Sue Bird – Seattle Storm
Nothing in Sue Bird’s sophomore season’s numbers, so similar to those of her rookie year as the Seattle Storm’s point guard, would suggest that anything was physically amiss. Playing in all 34 games, Bird ranked fourth in the WNBA in minutes played, second in the league in assists and, though she averaged a couple of points less per game, ranked first amongst point guards in scoring.
And yet, through most of the year, she was hampered by near debilitating knee pain caused by patellar chondromalacia, likely related to the ACL tear Bird suffered during her freshman year at UConn. September surgery and several months of rehabilitation find Bird greeting the start of the WNBA pain free and with an almost audible sigh of relief. “You have no idea. It’s unbelievable,” says Bird. “I feel great out there now.” She’s also eager to apply lessons learned to this year’s WNBA campaign.
“Early on last season,” recalls Bird, “I had a lot of trouble with knowing I could do certain things and not being able to do them. Having people wondering what’s wrong with me and not being able to explain. It was tough. But I look back and – even though as a team we didn’t make the playoffs and personally I was injured -I learned a lot. Because I couldn’t do the things physically, I had to make up for them on the mental side of things. Mentally, I’m a stronger player.”
With less teams in the league, that strength will come in handy. “I’ve only been in this league three years and I’ve already played against Nikki Teasley 8-9-10 times,” says Bird with a laugh. “You definitely start to learn the players, so that’s when it becomes even more of a mental game. I know what Dawn Staley can do, I know what PeeWee Johnson can do… and yet, it’s still hard to stop them. Just like they know what I do. It becomes a mental game at that point.”
Fortunately, Bird believes the addition of Betty Lennox, Sherri Sam and Janell Burse to the team have made an immediate impact. “Last year and the year before we always had a hard time scoring,” explains Bird. “This year we have more weapons. I think we have on of the best starting five out there. When we’re on, we can score 100 points like that. And our defense gets better and better. We’re most definitely looking to win a Championship. Obviously the first step is to win the Western Conference and get home court advantage. I think those are realistic goals for us.”
Of course, with those goals, comes pressure, something Bird’s four years at the University of Connecticut prepared her for. “I think your character comes out when you are in a pressure situation – on or off the court. It’s all about how you handle yourself when you face those situations. Hopefully, you’re a good athlete and person and you rise to the occasion.” Ironically, “rising to the occasion,” often results in off-court distractions, something she also became familiar with at UConn, but on a slightly different scale.
“Although college basketball has a larger following than the WNBA, the WNBA is on a national scale. So at Connecticut, yes, you’re being pulled in a lot of different directions, but it was all in Connecticut. Whereas in the WNBA, I can name a million and one things that I’ve done. I mean my rookie year, whether it was the ESPY awards (in California) or the Women’s Sports Foundation dinner (in NYC). You have an opportunity for an endorsement deal, different promotional things the WNBA does.”
“The attitude I have is – good or bad, whatever happens off the court, you can’t really let it affect you on the court. My honest belief is that if you take care of things on the court for your team and as an individual, good things will happen for you.”