Sometimes, it seems that there is not much that Sue Bird can’t do.
Bird has played in more games than any player in the history of the WNBA. She has helped lead teams on every level — from Christ the King to University of Connecticut to the U.S. Olympic team to the Seattle Storm — to a championship.
And, as one half of the most powerful couple in sports along with soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Bird has learned how to use her public platform to speak out about causes she cares about, among them LGBTQ rights, the Say Her Name Campaign and pay equity.
Of course, there’s one thing that the Syosset native can’t do. And that’s play the game she loves forever.
This is why it means so much to her that she is back in the WNBA Finals. When the Storm tipoff Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces, Bird will be attempting to become one of a handful of players to win four WNBA championships, having also won them 2003, 2010 and 2018.
"Every time you get back, you enjoy it more because you know how difficult it is," Bird, who will turn 40 two weeks, said in a phone interview with Newsday. "I can easily say this time has been the most challenging."
After winning the title in 2018, Bird sat out all of last season after undergoing surgery on her left knee. She admits she had some reservations about playing inside the bubble, which is on IMG Academy’s campus in Bradenton, Florida. But she also realized if she sat out two years in a row, she might never play again.
Seattle entered the season favored to go all the way as both Bird and Breanna Stewart, who also missed all of 2019 with an injury, were back. Bird, however, suffered a bone bruise of her left knee and ended up missing half of her team’s games, including their two losses to the Aces.
Mentally, she said she also hit a wall living and playing inside the bubble.
"Everywhere you go, it’s 24-7 basketball," she said. "It’s surrounding you. All you see are other coaches, other players, other referees. You have no other outlet.
"And then I got a bone bruise and the one thing you can do in the bubble, I couldn’t do. I was lucky that I had Megan to go through it with me. I think it was also hard on her, though maybe there was less stress because she wasn’t here to play
"We are lucky. The stress we have felt has nothing to do with COVID. We are safe and I know that’s different from the rest of the country. Honestly, regardless of whether we win or lose the finals, I think this will go down as one of the more mentally challenging experiences I’ve been through."
Most observers expect the Storm to beat the Aces, even though the teams have identical 19-4 records. Seattle has experience, returning eight players from the 2018 championship team. They also are healthier than they were when they met the in the regular season as Stewart missed one of those games and Bird missed both.
Seattle is a different team with Bird on the court. Seattle scored 15.6 more points per 100 possessions when Bird had the ball in her hands this year. Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said that Bird will have a "huge impact" on the series because of her "ability to read defenses, to pass the ball, to find the open man, to stretch the defense out and to hit shots."
The oldest player in the league, Bird knows she may never be here again. A few years ago, she started preparing for her post-playing career, a preparation that included taking a position in the offseason with the Denver Nuggets.
"I do think about it," Bird said when asked about retiring. "But it’s more like big picture things. Right now, I don’t have a timeline. One year? Two years? This is my last year? That’s not how I operate."
For now, the only future Bird is thinking about is Friday night’s game. She will be back playing for a championship, the one comforting consistency in what has been a very uncomfortable and inconsistent year.
Said Bird: "I can’t wait. It’s gonna be great."