USA Women's Basketball: Now An Olympic Veteran, Sue Bird Offers Rare Reflection Before Taking Flight to Rio
By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
Even though Sue Bird is focused on breaking ankles, putting her teammates in position to succeed and winning gold medals, she finally got emotional for a rare time following Team USA’s 104-89 victory over Australia at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.
Getting sentimental is for when Bird eventually hangs up her high tops and is lounging by the pool sipping delicious beverages.
However, playing a long 3-point shot from her Long Island hometown of Syosset inside of the world’s most famous arena in front of 13,520 fans, Bird couldn’t help herself.
One of those fans held a sign that that read “Sue Bird: I traveled 8,500 miles to have a selfie with you.” No word if that fan’s goal became a reality.
“I definitely had a moment today,” Bird said following the game. “You look around, you hear the fans chanting, ‘USA,’ just the love we felt, not just here, Bridgeport, Delaware, L.A.
"We've never had anything like this. We never had a U.S. send off like this, where we got to travel around and hit a bunch of cities. It's pretty special. It’s pretty cool. I wish they would do this every Olympics to be honest.”
It just seems as if Bird has played in every Olympics since James Naismith nailed the peach-basket to the wall in 1892. Bird's ball-handling wizardry, leadership, tenacity and excellence have been hallmarks of Team USA during their impressive 41-game Olympic winning streak.
“It’s been amazing now that it’s kind of on the horizon and we’ll be in Rio soon,” said Bird following Team USA’s win over France on Wednesday at the University of Delaware. “You don’t want to take too many opportunities to get sentimental because you want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the process. I am excited that this is my fourth one and in a lot of ways, I just really want to make the most of it and enjoy every moment.”
Bird made sure to treat the fans to a moment to cherish during the third quarter of Team USA’s final tune-up for the Olympics that commences this week in Rio. Playing on Broadway’s biggest basketball stage, Bird owned the opportunity to create a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight.
Exquisitely executing a two-step, Bird broke the ankles of an Australian defender with Allen Iverson-like ferocity..
In doing the basketball version of the “Whip and Nae-Nae”, the 35-year-old Bird made the Aussie defender wobble, fall down and disappear. The entire building shook following that highlight. That move brought the delighted crowd out of their seats and her fired-up teammates leaped off the bench in appreciation.
If this was Bird’s last appearance in New York as a member of Team USA, this was the perfect exclamation point.
“We couldn't ask for a better send off,” Bird said of the atmosphere at MSG. “My friends and family are here. It's at the Garden. It's in New York. We took care of business, and now we can have a nice little night.
Four o'clock game, not too late, (we) can enjoy ourselves tonight a little bit. I think the best part about the tour is not the wins but that we got better. From L.A. to now, I'm pretty sure you guys can see a significant difference with us.
That's what it's about for us. It's about getting better every day, with each game and each practice, until we get to Rio and hopefully hit our stride and our peak.”
Bird has been at her peak since she entered the WNBA out of Connecticut. It’s amazing that Bird is still performing at high level since she missed the 2013 WNBA season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee.
A monument of excellence, the future Basketball Hall of Famer has been one of the greatest ambassadors for her sport with her pleasant personality and hoops gifts.
According to Team USA’s media guide, Bird is the most decorated FIBA World Championship/World Cup athlete in history, male or female, owning three gold medals (2002, 2010, 2014) and one bronze medal (2006). She also is the only female four-time FIBA World Championship participant.
Her career masterpieces have been must-see brilliance. Bird is one of three four-time Olympians on head coach Geno Auriemma’s roster along with UConn teammate Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, who is retiring at the end of this WNBA season.
If the veteran triumvirate can lead Team USA to an unprecedented sixth consecutive gold medal, they will join an elite group of women with at least four gold medals. That would be a special accomplishment for Bird, who has done everything and then some there is to do in women’s basketball.
With five Olympic medals and three FIBA World Championship medals, Teresa Edwards’ total of a combined eight medals (six gold and two bronze) at the two international majors lists as the most ever for a USA Basketball athlete.
Currently listing in the second spot with seven apiece (six gold and one bronze each) are Bird (three Olympic medals, four World Championship medals) and Lisa Leslie (four Olympic medals, three World Championship medals); while Tamika Catchings, Katrina McClain, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Diana Taurasi have earned a total of six medals each at international basketball’s top two events.
Should they medal in Rio, Bird would move up to share the top spot with Edwards, while Catchings and Taurasi would equal Leslie’s feat. Further, if she wins gold, Bird would own the most gold medals in history at the two events combined.
“It’s incredible,” Bird said. “I think it says even more that we are going to have three – hopefully if everything goes well, we’ll have three on this team alone.
"The category of people we will be in, Lisa Leslie, Teresa Edwards obviously has everyone with five, but that’s an elite group of people that we will be mentioned with. So, it’s pretty cool. Not only for myself to be a part of that, but to know that there are two others on this team that also are going to be doing it alongside me.”
Always thinking about others is Bird, who is one of nine U.S. women, who has earned an NCAA title, a WNBA crown, an Olympic gold medal and a FIBA World Championship gold medal. Her game has evolved since entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2002. Bird is wiser and thinks more strategic about how she trains and recovers.
“I hope that I’m just a smarter basketball player than I was when I was 23,” Bird said. “One can only hope. Aside from that, I think you just have to control what you can. I really worked on my nutrition.
"I really developed a workout plan that was going to be beneficial to my body with a lot less pounding than usual. You can control what you put in your body. You can control how you take care of yourself. You can control how time you put in in terms of working out and being in great shape. So, you want control those things.
"And again, I just hope over the last 12 years, I’ve been able to do what I can control.”
TEAM USA NOTES: The U.S. defeated Australia, Canada and France by an average of 25.7 points. … The U.S. will practice in Houston Tuesday before heading to Rio later that day. … In the win over Austraila, Team USA had five players in double figures led by Diana Taurasi’s 20 points. Elena Delle Donne added 19 points, five rebounds and two blocks. Brittney Griner scored 15 points, Maya Moore had 13 points and Angel McCoughtry contributed 12 points. …Team USA has won 41 consecutive Olympic contests.