The 19-year-old who just scored 19 points to lead her team to the national championship game sat in the locker room and appeared to be in good spirits. She looked like she was prepared.
Although she had lost most of her freshman season to a knee injury, Sue Bird had played for high school powerhouse Christ The King in New York City and was a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. The 2000 women's Final Four was in Geno Auriemma's hometown of Philadelphia and there was a title game between Connecticut and Tennessee.
Bird was asked by the media to put it all in perspective after the victory. A reporter summed up the feelings of other people walking away: "That kid has got it."
Still, she does. Bird is in her 19th and final season with the Seattle Storm and is trying to match her five Olympic gold medals. She is the league's all time leader in assists and games played. She will play her last two games of the season in Seattle on Wednesday. NBA TV will be on Saturday and Sunday. The program is hosted by ABC.
Bird will not go away. She might become a bigger player in the sports world after she's done playing. She is not a person who rides off into the sunset. She can and will pursue many things while she takes some time to rest. It could be team management, ownership, or coaching. Product endorsements and fashion? Do you think social activism is possible? It's possible that it's a combination of all of the above and she hasn't discovered anything yet.
Auriemma said there were no limits. There are no boundaries that will prevent Sue from being successful in whatever endeavor she chooses.
She is at the forefront of bringing a lot more attention, recognition, support and appreciation for women in general, and women in sports in particular.
Bird's entire career has been with Seattle, where she is on the city's mythical sports "Rushmore." When she finishes her final moments in a Storm jersey, there will be tears and applause.
So, then? Bird is going to start in a world beyond that of a professional athlete.
Bird has been "old" for the last several years. I've been the oldest player in the league for the last year and a half. You need to pay attention to it. Being in my 40s is not a good thing. I have a lot to do in the grand scheme of things.
"I want to do things in a way that grows the pie for everybody. I feel really passionate about that, given my experience as a female athlete fighting for scraps. I don't want that to be the case for the next generation." Sue Bird
After retiring from playing in Russia, Bird began to pursue other interests. She was an analyst for women's college basketball games, worked in the Denver Nuggets front office, did public speaking, and helped launch a multimedia and commerce company.
Bird began dipping his toe in the water. I didn't want to be a 42 year old intern who didn't know anything. I would like to learn before retiring from playing. Basketball and sports are important to me. It could mean a lot.
Bird will play her last game in the league.
The Storm won the game and secured a playoff spot as Cloud couldn't get the 3-pointer to fall.
The KeyArena crowd roared with joy as the Storm won the first of their four titles in 2004. When the Sonics lost, she was there. After a $1 billion renovation, the building is now home to the NHL's Seattle Kraken.
In Bird's first season, the league had 16 teams. She has seen at least six franchises fold, three relocate and two join the league. She has been involved in four collective bargaining agreements with the WNBPA.
Bird has watched how franchises and leagues work. She understands that negotiation means give and take. Professional sports are at their core as a business because of growth and loss. They can be more to cities and regions.
Bird might be involved in team management and ownership in the future. Bird joined an ownership group for the National Women's Soccer League's NJ/NY Gotham FC where she is expected to have a significant advisory role.
You heard it here f̶i̶r̶s̶t̶. OFFICIAL: @S10Bird joins Gotham FC's ownership group.#YERRRR pic.twitter.com/ySimsLP1FX— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) July 29, 2022
Bird had a better idea of the player evaluation and development side of sports when she was with the Nuggets. Calvin Booth is the general manager of the Denver Broncos.
The guys on the staff built the roster. I sat in on all their meetings, whether it was about the current roster or the future. You begin to get into the cap. I would watch the film and give my opinion.
It showed up in some of the conversations we had with the NBA when they showed how they do things.
Ginny Gilder, one of the Storm's owners, said Bird understood both sides of the equation between labor and management when she was involved in some Storm business matters.
Gilder said that she knows how to listen and ask questions. She understands that pushing for what you want is not good for you. The way to do it is to think about what the other side wants.
Bird's ability to run a team on the floor is unquestioned by anyone who has watched him. Everything that a coach needs to do is compatible with her skill set.
She said she likes things to flow correctly. It is the highest compliment if someone says that when I am on the floor.
Is Bird interested in coaching? She doesn't, but she won't completely close that door.
"Just the X's and O's, figuring out strategies and schemes, how to beat certain teams -- that to me is probably how people feel when they create music." I love that there's a harmony to it.
There are other things in a coach's life that I don't like. Preparing for games, subbing, and players' mentalities are just some of the things that cause sleepless nights. I feel like I've been living that life for a long time.
Auriemma was the head coach of the national team in two Olympics and two World Cup. He believes that the competitive itch can be scratched in a number of ways.
He said that more former players are looking to go into the places where they have the most impact. They will look at front-office jobs.
Bird would be interested in the highest-level pros if she ever decided to coach. She has been a member of the national team for two decades. She could be an assistant or head coach of the U.S. women's national team. College and pro coaches are taking that on as an extra job.
That's an interesting question, Auriemma said. If you're a former player with enough credibility, you can become a coach.
"Just so she will see how miserable it is, I want her to coach at some point," Auriemma said. She's going to feel bad about how bad she made it for everyone who coached her because she thought she was smarter than us.
Bird has been a coach on the floor for a long time and this would seem like a natural progression.
Bird said never. I'm not sure if I'll ever get into it.
She doesn't think much about her personal branding. She knows it better in the last part of her career.
She said that her confidence, power, and how she has come into being herself are the first things that come to mind. Being authentic is the key.
We are all on a journey of figuring ourselves out. I feel like life started when I came out as gay at 36 because I was living my truth. I was a product of society telling me to fit in and I started to notice other things I was interested in.
Megan Rapinoe won the Presidential medal of freedom for her activism as an athlete. Two people have appeared on panels together.
Pinoe is a change-maker. Sue has stepped into that space as well.
During the women's Final Four, Rapinoe and Bird did a show called "A Touch More" in which they talked to people during the games. Bird is interested in the technical aspects of how to plan and organize shows as well as being the "name" talent involved in those endeavors. The point guard is leaving.
Being an interviewer is a different thing than being an interviewer, Bird said. They have good writers with commercials. You have to work on the timing.
Athletes can increase their influence after they stop playing.
"Imagine how many generations know John Madden from the Madden video game and his work as a broadcast journalist," Auriemma said. They don't recall him as a coach. It's the same thing for former players who have taken on different roles. Sue is well positioned to carve out a career that will define her to a new group of fans.
A strong aspect of social conscience will always be present in whatever Bird does. Bird remembers when there wasn't a women's pro basketball league in the US when she was a student. Her time with the union has shown her how to protect a growing league while also pushing for change. She is aware that women's sports still battle prejudice.
She wanted to invest in the NWSL team and she no longer avoids controversial topics that benefit from her insight.
Bird wants to grow the pie for everyone. I feel passionate about that because I fought for scraps as an athlete. I don't want that to happen in the future.
The transition from world-class athlete to the rest of life is something Gilder knows well. She was part of the Force 10 Hoops group that bought the Storm in 2008 and kept them in Seattle, despite the Sonics leaving for Oklahoma.
Being an athlete on a day-to-day level doesn't require you to think about your purpose. You're focused on taking care of your team and making sure you're healthy. Sue has been playing this sport for a long time. She won't be able to always know what to do when there is another game.
She should be given the chance to see what it is like. What does she want? Sue can do whatever she wants. There is a plan for her and others. Do you want to push for change? Is it possible to put your credibility on the line?
Bird's main focus right now is the Storm's season. She has always been in charge of keeping the team focused. The rest of her life will start later this year.
Bird will miss playing basketball. There are aspects of it that are hard to duplicate, but I have no regrets.
It's going to be easy but manageable. I feel like I'm at peace. I'm very happy.