Basketball star Sue Bird ends stellar career: Titles, records and stats of five-time Olympic gold medallist 

The WNBA great helped the Seattle Storm to four titles in three different decades and also won everything with Team USA. Find out more about the achievements, on and off the court, of the hoops legend after she played her final game.

By Rory Jiwani | Created 7 September
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Sue Bird has been synonymous with the Seattle Storm, helping the team to four WNBA titles since being picked number one overall in the 2002 draft.

"I am so, so, so proud to be a member of the Seattle Storm. It has been my honour to play for this franchise, to play for these fans," the 41-year-old point guard said after playing her last WNBA game on Tuesday (6 September).

Bird had a team-high eight assists in Game 4 of their WNBA semi-final, but could not stop the Las Vegas Aces winning 97-92 to clinch the series 3-1 and go through to the WNBA Finals.

The basketball legend also starred internationally, claiming five Olympic gold medals and carrying the flag for the United States at last year’s Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony.

While Bird’s career on court was nothing short of spectacular, she has also been an outspoken advocate for social justice off it.

Together with her partner, USWNT football superstar Megan Rapinoe, Bird has led a growing band of sportspeople unafraid to speak out on matters outside of sport.

Read on to find out more about the hoops legend.

Beginnings in Long Island

Sue Bird was born to a Jewish father and Christian mother in Syosset, Long Island in New York state on 16 October 1980.

She went to see a New York Knicks game aged six and followed her older sister Jen into playing basketball although in her fifth grade yearbook (in 1990) she said she wanted to become a “lawyer, doctor (like her father), professional soccer player”.

Bird played football, tennis and athletics before settling on basketball although the WNBA was not founded until 1997.

She recounted to US Weekly that, while in sixth grade, she played for her Catholic youth organisation team at half-time of a game between St John’s University and the University of Connecticut (UConn). A security guard was so impressed that he asked her for an autograph.

Bird went to Syosset High School, alongside future Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, but moved to Queens to further her basketball ambitions at Christ the King Regional High School.

There she led the team to the New York State Championship and the national title, attracting the attention of top colleges in the process.

UConn won the battle for her signature, but she tore her anterior cruciate knee ligament just eight games into her freshman year. Having played more than 20 percent of her team’s games, she was unable to ‘redshirt’, ie. return the following year still as a freshman.

College Success at UConn

After recovering from knee surgery, Bird made a huge impact in her sophomore year.

Wearing number 10 on her jersey, because she and her sister were born in October, the point guard led the Huskies to a 36-1 record and the 2000 NCAA title.

The following year saw UConn go down to perennial rivals Notre Dame in the Final Four. That avenged the Big East Championship game defeat settled by Bird’s buzzer-beater which was immortalised in one of the first prominent books on women’s basketball, Jeff Goldberg’s ‘Bird at the Buzzer’.

Not even Notre Dame could deny Bird in her final season as the Huskies went 39-0 to regain their NCAA crown.

Less than three weeks later, she was picked number one in the 2002 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm.

Taking flight for the Seattle Storm

Bird was the Storm’s second consecutive top draft pick after Australian star Lauren Jackson in 2001.

They proved to be a formidable pairing and guided the Storm to their first post-season, going out in the first round to eventual champions the Los Angeles Sparks.

After missing out on the playoffs in 2003, Betty Lennox’s arrival bolstered the Storm who defeated Connecticut Sun 2-1 to claim the franchise’s first NBA title.

In 2004, Bird also won her first Olympic gold with the United States.

Two years after those successes, Bird became an Israeli citizen which enabled her to play for European teams more easily during the WNBA off-season.

Bird had to wait until 2010 for her second WNBA title, and it featured one of her most memorable baskets.

Seattle won Game 1 against reigning champions Phoenix Mercury – featuring Bird’s best friend in basketball and former UConn team-mate Diana Taurasi - in the best-of-three Western Conference Finals.

In Game 2, the Storm came back from 19 points down to level the scores before Bird hit a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining to seal the win.

The Atlanta Dream would prove no match for Bird and Jackson and co in the Finals as the Storm completed a 3-0 series sweep to take the title.

Phoenix exacted revenge on the Storm in the Game 3 decider in round one of the 2011 playoffs. After Bird had tied the game with 14 seconds remaining, Candice Dupree scored on the buzzer to send the holders out.

Bird’s troublesome knee ruled her out of most of the 2012 season with the Storm missing Jackson who suffered a series of injuries which eventually led to her retirement. They failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years in 2014 after a worst-in-the-league 12-22 record and 2015 was similarly disappointing despite Jewell Loyd picking up the Rookie of the Year award.

But the arrival number one draft pick Breanna Stewart helped turned things around with she, Bird and Loyd forming a big three. And after consecutive playoff first-round exits in 2016 and 2017, the Storm roared to the 2018 WNBA title.

Bird became the league’s all-time assists leader that season, but their title defence was dented by another knee surgery for the veteran guard and a ruptured Achilles for Stewart.

The Storm still managed to make the second round of the playoffs without two of their big stars, but the return of Bird and Stewart inside the WNBA bubble or ‘wubble’ in Bradenton, Florida, due to the pandemic, saw them emerge victorious once more in 2020.

Having missed several regular season games due to a knee bone bruise, Bird returned for the playoffs. They swept the Minnesota Lynx in the best-of-five semi-finals before doing the same to the Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five Finals as Bird became the first player to win WNBA titles in three different decades.

Bird’s style and game management, with her ability to lead and pick out colleagues, has been likened to a great quarterback in American football.

And significantly for Seattle, which lost its NBA franchise the SuperSonics in 2008 and saw the likes of baseball star Alex Rodriguez move on in search of titles, Bird has remained a constant and become arguably the city’s greatest athlete.

Dominating with Team USA

Bird made her national team debut after Sydney 2000 and was part of USA’s World Championship-winning side of 2002.

She and Taurasi were the youngest members of the Team USA roster at Athens 2004, winning gold in a squad led by Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley and Sheryl Swoopes.

Bird did not put up great numbers at Beijing 2008, but USA were utterly dominant – winning by an average of 37.6 points per game - as Leslie claimed her fourth consecutive gold.

A knee injury ruled Bird out of most of 2012 but she recovered in time for the London Games where she captained the side alongside Taurasi and Tamika Catchings.

Another gold was the result with Australia – led by Jackson and Liz Cambage – giving them most to think about in the semi-finals.

It was Bird who helped calm the dressing room when they trailed at half-time, saying, “We’ll be all right” repeatedly, and USA won by 13 before ruthlessly demolishing France 86-50 to take gold. She led the team with 36 assists in eight games.

Rio 2016 was perhaps even more emphatic with USA passing 100 points in seven of their eight games including the final against Spain.

And in her fifth Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 last year, Bird was a regular starter – and team leader - as USA won yet again and she and Taurasi bowed out with five basketball golds.

While her production may have gone down in recent years, Bird’s ability to find a team-mate remains undiminished as she showed with 13 assists in the Tokyo 2020 opener against Nigeria.

USA Basketball is in safe hands with the likes of Stewart and A’ja Wilson leading the way, but Bird’s experience and coolness under pressure will be missed.

Leading the way off the court

Before Bird met Megan Rapinoe at Rio 2016, only her friends and family knew she was gay.

But less than a year later, months after they started dating, she made the decision to come out publicly.

She told ESPN in July 2017, “I’m gay. Megan’s my girlfriend. These aren’t secrets to people who know me.

“I don’t feel like I’ve not lived my life. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.”

Bird knew she was gay in college but admitted “chickening out” of going public saying, “This has been something I’ve been on the verge of doing for a long time.”

When Rapinoe was criticised by then President Donald Trump during the USWNT’s run to Women’s World Cup glory in 2019, Bird famously famously penned a piece for The Players’ Tribune entitled, ‘So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend’.

She has joined Rapinoe in becoming a leading advocate for LGBT+ rights and, either side of their engagement last October, stepped up in the call for social justice.

As vice president of the WNBA players’ association, with black women making up 70 percent of its members, Bird made one specific demand of the 2020 season played in the wubble following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

She told NPR, “Our season was going to have to be played with social justice messages, on our jerseys, on the floor — forefront. And to [the league's] credit, right from the jump, they were in.

"Throughout WNBA seasons, we always have a Pride night. And whether you're gay or not, you stand by your teammates.

“I'm not black. But of course, I'm going to stand by my teammates, by the women in this league, and fight the fight."

She added, “What this summer has taught I think all of us in the WNBA is that we have a voice and we do have this platform. And we also have these unique experiences that we can share — and again, all in the name of having a positive change on our country.”

Bird has already made plans for the future by founding Togethxr, a women's focused media platform, with Rapinoe's USWNT team-mate Alex Morgan, double Olympic snowboard gold medallist Chloe Kim and Olympic champion swimmer Simone Manuel.

Whatever she chooses to do next, expect Bird to continue making her voice heard and raising the profile of women in and out of sport.

Sue Bird by the numbers

Only player to win WNBA Championships in three different decades.

Oldest player in WNBA history to play a whole season.

1st in most seasons played (19)

1st in games played (580)

1st in assists (3,234)

1st in minutes played (18,079)

1st in WNBA All-Star appearances (12)

2nd in three-pointers made (1,001)

2nd in three-pointer percentage (39.2%)

3rd in steals (724)

7th in points (6,803)

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