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Sue Bird On The Emotions Of Her Final Year And Why It’s A Brand New Season In Seattle With Tina Charles

On Sunday afternoon, Sue Bird played in her 13th and final WNBA All-Star Game, as the legendary point guard bid her farewell to the midseason classic alongside Sylvia Fowles.

The future Hall of Famer is still playing at a high level in her 19th season, averaging 8.3 points and 5.9 assists per game, helping guide the Storm to the third best record in the league, just a half-game behind Las Vegas for the best record in the West at the midseason break.

Friday night Bird celebrated her final All-Star Weekend with Crown Royal Regal Apple at an event in Chicago that offered a sneak peek at an upcoming collaboration with Franchise as she will grace the cover and also get a unique merchandise collection in honor of her final season. The limited edition collection will be available to fans at thisisfranchise.com, with Crown Royal donating $20,000 ($100 for each of the 200 pieces) to the Black Future Co-op Fund, which is Washington state’s first Black-led philanthropic organization.

Ahead of that event, we got a chance to speak with Bird via Zoom about that partnership, her final All-Star game, how she’s managing the emotions of her final season and, in her words, “tricking herself” into treating it like normal, and how the Storm are treating the second half of the season like a brand new year with the addition of Tina Charles to the roster. But first, we discussed Megan Rapinoe being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and how Bird has seen athlete activism grow in the WNBA and beyond in her time in the league.

To start, I gotta go to the big news of the week. What was it like getting to see Megan [Rapinoe] received the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

Absolutely amazing. You know, I’ve been to the White House a couple of times for sports related achievements. And this was just, I don’t know, the minute we got there, there was just a different air in the room, because these are people who have quite literally helped change the world. And so it was just a pleasure to be able to witness it. And of course, to be able to see Megan receive her honor, which is just so deserving.

How proud of you are of the work that she’s been able to do off off the field and what do you think it does in terms of kind of setting the bar for what an athlete can do in transforming and really uplifting a community?

Yeah, well, Megan is a special person in that a lot of people — I think it’s human nature at times to only worry about the things that are impacting us. And Megan just has this ability to see outside of that, to see beyond that to want to help others. And I think what sports has done is given her this unique platform to do that, right? She’s able to speak from a very unique position, like I said, be able to use that platform to help others and she’s always looking for that moment. And that’s really again, what’s special about her. She never misses a moment. I feel like she always meets that moment, and I think she she would tell you also like soccer gives her that ability to do that because I think as an athlete, you’re just like, really the best word is unique, you’re just uniquely positioned to speak on certain issues, to have a microphone in your face all the time and get asked questions. You know, that’s really unique. Not everybody gets that. And so you know, for Megan, I know she never wants to miss those moments.

For you, having been in this league now for 20 years. How have you seen how athletes in the WNBA have embraced that platform over the years because it really seems like now, especially with the Brittney Griner situation, it seems like the league as a whole and players as a whole seem to really embrace that and feel compelled to step forward and make sure that they’re using that platform as best they can?

Yeah, I think the WNBA, the makeup of our league lends to that. I think we just have such a diverse group. Obviously, it’s well documented: 70-80 percent people of color, a large LGBTQ population in our league, like so on and so on. This is literally a melting pot. And what you find is we all kind of have a common ground and that we’re all experiencing real life things. Right? Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you don’t experience the way the world treats you, and so for us we’re just now I think, in the last like four or five years, eh, we’ll go like six years, since probably 2016 — but even before that — 2016 was the like a pivotal moment where we understood, yeah, we’re fighting for ourselves and we have been fighting for ourselves for a long time, but now we can actually lend that voice as well. And there was more impact to be made if we did that, and even more impact if we did it together. And that’s why a lot of us, I think you see our league so united, and you see that with our support for BG as well.

And with the united front, something that I think is maybe interesting in that is you know with the bubble, having all of you together in one place, and all the work you did in Georgia with Raphael Warnock and everything else. Do you think that further galvanized you all as a group, being in one place and have that moment together?

Oh, it 100 percent helped. The pandemic was terrible, as we know, it’s very difficult for everybody. The silver lining of us having to play in a bubble was that we were in the same place at the same time. I always joke it’s like if we had a Zoom call at 7 pm on a Monday, I was like, I know you got to be there. I know you have no plans. Like all of us need to be there. So it made coming together, it made strategizing so much easier, for sure. And then I think what it also did was just kind of strengthen our belief in the fact that we can have a big impact, because that is going to be a part of the legacy of all of us, of our league. You know sometimes the proof’s in the pudding and we have that now we understand that when we speak together it’s just much louder.

To shift this to All-Star and it being your last All Star Weekend, do you approach this any differently knowing it’s your last and knowing that, are you trying to soak it in a little extra?

Um, yes and no, I mean, I’m not really approaching it that differently. It feels like the other All Star games, but I feel like I tried to enjoy it. You know, whether it was my first, my 10th, I always was trying to enjoy it. I think the memories to me are in the smaller moments, not necessarily a shot you hit in a game or nothing like that. It’s like in these smaller moments where you get to share things and that’s actually why I’m really excited for this partnership with Crown because it’s gonna help me continue to leave this legacy, support our game in a way that can pass the baton, but also we’re obviously going to be celebrating myself, which is kind of awkward to say, but we’re gonna be getting to celebrate me and with that, celebrate the entire league. So it’s really fun.

Yeah, how did this partnership come about? And for you, why was it important to make sure that it also benefited the community and specifically Black Future Co-op Fund?

Yeah, I think this kind of all ties into what we’ve been talking about. As an athlete for me now in my last year, I think about legacy in a different way. I’ve learned a lot through watching Megan, to be honest in this regard. Obviously, there’s a legacy you can leave from the championships you win and the points you score and all those good things. But there’s there’s a much larger legacy, and as somebody who currently is still playing and has this platform, you can kind of do both things, I think. For Crown Royal to see it the same way, to want to hook up and join forces to celebrate myself, it being my final year, which is such an honor to have a brand want to do that, but also to pay it forward and to make sure that we have impact in a larger way and that’s where the Black Future Co-op Fund comes in. Just a lot of good things happening across the board.

Definitely. I want to talk about the All Star Game format and the shift to this draft format, because as fans it’s been a lot of fun, I think in both the WNBA and the NBA. From a player perspective, is it fun because you do get to play with some folks that you wouldn’t normally get to sometimes, you might get to go up against a teammate, there’s trades in the draft. Does it kind of — especially for somebody who’s done it a bunch — does it make it fresh every year?

You took the words out of my mouth. That’s what it does. It makes it fresh, right? Like All Star games when I first got into league, they were great. You didn’t need necessarily like different rules or the draft, but I think as time goes, you want to change it up a little bit for the fans, for the players, give people something else to pay attention to or get excited about. I think that’s what some of the things you’re talking about with the draft and the rule changes, like that’s what that does. Just it keeps it fresh.

For you, when you decide to make the announcement this is gonna be your final season. I guess first, like how did you get to the point where you knew and were finally like, okay, it’s time to say this is gonna be it?

Yeah. The short of it is I kind of knew last year. I had like, whispers in my own head if you will. I was like, probably, I’m definitely getting closer. This could be it. But a combination of things made me want to sign up for another year. And I’m so glad I did, because clearly I wasn’t ready then. But once I entered into this season, that’s when like I just had a like, I don’t know, just a really calming sense of this is it. And I’ve actually talked to other people who have retired and most of them say like, ‘Hey, listen, you know when you know, ‘and I couldn’t really relate, but that’s because I didn’t know and now I do. So I’m gonna sit here and say to you, like sometimes you just know when you know, and when this season started, I just knew. I held out a little bit to make sure, right, before telling the world, but I knew.

I’m sure once you’re on the floor, it’s basketball, but are there different emotions going into places for the final time knowing you’re maybe playing a player or a rival you’ve played for years for a final time and how do you kind of manage those emotions as you’re, you know, pushing for another championship?

Yeah, I mean, I’m kind of just I think I’m just like tricking myself at this point. The way I really do it is — just the other day I played in Indiana for the last time on this last trip we were on. I actually missed my last time, quote unquote last time, playing in L.A. — you never know with the playoffs by the way. I’ve played in Indiana a bunch of times. You know, so that moment, that game, it’s amazing at some of the turnout that I’ve seen. Like were just on the road playing at Atlanta, at Indiana and I could see it in the crowd. I could see the Seattle Storm jerseys. I could see my number, I could see shirts, I could see posters, I could see it all. And so in that sense, it’s amazing that I’m gonna get to celebrate this with the fans. But in terms of the actual game, and the actual moment, I’m like, Oh, I played in these places a thousand times. Like, this is just one more it doesn’t have to you know, I guess I’m trying to say it’s like if I play terrible, it’s not gonna change anything right? So I just try to enjoy it and then play the game.

With regards to the team and trying to make this title push. Y’all are half a game back in the Aces right now in the West and you’ve kind of closed that gap. What do you think is the focus that you all have to have for the for the second half of the season?

Well, we picked up Tina Charles, which is a huge piece. And she was able to play I want to say, four games with us — maybe five games I can’t remember now — which is nothing. It’s a really small amount of time. So I think for me, the way I view it is, we’re kind of a different team than we were just two, three weeks ago. And so we have to really focus on building a chemistry, getting comfortable with each other, getting Tina acclimated, and then go from there. I feel like post All-Star break is a little bit of a new season in a way because of the pickup. So that’s how I’m viewing it and I’m happy to be sitting where we are now. We’ve had a couple of bumps in the road. We’ve also I think been one of the teams hit the hardest by COVID absences. So that took people in and out of the lineup, which was tough, but through that, you know, I don’t know exactly what position we’re in but I feel good about it and that we can now try to peak at the right time and make a run with it.

As a point guard when you get a new piece in on a team like Tina Charles who has been a dominant player. How do you try to work her in to what you all already do and make sure that you as a point guard are facilitating everybody and making sure that Stewie still getting what she needs and Jewell still gets what she needs and everybody’s everybody’s still staying happy despite the fact you add a big piece who could who could dominate some possessions?

Yeah, the beauty of our team is we just want to win. It’s like, there’s no ego, it’s not even about that. But to your point it is an adjustment to add a player like that midseason, to not have a training camp, not have practices. But the way I view it is she kind of just complements everybody, and it gives us this brand new look. We haven’t had a block dominant post since … Lauren Jackson. You know, somebody that you were trying to get the ball on the block every possession, every time on the floor. So she gives us this whole new look. And personally, I just think it’s going to open things up for everybody. And like the way that Jewell is playing, the way that Stewie is playing, it’s going to open things up for Tina. So to me, the way I look at it and I know the rest of the team looks at it, it’s just going to make everything easier for everybody. And so that’s how we’re approaching it.

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