The crowd won. One more year it is.
Four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird announced she will return for another season, her 19th playing in the WNBA and 21st since being drafted, in an Instagram post on Friday. Free agency begins a week from Saturday.
The Seattle Storm, the only team Bird has ever played for professionally in the states, celebrated the return with their own graphic, writing "LET’S GOOOOOO" with a goat emoji. Within hours they had deleted it, presumably because free agency has not opened and it would be viewed as tampering with a free agent.
The team included the superstar point guard in their graphic announcing the team’s home opener and schedule late last year, only to delete it when fans speculated that it meant Bird would return.
Retirement seriously in the cards for Bird
Retirement has been on fans minds for a few seasons now, but never so much as this one after the 5-too-9 superstar point guard admitted she was seriously pondering it.
"This is the first time where I’m really going to have to sit back, see how I feel, weigh some things," Bird, 41, told reporters after the Storm’s loss in the second round of the playoffs. "I know for sure that I want to let the emotion of the season die down. I don’t want to make some emotional decision."
Fans chanted "one more year" after the buzzer of the Storm’s playoff appearance as Bird and longtime Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi swapped jerseys and stood at center court together for possibly the last time. The Storm won the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, but fell to the No. 4 seed with a 21-11 record beset by injuries.
In an appearance on ESPN’s “Manningcast” last fall, she didn’t tip her hand but did say playing at Seattle’s newly renovated Climate Pledge Arena was tempting. It was formerly KeyArena, but the Storm played at alternative venues while it was renovated to host ice hockey. She made her first visit as a guest for the Seattle Kraken’s first-ever game at the venue in October.
Bird has played on one-year contracts in previous seasons and was under a $221,450 supermax salary in 2021. She is currently an unrestricted free agent and cannot negotiate a contract with the Storm until the period officially opens on Jan. 15. Players can then sign on Feb. 1.
Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are also unrestricted free agents as of Jan. 1.
Bird’s legendary WNBA career
Bird spent her entire career with the Storm and is the only WNBA or NBA player to win a championship in each of three decades. She helped Seattle to the top in 2004, ’10 ,’18 and ’20. She’s the all-time WNBA assists leader with 3,048 and ranks third in assists per game (5.6), fourth in steals (687) and 10th in career win shares (59.2).
Bird has been a part of all but five of the league’s 25 seasons. The Storm drafted her No. 1 out of UConn in 2002 and she’s played at least 27 (of about 30-34) games in all but the 2019 and 2020 season. She missed 2019 due to a knee injury and missed half of the 22-game 2020 bubble season with a left bone bruise in her knee.
The 12-time All-Star averaged 12.0 points on 43% shooting, 5.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 31.4 minutes per game over her career.
Bird helped lead Connecticut to NCAA national titles in 2000 and 2002, earning National Player of the Year her senior season being drafted No. 1 to the Storm. She’s won five consecutive Olympic gold medals as well as four World Cup gold medals and one bronze with Team USA. The 10 medals are the most of any basketball player, men’s or women’s, around the globe and she’s one of 11 players ever to win Olympic gold, World Cup gold, a WNBA title and a NCAA title.