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Sue Bird ended her career in Seattle, where it began two decades ago. The crowd at Climate Pledge Arena paid tribute to the Seattle Storm point guard despite his team's loss. The fans roared their appreciation for her 19 seasons as Bird fought back tears and acknowledged the crowd by raising her hands.

Bird's path from the top pick in the draft to the Hall of Fame seemed straight. She was the most decorated player in the history of the league, with 13 All-Star appearances and four titles, but she left the league to play for the Seattle Storm.

Bird averaged double-figure scoring each of her first 16 seasons and at least 3.8 assists in all but one of her campaigns. Bird had to navigate a number of career-threatening surgeries on her troublesome left knee, as well as an ever-changing group of teammates.

The Storm were eliminated by Las Vegas in the semifinals of the women's basketball league. Bird has been reflecting on her career over the last few weeks and she was proud to have won four titles in different stages of her career. Bird first won as part of a duo with Lauren Jackson, then again six years later as part of a duo with another star. She added the last two titles as a veteran presence on the team.

Bird said that it wasn't just like lightning in a bottle where you had a great roster for a few years. Each time we won, we needed to figure it out. We did it with a completely different equation. I am very proud of that.

Bird contemplated leaving to finish her career elsewhere before returning to the Storm, but she was able to beat six of her teammates to the Hall of Fame. The climate pledge arena is the old KeyArena.

Bird knew she would finish her career in Seattle when we revisit the four stages of one of the greatest professional careers in women's sports history.


Sue Bird reflected on her 20 years in the league.

Act I: 'Big Kids'

There is a scene in 2004. There is confetti falling Seattle's first major pro sports title in 25 years was won by the Storm in a sellout game. Bird and Jackson celebrated the first title of their third season together.

Bird said that they had no idea what they were doing. It felt really good. It was a new experience. The city's first in 25 years was exciting. We were young at that time. We thought we would be in the Finals every year.

The franchise was young when Bird was drafted. The Storm operated patiently, unlike other expansion teams that built up quickly. Bird and Jackson are basketball talents whose games mesh perfectly.

Jenny Boucek, who joined the Storm as an assistant, said that Bird and Lauren were big kids. They wanted to play for the love of the game. They had a joy about them that was amazing. A lot of things that hold teams and players back are related to Sue and Lauren's joy. They were having a good time.

Sue Bird is willing to let you in.

The trainer who helps Bird be at her best is the secret to her success.

Voepel asked if Bird's next 25 years would be coach, analyst, ownership or advocacy. The table has everything on it.

Bird is the evolution and revolution of Seattle's point guard.

It was a challenge for Anne because it was against her personality. I'd talk to Anne about maximizing this. Our edge is this one. Our star players thrive in a fun, playful environment.

Bird was asked how to be a leader in a locker room full of older players. The Storm focused on adding more experience in the wake of a 2003 season that ended with Seattle just outside the playoffs despite Jackson winning the Most Valuable Player award. After the Cleveland Rockers folded, Seattle added a pair of veteran starters, picking Betty Lennox and Janell Burse via trade.

"Sue and Lauren are the cornerstones in this moment, they are this duo that we need to build around," Bird said. Is it possible to make their lives easier as a young player? How can we make it so they don't have to do anything?

As expected, the moves worked. The Storm won 20 games for the first time and had home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Bird broke her nose in the first round of the playoffs but still handed out 14 assists as Seattle advanced to the finals.

The Storm won the next two games after losing the first one in Connecticut.

Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty Images

The Storm's championship roster took a hit because of free agency, which was new to the league. Bird's backup, Tully Bevilaqua, also left. Seattle was upset in the first round of the playoffs by Houston. The Storm were swept out of the playoffs in the first round when Jackson won his second award.

Bird said that they never got to build on the title. Free agency came in and we didn't know what was going to happen. The rosters were not good enough to win. Is it possible that we over achieved and got further? Those rosters weren't necessarily the best.

Sue Bird waved a final farewell after Game 4 on Tuesday as the Climate Pledge Arena crowd chanted "Thank you, Sue." Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Act II: Peaking

The scene took place in September 2010. The arena is in Atlanta The Storm completed a perfect playoff run after Coco Miller missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. Bird won the title for the first time in five years. She jumped into Jackson's arms and celebrated.

Bird said that they were very mission-oriented. There was a purpose. The goal was to win.

The difference five consecutive first-round exits made was seen by Seattle's coaching staff.

We all took it for granted that we were going to win a lot of them. It had been a long time since it happened. There was a seriousness that wasn't there the first time.

This was not the same as Bird. She didn't raise her game after winning the first title. She made the All-WNBA First Team in each of her first four seasons, but didn't make the second team anymore. Bird's scoring average dropped to a decade low when she had knee surgery in 2007.

Without Jackson, Bird became more aggressive on the offensive side. Her scoring average went up in 2008. Bird earned All-WNBA honors for the second year in a row in 2011.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Bird said he's not a Batman and that he jokes he's a Robin. I'm able to change my mind in a number of ways. I have to be in line with the team's needs. Everything was based on this player. It was like we have to pick up the slack.

The nickname Sue Die Bulls--- Bird was given to Bird by a popular message board for her tendency to make big shots late in the game. Tanisha Wright was happy to joke with her about it.

Bird said it was a "hell of a f'ing nickname." It's not a bad thing.

Bird made two game-winning shots to help keep the Storm perfect. In the second game of the series, Bird moved off the ball while Wright ran a pick-and-roll, then hit a 3-pointer to cap a comeback from a 12-point deficit.

Bird and Jackson were running pick-and-roll with Jackson's screen freeing Bird to make a pull-up jumper in the final seconds of the first game.

Sue Bird is a clutch shooter. "Her ability to hit key free throws, hit key shots in the guts of the game, there were many times she did that." I can't have more confidence in anyone else than her.

The 2010 playoffs marked another turning point for Bird, as they began watching film together to study opposing defenses and figure out how Bird could best counter them.

"I've never been around a more clutch shooter than Sue Bird." Former Storm coach Brian Agler

Sue's brain is very similar to a computer. If you put the files in the file cabinets and load the database with large amounts of information at the right time, she is better than anyone I have ever seen. She used her genius to get to the game, but she was prepared.

During the playoffs, the team's final four wins came by three points or less and Bird wanted to find an edge.

Bird said that if you can steal a possession in that way you can outsmart them. A lot of my strength lies in being able to manipulate my intelligence. Jenny helped me get that established.

Act III: Rebuilding and recommitting

Brian Babineau/NBA/Getty Images

There is a scene in September. The night of the draft. Breanna Stewart is expected to be the top pick next year. Seattle has a better chance than any other city. Bird watched at a sports bar near Seattle and saw that the president of the Storm opened an envelope with the logo and knew she'd finish her career there.

"Stewie doesn't know it, but she saved my career here," Bird said. I don't know if we get the top pick. I'm not sure. I don't know if I'll last as long in New York as I have done now. I'm happy that things happened the way they did.

Seattle needed to rebuild for the first time in Bird's career in order to land Stewart. Jackson last played in the WNBA in 2012 due to injury and the roster had aged. Agler left the Storm after they had a 12-22 record. Bird's future in Seattle was a topic of debate.

Bird said that he was asked if he ever wanted to play in a meaningful WNBA game again. I was like, "Oh man, when you say that way?"

She was considering playing for her hometown Liberty. Not only were they a contender led by a pair of native New Yorkers, Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince, both of whom played with Bird during her final season, the Liberty also added former Seattle teammates Wright and Swin Cash.

"Stewie doesn't know it, but she kind of saved my career here in a lot of ways. If we don't get the No. 1 pick that year, I don't know." Sue Bird, who considered leaving Seattle prior to Seattle winning the 2016 WNBA draft lottery and the right to select Breanna Stewart at No. 1

They attempted to get Bird to New York. Bird could see himself playing at the Madison Square Garden.

Bird said that he fell in love with the idea of that. It turned out to be very attractive.

The losses mounted during the year.

Bird said that they were losing a lot of games. We signed up for that. I signed up for that. The motivating factor was the fact that Stewie was coming out of college the next year. It's difficult to lose.

You don't want to be bad out there. It doesn't always have to be about winning or losing. It was a difficult thing to do.

She was taking steps to ensure she kept playing at a high level deep into her 30s when she was deciding where to finish her career. Bird began working with Susan King Borchardt, who was part of the Seattle organization on a year-round basis. It was obvious that the difference was different.

Wright said that she did a great job of making the decision to invest in her body and take care of her body in the last years of her life. It's frustrating because you've had knee issues, but I think Sue did a great job of making the decision to commit to this.

It's like when you saw her in action. That is real deal. Is it possible for her to make that commitment when she's young? It's good to her.

"Sue's brain is very much like a computer. If you put the files in the file cabinets and you load up that database, she is better than anybody ... at being able to pull from large amounts of information at the right time." Former Storm coach Jenny Boucek, on watching game film and helping Bird prepare for opposing defenses

Bird's decision-making prowess as well as feature Stewart, should the Storm be able to draft her, would be highlighted by an offense that was being installed by Boucek.

Bird was at a point in his career where he needed to change his diet. I really liked that style. It was designed for a player like myself, not me.

Bird sat out four of the last five games in 2015, including a loss to San Antonio in the regular-season finale that ensured the Storm the best odds in the draft. Bird's choice in free agency was obvious when the winning combination came up. She didn't consider leaving the free agency process.

"If we got the top pick, I was not leaving," Bird said.

Act IV: Back on top

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

The scene took place in September. The Washington Mystics are the team Bird is celebrating a title against. Dan Hughes is the coach of a group of players who are new to a title.

Bird said that he never thought he would be on the No. 1 team going into the playoffs and having a chance to go to the finals. I didn't think that was a good idea. I didn't want to think of it that way. When it's all said and done, I think the year will always stand out.

Seattle's success with Stewart was not immediately apparent. When Bird was voted All-WNBA First Team at age 35 after shooting what was then a career-best 44% from 3-point range, the Storm backslid, costing Boucek her job. Hughes, one of the league's winningest coaches, took over but retained a lot of the offense that the previous coach had installed.

Bird noted that despite Stewart's potential, Seattle was still picked 7th in the preseason. Bird and Howard were the only core players with experience in the playoffs.

Bird said that nobody realized the impact thatNatasha would have. I think we did not realize it. She did not start the first game. Crystal Langhorne had to start after getting hurt. All of the perfect pieces were unlocked by the entry ofNatasha Howard.

A young team had the perfect veteran leader in Bird. Bird had become more comfortable as a vocal presence in the locker room over time.

Hughes said thatSue had the wisdom to know that a lot of things had to happen in order for you to be champion again. I think the same things she liked.

It wasn't lost to the teammates that hadn't lived that life to appreciate that rare air. At that time, you want to invest everything in the right way. She was a leader of our team.

After Bird and Stewart missed the chance to defend the title, the Storm won their fourth title. The "Say Her Name" campaign was one of the reasons why the 2020 season was played in a bubble.

Bird thinks that the 2020 Seattle team should be considered one of the greatest teams in the history of the league.

She said that they had the same talent from last year. I'm an older vet, but the vets are now vets. Jordin and Cedes are not vets but they are. It is not their first year.

You can play for free for a chance to win a lot of money. Pick your favorites.

She was an important part of the last two championship teams. They went 16-1 in 17 games Bird played in 2020 and lost three of them.

Bird was a better athlete than people gave her credit for in her prime because she was able to compensate for losing the speed. Bird's production continued to be consistent into her 40s.

Bird has been a different player in each five-year segment. I have been able to find ways despite being a little bit different.

I've never relied on my size in my life. I think there were times earlier in my career when I needed to be quicker. I got places through it. I have been able to adapt because I never relied on it in these other ways. You can overcome some of the physical changes if you have my experience and my smarts.

Bird decided to leave the league after playing more games than any other player in league history and doing so on her terms, having decided to return for a final season after fans chanted "One more year!"

Bird decided to retire midway through the Storm's schedule, giving fans an opportunity to show their appreciation during her final campaign. A sellout crowd of 18,000-plus turned out for her last regular-season game in Seattle.

Bird's left knee issues dating to her freshman year in 1998 but accelerated by microfracture surgery to treat a meniscus injury in 2003 may have prevented that ending. No other professional basketball player has played as long after microfracture as he has.

Bird said that nobody talks about his knee. A 70 year old has a knee. I had a bruise on my bones. The doctor who was on site opened it up and said it was not good. Doctors react to my knee. People don't know how you do it. I am not sure how I am doing it. Some of it is luck.

As the mental and physical toll of playing grew and Bird prepared for her next act as an investor in NJ/NYGotham FC of the National Women's Soccer League, the time to retire was.

Bird wishes she had gone differently, a pass she didn't make or a shot she didn't take. She's retiring happy with a career that will be hard for future generations of players to match.

Bird said there were tiny little regrets about that. I think it's normal for athletes to wish they'd won that one. I feel at peace and at ease with my career. I do not have a lot of regrets. I don't have a lot of things.

It feels good because I know I did everything I could to win the titles. I am aware that I had a positive impact on my community. I don't think any stones were in that position.

Kevin Pelton used to work for the Seattle Storm as their website reporter.