Storm retire Bird’s jersey in emotional ceremony

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

SEATTLE — In an emotional ceremony that lasted approximately three hours after the Seattle Storm’s 71-65 loss to the Washington Mystics on Sunday, Sue Bird saw her No. 10 Storm jersey raised to the Climate Pledge Arena rafters.

“I’ve got to give my sister [Jen] the ‘line of the night’ award,” Bird quipped to the media afterward. “I walked in the back with my family. I was like, ‘Was that too long?’ My sister was like, ‘You played here for 21 years. They can listen to you for an hour.'”

Actually, Bird’s speech was more than an hour and a half, as she apologized for during the midst of it. But there was understandably a lot of ground to cover for a player who retired last fall as the WNBA’s all-time leader in games, minutes and assists during a career that spanned more than two decades — all of it played in Seattle.

“I didn’t anticipate it being that long, but the truth is, I don’t know that I could have taken anything out,” Bird said. “That’s what this has meant to me. It was just so important for me to say names and point people out and tell them what they’ve meant. I’m already thinking of things I wish I would have said.”

Before Bird took center stage, she heard from a variety of key figures in her career about the impact she had on them. Bird’s fiancée, USWNT star Megan Rapinoe, co-hosted the event with Seattle rapper Macklemore.

Storm co-owners Lisa Brummel and Ginny Gilder both spoke, followed by former teammates Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson, Bird’s agent at Wasserman — Lindsay Kagawa Colas — and former coach Jenny Boucek.

Jackson, who flew in from Australia with eldest son Harry specifically for the event, called Bird “the true GOAT” with the help of AI chatbot ChatGPT, which helpfully pointed out that Bird’s position of point guard is the most important in basketball. Given her four WNBA championships and five Olympic gold medals, plus a record 13 All-Star appearances, there’s little debate that Bird retired as the greatest point guard in women’s basketball history.

“Sue’s legacy to Seattle, to [USA Basketball], to the WNBA and to our beautiful game is one that I don’t think will ever be matched by anyone,” Jackson said.

As an active player, Bird stole the show with her speech at the retirement of Jackson’s No. 15 jersey in 2016. Now the pick-and-roll partners, who played together from Bird’s selection as the No. 1 draft pick in 2002 through injuries forcing Jackson’s retirement from the WNBA after the 2012 season — winning a pair of titles — are reunited.

“The one thing I really wish I would have said — it just kind of escaped me — was how amazing it’s going to be in the rafters, yes, but it’s going to be even more amazing to be next to her,” Bird said.

After Jackson, Rapinoe took the microphone to introduce her fiancée, describing her as “simply the best” while the iconic anthem by the late Tina Turner played.

Then Bird went through her entire career to pay tribute to everyone who played a part in her journey, from being scared to pick up the ball before her first youth soccer game as a child to walking off the court last September with fans chanting, “Thank you, Sue!” following her final WNBA game.

“I wanted to make sure that I thanked those I wanted to thank,” Bird said, “because it does feel like the last time — obviously not the last time I’ll be in the building or the last time I’ll be around or anything like that — but the last time as a player. Now I’ll just be a former player.”

Bird discussed her family, former teammates and coaches — many of whom were in attendance — and the organization, including the group of local owners that kept the Storm in Seattle as an independent WNBA franchise after the team was sold with the NBA’s SuperSonics to the group that moved them to Oklahoma City.

From the poem “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Bird quoted the line “I am a part of all that I have met” to describe her relationship with those groups.

The speech culminated with a tribute to Storm fans, a group that has swelled tremendously over the past decades, thanks in large part to Bird’s play and connection with the community. The largest crowd in franchise history packed Climate Pledge in August for Bird’s final regular-season home game, while Sunday’s attendance of 13,000-plus filled the lower bowl and reached into the upper deck.

“It almost has nothing to do with basketball in so many ways,” Bird said. “The connection I have with the city, with the fans, with this franchise and, again, like I said out there, what they’ve given me. I think a lot was made of what I’ve given them in my final year, but I really wanted to emphasize what all the people I named have given me and what I’ll take.”

Coming nine months after her final WNBA game, Bird compared this weekend’s events — which also included raising a flag with her name on the Space Needle on Friday and the unveiling of a mural of her likeness in downtown Seattle — to “a period” on her career representing the end of the sentence and moving on to the next stage of her life.

And maybe, just maybe, having her jersey retired will stop people asking whether Bird might come back.

“I will forever miss it, and that’s OK,” she said. “I think some people try to avoid missing it when they’re in my seat up here, and the reality is I’m always going to miss it. There’s going to be be days — tomorrow, a year from now, five years from now — where I’ll probably even cry because I miss it and get emotional because I miss it. That’s just a part of it.”

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