Sue Bird announced today that this WNBA season will be her last after 21 years in the league. She was drafted first overall in 2002 to the Seattle Storm, where she has remained throughout her two-decade career, during which she was a 12-time All-Star and won four WNBA championships, the most recent in 2020.
In a tweet, she wrote, “I’ve decided this will be my final year. I have loved every single minute, and still do, so gonna play my last year, just like this little girl played her first,” accompanied by a photo of a young Bird.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Bird’s professional legacy is perhaps one of the most monumental of the half-century following the groundbreaking legislation. Born eight years after its passage, she played for UConn from 1998 to 2002. The WNBA played its first season in 1997 — a year before she entered college to play Division I at a school where players now make more money through NIL than their male counterparts — a fact that would have been nearly unimaginable at the time.
Bird is one of, if not the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, and probably the most well-known name in the history of the sport. And yet, with how far we’ve come, one must just take a look at the replies and comments under ESPN’s Twitter and Instagram posts about the basketball legend’s retirement to understand how far we still have to go. But I don’t want to tarnish this celebration of her career with too much focus on that disappointing yet predictable response, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Bird is the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists and games played, and is in the top ten all-time in both points and steals. She helped lead Team USA to five consecutive golds at the Olympics in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2021, and carried the American flag for the opening ceremony at the most recent Olympic Games in Tokyo, a fitting goodbye for a great American athlete.
At 41 years old, Bird is tied for the most gold medals won by a basketball player, and if the Storm can pull off another championship this year, her five rings would break the record for the most ever won by a WNBA player.
The Storm are currently 9-5, with 22 games left to play in the regular season. Bird missed the 2013 and 2019 seasons with the Storm due to injury.
As a member of the WNBA Players’ Association executive committee, Bird helped negotiate a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement for the league in 2020, which greatly increased total player compensation, improved travel accommodations, and guaranteed maternity leave to athletes.
Bird’s impact on the sport of basketball is substantial, and a trip to Springfield, Mass. is assured. Now, we have just 22 more games to show our appreciation.