Despite a deep resume that includes three Olympic gold medals, three world titles, and nine WNBA all-star teams, 35-year-old Sue Bird knows her basketball career is closer to its end than its beginning.
Complicating things in recent years have been a string of surgeries to repair problems with her hips and knees — common issues that arise when you make your living on the hardwood. Now she’s healthy again, and the native of Syosset, N.Y. on Long Island, knows there’s history on the line at the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: a Team USA victory would make her just the third hoops player to earn four Olympic gold medals.
That would put her even with Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards.
Bird hasn’t said when she’ll retire from the sport, but winning another Olympic title would be a nice finishing touch.
“Oh my god, that would be incredible,” Bird told NBC after the U.S. basketball team was announced in April.“You think about those names and just what they’ve done for women’s basketball, so to even have your name mentioned in the same breath is pretty incredible.”
The other thing riding on the Olympics is the U.S. women maintaining their streak of consecutive titles. They have won the last five golds and have won seven of the 10 Olympic women’s basketball tournaments, losing only to the Soviet Union (1976, 1980) and the unified team (1992).
Since 2002, Bird has been a member of the Seattle Storm, a WNBA franchise that’s won two league championships and a pair of conference titles. Bird, a 5-foot-9 point guard, has played a pivotal role.
This season, she’s averaging 12.5 points per game and is shooting better than 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. She’s made nearly 83 percent of her free throws. Her field goal percentage is a healthy 46 percent.
For her career, Bird has scored 12.3 points per game and sports field goal and 3-point percentages of 42.7 and 38.2. Her free throw percentage is almost at 86 percent.
She’s enjoying a strong season after a rough patch that included surgery on both of her hip labrums and surgery on her left knee to remove a cyst. Helping her rehab from going under the knife — and the problems that led to that — was an anti-inflammatory diet and an offseason weighlifting, yoga, and massage program.
“It’s all geared around getting me ready for the season,” Bird told the Seattle Times. “The other part of it, I really focused on what basketball things I needed to work on and where I was having slippage in my game. That’s where [Storm coach] Jenny [Boucek] really came in and helped me with that stuff.”
Bird took flight a long time ago, first at Christ The King High School in Queens and then at the University of Connecticut. Rio would serve as a fitting final chapter to her Hall of Fame career.