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Sue Bird reflects on playing final WNBA regular season game in Connecticut

UNCASVILLE — Sue Bird grabbed the ball and stood near halfcourt at Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday afternoon.

Her Seattle Storm teammates were having trouble executing one of the team’s plays during practice in advance of its meeting against the Connecticut Sun on Thursday.

Bird, 41, had the team’s attention. Everyone stopped and looked at her as she explained what was going wrong and how the play should run. She was not just their point guard, but also an on-court coach and leader.

She learned to be that kind of leader more than two decades ago, about 30 miles from where she was practicing at Mohegan Sun.

Bird may have been born and raised on Long Island, but Connecticut will always be her second home. It’s where she grew up as a basketball player and person while attending college in Storrs.

As the UConn women’s basketball team’s point guard, she made history and became an iconic figure in her sport long before she even entered the professional sphere.

On Thursday, Bird will likely close a chapter in her Connecticut basketball life when the Sun (19-9) host Seattle (18-10) at 7 pm at Mohegan Sun Arena. It will be Bird’s final regular season game — and likely her last ever, barring a playoff matchup — in the state that helped launched her historic career.

“No way did I have the dreams of sitting here now after going to the University of Connecticut, after having a 20-plus year WNBA career, I mean no way would I have thought that, so it is pretty cool,” Bird said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m very proud of the things I’ve been able to accomplish on the court and it started at UConn, right? I always say like that’s where the foundation of who I am as a player, as a person, really established and developed and I was able to build on top of that as I went through my career.”

Over 24 years ago, Bird committed to play for Geno Auriemma. The Huskies were fresh off the 1995 national championship (the first of an NCAA-record 11) and along with Bird, had signed a freshmen class that included Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash.

“Really the reason I went there is as simple as, it just felt right,” Bird said. “It’s wonderful to go there and see the campus. They were getting 10,000 people at Gampel, 16,000 at the Civic Center, of course that played a role. Of course, the coaching staff plays a huge role in that, the team plays a role, but all of those things put into one pot, and it just felt right to me.”

Despite an ACL injury derailing her freshman season eight games in, Bird created more than just a name for herself in Storrs. She created a legacy.

She not only dominated on the court as the team’s floor generally, but brought teammates together to believe in something bigger themselves off it. UConn won the 2000 and 2002 national championships with Bird, including a 39-0 senior year.

“For four years, we had an amazing fan support and they watched us all grow up and they made us feel like we were part of the family,” Bird said. “They (fans) would send us cupcakes on our birthdays and obviously they showed up for every game and cheer us on. And they really watched us develop and from there at the same time, you make friends. … It’s like family that’s still up here.”

Since graduating from UConn and being selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft by Seattle, Bird has only expanded her legacy from the East Coast to the West Coast and beyond the sport of basketball.

She’s led the Storm to a WNBA-record four titles and owns the Olympic record with five gold medals in a single sport.

But on June 16, Bird announced that after 20 years of playing in the WNBA, she would retire following the 2022 season.

Her farewell tour began three days later with a trip to her hometown of New York to face the Liberty. New York gifted her with a jacket made up of the various New York sports teams logos.

Last Friday, Bird played her final regular season game in Phoenix against longtime on-court rival and off-court friend, former Husky teammate Diana Taurasi. The Mercury gifted her a pair of shoes, decked out in the Storm’s green and yellow colors, of course.

On Thursday, the Sun will honor Bird before tip-off also with a tribute gift. Connecticut will also honor Storm guard Briann January, who played for the Sun in 2020 and 2021 and also retires after this season.

“The emotion at times definitely catches up to me, but in a good way,” said Bird, who added she’ll see some of her former UConn teammates Wednesday for dinner and again Thursday for the game. “And then when I’m in the moment, I just like to celebrate. I’m still on a team that’s trying to compete for a championship so there is a balance that happens between the kinda joy in the moment but also playing competitively and having that main focus. … It’s not like a sad reflection, it’s definitely a happy one but the emotion I think is just in that it’s over.”

Sun players such fellow guard Courtney Williams are excited to honor Bird, but are also focused on the playoff battle ahead. Both the Storm and Sun are among the league’s top five teams vying for top playoff seeds.


“I think Sue Bird paved the way for a lot of us,” Williams said. “She’s been doing it for a long time and Connecticut, obviously gonna show her crazy love from her so I’m just excited for her to get her flowers from her. I think it’s a dope thing. Hopefully she don’t go too crazy, but she has a nice little game.

HARTLEY OUT

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