game against Tennessee on Feb. 2, a 72-71 loss, by watching it
on tape, he was able to better see how close his daughter came to getting her
hand on Semeka Randall's game-winning shot.
"I don't know X's and O's, I don't pretend to be a coach," he says. But this
month, Herschel has seen just about every conference championship game. He can
analyze why upstart Xavier could surprise people in the NCAA Tournament, why
country, and why opposing teams need to play zone against UConn because no one
can match up man-to-man, why the Huskies will be almost unbeatable in the
tourney if they play their best because there are few teams that can match-up
against their No. 4 and 5 players, and why only two teams can probably
challenge UConn -Rutgers and Tennessee -because both have excellent defenses.
But don't assume Herschel is the overbearing tennis dad type. He's anything
but. Though he loves to watch his daughter, who is the main reason behind the
Huskies success this season, he would rather watch the Xavier-George Washington
game if UConn is playing a patsy on the same night. "I'm not just a fan of
Sue's," he says. He simply loves the strategy involved in tight, competitive
games. "For me, I just like to watch the story unfold," he says. At the same
time, he doesn't talk much basketball with his daughter. "She's never been one
to put incredible importance on basketball," Herschel says. "It's not her whole
life. She enjoys it, but it doesn't dominate her life."
Says Sue: "The good thing about my dad is that he's blunt about how I play.
He'll say, 'You played like crap.' I'm like, 'Thanks!' My mom, I could have
nine turnovers and have scored two points and it will be, 'You played a great
game!' hug, hug, kiss, kiss." The balance of both is appreciated.
For the Birds, it has been a wonderful season, as they've watched their
daughter, who missed last year with a knee injury, enjoy every second of it.
"Suzy's face [after the Big East championship win over Rutgers, 79-59] said it
all," Nancy says. "It says, 'Mommy, we did it.' It says 'yes! yes! yes!'"
UConn (30-1) is the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA Tournament and this
week, the journey to do just that begins when it hosts a first-round game
Friday against Hampton (16-14). Of course, Nancy will be at every game and
Herschel will go only to the good ones.
"It's been a great ride," Herschel says.
Says Sue: "I've been lucky they've been able to see it."