It’s the end of the era.
Sue Bird, the greatest basketball player not named Julius Erving to come out of Long Island, has decided that this season, her 21st in the WNBA, will also be her last.
Bird made her announcement Thursday on Twitter. The post included a current picture of her in a Seattle Storm uniform and a photo of her on a youth basketball team. “I have loved every single minute, and I still do,” Bird wrote of her career, “so I’m gonna play my last year, just like this little girl played her first.”
Bird, 41, played at Syosset High School before transferring to Christ the King in Queens. She spent her entire 21-year WNBA career with the Storm, establishing herself as one of the greatest players in the history of the WNBA and the greatest point guard, period.
Bird’s achievements could take up an entire tabloid page, so here are the highlights:
She has been a winner on every level. Bird is a four-time WNBA champion with the Storm and a five-time Olympic gold medalist with USA Basketball. She won two NCAA championships with Connecticut.
Bird is the WNBA’s all-time assist leader with 3,114 as of Thursday, 514 more than any other player. She also ranks first in league history with 559 games, second in three-pointers made with 965, fourth with 700 steals and seventh with 6,639 career points.
She has been a part of all but five of the league's 26 seasons after Seattle drafted her No. 1 out of UConn in 2002. According to the team, she has scored or assisted on 27.5% of every basket scored in Storm franchise history. That includes the four seasons (2000, 2001, 2013 and 2019) in which she did not play. If including only games she played in, the mark jumps to 35.4%, per the team.
Yet, it’s not just her statistics and championships that make her one of the most important players in the history of the game. Bird’s professional career spans an incredible period of growth in women’s sports and she is an instrumental figure in the fight for greater respect and visibility.
Bird is one of the few players in the league who distinctly remembers when there was no viable professional women’s basketball league. She was a junior at Christ the King when the WNBA held its first season in 1997. She is also one of the few players who can recall how hard they had to fight for attention and respect in the early years.
Bird recalled in a conversation I had with her last year how the prevailing attitude in the country about the WNBA when she first came in is that “they were just supposed to be thankful.”
"This is a large part of what we had to battle as we put our flag in the ground," she said. "People kept saying, ‘You need to wear tighter clothing. You need to lower the rim for it to be interesting. If your league wasn’t so gay, we would probably watch it. If you didn’t look so manly,’ which is code for so much."
So much has changed, on and off the court since then, and Bird has played a big role in the shifting attitudes.
Bird and her fiancée, soccer icon Megan Rapinoe, are a celebrated sports power couple. The work the two have done off the court for LGBTQ rights and social justice has had a significant impact that transcends the sporting world as they are regularly featured in everything from People magazine to ESPN to Vogue.
"I think women’s basketball is in a great place. I think women’s sports is in a good place," Bird said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. "So many differences in a good way from when I first entered the league and I think we can all feel that momentum building. I couldn’t be more proud of the younger generation.”
Bird said in a video released by the team on Twitter Thursday that she was fairly sure it was going to be her last year at the start of the season, but she didn’t decide to announce that until she was packing for the team’s current road trip. The Storm play the Liberty Sunday at Barclays Center.
“I’m like this is going to be my last time playing in New York, my last time playing in front of my family and friends,” she said. “I just really felt strongly [I should] share that with all the people I’ve grown up with, so they can come see me play in my home state.”
The end of an era.