The Seattle Storm faced the Las Vegas Aces Aug. 7 at Climate Pledge Arena. Although the two teams sit atop of the Western Conference, most fans did not care about the outcome. Instead, 18,100 fans sold out the arena for the first time in franchise history to watch Sue Bird play her final regular-season home game.
Even though the Aces beat the Storm 89-81, thousands of Bird’s biggest fans left an everlasting impact on both sides of the court. “When people ask about women’s basketball, show them this,” Aces forward A’ja Wilson said.
Storm’s assistant coach Pokey Chatman said: “Haters, where are you at? It’s crazy that they say nobody is watching but they are watching. They can’t deny what is being built in Seattle.”
Fans from across the country flew in to see Bird step on the court for one of the last times in her 21-year career. Over her two decades in the WNBA, Bird has impacted Seattle more than any other athlete.
“Sue is Seattle,” Chatman said. “When I first came back from Russia, she took me to the Purple Cafe. I got a feel for how much this city embraced her and how much it embraces basketball. It’s almost like that college feel in a complimentary way. I can’t even imagine the game without Sue Bird.”
On the flip side, Bird has built an everlasting love for Seattle. Although she is from New York and played college basketball at UConn, Seattle has always had her back since she was drafted in 2002.
“You guys have supported me since day one,” Bird said. “A couple of years in, some of my teammates wanted to go to the Wildrose, and I went with them. I saw a season-ticket holder there, and she told me this is not the place you want to be. She was protecting me. This was someone I didn’t know personally, and that is the epitome of you guys caring for me.”
Besides receiving support from the older fans, she has been receiving love from the younger generation.
During the middle of the game, a young girl handed Bird a flower during an inbound. Afterward, Bird said it was one of the cutest things ever because she has never received a flower during a game before. However, she had to hand the flower back to the young fan and continue playing the game.
Along with making an everlasting impact in the city, Bird has impacted players and coaches within the WNBA. Wilson has played with Bird in the Olympics and USA exhibition games.
“I wasn’t trying to crash Sue’s party, I was invited,” Wilson jokingly said after beating the Storm. “But, it’s been a real honor to be playing with her.”
Chatman said, “I don’t take Sue for granted. But when you step back and realize the greatness that is Sue and the places she has touched, it is overwhelming. She embodies that GOAT spirit.”
Bird discussed how she is just a part of a generation that hopes it made the WNBA a better place for younger athletes.
“The WNBA has turned a corner in the last couple of years in regards to popularity, notoriety, covering us and marketing opportunities,” Bird said. “That wasn’t always the case. I feel like our generation of players have kept the league going enough that when the league turned the corner, these young players can capitalize on it. It’s exciting to see players who can take the torch and set it up for the next generation.”
As for Bird’s final thoughts, she wants everyone to know Seattle will always be a huge part of her life.
“Through a player’s career, there are always opportunities to leave,” Bird said. “But this place is not only where I’ve played, it’s where I call home. I don’t really have that Mamba Out moment but I want to say I love you and see you in the playoffs.”