A winner in Athens and Beijing, Storm’s leader heads to London working with her college coach and perhaps facing her longtime Seattle teammate, Lauren Jackson.
Sue Bird doesn’t have a lot left to prove.
Winner of two state high school championships, two national college championships, two WNBA titles and a pair of Olympic gold medals, the Storm’s 31-year-old guard is approaching the 2012 Summer Games the same way she’s approached her basketball career — unselfishly.
“The cool thing about the Olympic team is nobody cares about minutes or points,” Bird said Wednesday after the Storm lost 70-59 to the Atlanta Dream in its final home game before the month-long break. “It’s not about that. You just go out there and you do everything you can to help the team win.”
In 2008, Bird played a limited role on and off the court in the U.S. team’s gold medal run, averaging just three points and 18 minutes a contest. In 2004, she barely played. With her old University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma guiding the women’s national team, that figures to change. Bird will start at point guard as one of six former UConn players on the roster.
I think just as the veteran and a point guard Ill be there to be one of the leaders. It’s my third time around, so hopefully Ill just use my past experience to help this team out,” she said. “Youre surrounded by such great talent as a point guard it’s really the perfect team to play for. You really just need to facilitate, get people in the right spots and be a leader.
The Auriemma disciple acknowledged she was excited for the chance to bring another accolade to her former head coach’s remarkable resumé. Auriemma owns seven national titiles, but this is his first shot at a gold medal.
“He’s someone I’m very comfortable playing for, very familiar with his style,” Bird said. “I understand him as a coach and what he wants from his players. I think a lot of people talk about how there are six UConn players, but we can help that chemistry come together even quicker because we are familiar with each other. It’s kind of unique, because I actually get to help bring him a championship he doesn’t have.”
Bird said her experience playing overseas in the off-season for the WNBA will help her in international competition. She won a FIBA Euroleague championship in 2008 while playing with Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League.
“I think Ive probably faced a majority of these players,” Bird said. “Just like in the WNBA when you play against each other so much, you learn peoples tendencies, you know what they like to do, dont like to do.
The national team’s biggest challenge will likely come if they face Russia, Australia or France. According to Bird, the U.S. team will be at a slight disadvantage when they kick off the preliminary round against Croatia July 28 because they haven’t spent the past three months practicing together like other national teams. Storm power forward and three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson chose to train for the tournament with her Australian national team rather than play the first half of the WNBA season.
Im glad I dont have to guard her, Bird said when asked what it will be like to face her teammate. I think it would be a lot weirder if we had to guard each other. If anyone knows what Lauren can mean to a team and how she can kind of elevate a team — Ive seen her do it and I know what she is capable of. Its not fun playing against your teammate or friend.
As the prime of Bird’s career begins to wind down, the Olympics will provide the regional icon a chance to cement herself among the WNBA greats. Storm head coach Brian Agler said Wednesday it’s too late for that.
“This shows,” he said, “that she is one of the best players to ever play the game.”