Sue Bird is not an overly sentimental person, especially when there still is work to do.
Bird isn’t one to spend a lot of time reflecting on past accomplishments or indulging in nostalgia. In fact, the Syosset native concedes that she rarely looks at the three Olympic gold medals she won with the U.S. women’s basketball team in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
“They’re generally in a safety deposit box,” Bird said with a shrug last week before heading to Rio de Janeiro with the rest of her teammates. “I know, boring, right?”
Still, there is nothing Bird would like to do more than add a fourth medal to that safety deposit box this month as the 5-9 point guard prepares to lead the U.S. squad into competition.
Bird, Diana Tau rasi and Tamika Catchings have been mainstays on the team for 16 years and will be playing for a rare fourth consecutive gold medal. The only other women’s basketball players to have won four are Lisa Leslie (1996-2008) and Teresa Edwards (1984-2000).
Team USA opens pool play against Senegal at 11 a.m. Sunday. The U.S. women enter the tournament looking to complete two decades of dominance by winning their sixth consecutive gold medal. They own an undefeated streak of 41 games in Olympic play dating to the bronze-medal game at Barcelona in 1992. During that stretch, the Americans have won by nearly 30 points a game, with only one team staying within single digits of them.
Many, including Team USA coach Geno Auriemma, believe this year’s team has the potential to be the best yet, even better than the 2012 team that won in London and was considered to be the most dominant of all time.
Australia, which has won either the bronze or silver in every Olympics dating to 1996, is expected to be Team USA’s biggest challenger. Australia is the only team ever to lead Team USA at the half (they had a four-point lead in the semifinals in London before losing the game by double-digits). Still, they don’t appear to be much of a threat this year. Team USA defeated Australia, 104-89, in an exhibition game Sunday at the Garden.
A big reason for Team USA’s dominance has been the steady hand of Bird, who joined the team shortly after winning the 2002 NCAA championship and completing an undefeated senior season at UConn. Bird, whom Seattle made the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, quickly was anointed the next generation’s great point guard, taking over for Hall of Famer Dawn Staley.
Bird went on to win three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA championships and five EuroLeague titles. In the 2012 London Games, Bird led all guards in the women’s game with a 3.27 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Given that she turns 35 this fall, this could be Bird’s last Olympic hurrah. Auriemma, who coached Bird at UConn from 1998 to 2002, said it’s hard to imagine the team without her.
“Here we are 12 years [after her first gold], and she’s still the best point guard in the world,” Auriemma said. “Mentally, she’s always been at a different level than everyone else, and she’s been able to physically to keep up with that. I don’t know if I would enjoy coaching this team if she wasn’t on it.”
Bird, who recently signed a multiyear contract with the Storm — for which she intends to finish her WNBA career — said each Olympics has been special in its own way and that she has evolved as a player.
“I think just by the nature of getting older, I hope that I’m a smarter basketball player than I was at 23,’’ she said. “You have to control what you can. You can control what you put in your body, how you take care of yourself, how much you work. You have to control what you can.”
Bird’s parents, Herschel and Nancy, and her sister, Jennifer, will be in Brazil to possibly watch her make history by becoming one of only five basketball players ever to win four gold medals. As much as Bird has been trained not to look ahead, it’s clear this is something she wants.
Said Bird: “It would be an incredible accomplishment. And hopefully we will have three on this team that do it. We’re could be mentioned with an elite group of people, and that’s pretty cool.”
U.S. women: When they play
Sunday: vs. Senegal, 11 a.m. TV???
Monday: vs. Spain, 11 a.m. TV???
Wednesday: vs. Serbia, 2:30 p.m. TV ???
Aug. 12: vs. Canada, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 14: vs. China, 11:15 p.m.
BRONZE MEDAL GAME
Aug. 20, 10:30 a.m. TV???
GOLD MEDAL GAME
Aug. 20, 2:45. p.m