Game: Phoenix Mercury (4-15) at Seattle Storm (9-10). When: 7 p.m. Thursday Where: KeyArena. Meeting: 3rd (Seattle 2-0). TV: KONG 6/16
Anyone who is curious about whether the women’s pro basketball circuit is as tough as the men’s needs only ask Sue Bird. While the Olympic men’s gold medal winners have the rest of the summer to laze about Europe or wherever, the gold medal women are back at league play, starting 7 p.m. Thursday when Bird and her Seattle Storm teammates resume WNBA play against Phoenix at KeyArena.
“I’m very tired,” Bird told reporters upon returning to practice Tuesday. “I really would like to sleep. I’m a little jet-lagged.”
At least she made it to Seattle.
Storm teammate Lauren Jackson, who led Australia to a bronze medal, is back in her native land being feted along with the rest of the Aussie Olympians. As the flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony, Jackson felt obliged to accompany the team. She probably won’t return until next week.
Jackson missed the first half of the WNBA season to prepare for the Olympics and beating the USA. But the U.S., which beat Australia in the three previous Olympic finals, prevailed in the semifinals, 86-73. The U.S. beat France 86-50 for its fifth consecutive Olympic gold.
Unlike their opponents, who trained together for months, the U.S. was thrown together for two weeks. That tells all that’s needed to know about how much more developed the game is in America.
“Of course, winning a gold medal is very exciting,” Bird said. “There’s really nothing like it. It was kind of a process the last month to come together and get better and jell in a short amount of time. For us to have to bring it all together really, really quickly, to be able to do that the way we did, it was gratifying.”
After her first trip there, Bird was big on London.
“London was really cool,” Bird said. “The city itself was a lot of fun. The organization of everything was great. I guess the only downside — a double-edged sword — is all the events were packed (with crowds), which was great. It was great to have full gyms when we played. On the flip side of that, it was tough to get tickets to other events, so I didn’t get a chance to see as much as I would have liked.”
She did, however, get a chance to party.
Bird and her teammates whooped it up with friends and families at a private party that lasted until the rest of London was waking up for the final day of the Olympics.
“I definitely celebrated,” Bird said. “I feel good in that department.”
Bird’s trip was complicated by the sudden death via heart attack of Dennis Burden, longtime partner of her mother, Nancy Bird, two weeks before the Games. She flew back to the U.S. for services, then returned to London.
“Now I need to take care of my mom,” she said. “She’s going to come out here for about a week to get away.”
The game Thursday is the first of seven consecutive at home, which thrills Bird.
Phoenix is last in the West and losers of six in a row, including 83-64 to Seattle July 13, the last game before the Olympic break. The Mercury will still be without star Diana Taurasi, who did not make the trip to Seattle after the Olympics. She missed all but two WNBA games this season with strained left hip flexor but recovered in time to play in London. Phoenix is also missing post players Charde Houston and Candace Dupree, who had knee surgeries.
The Storm expects center Ann Wauters to return to the starting lineup.
The Storm is five games ahead of Mercury for fourth and final spot in the West playoffs, but six behind conference leading Minnesota (15-4).
Head Coaches: Storm head coach Brian Agler is in his fifth season with Seattle. Mercury head coach Corey Gaines is in his fifth year in Phoenix.
SEATTLE STORM 2012 SCHEDULE/RESULTS
|5/18/12||vs. Los Angeles||L||66-72||0-1|
|5/22/12||at Los Angeles||L||74-61||0-2|
|6/3/12||at Los Angeles||L||65-67||1-4|
|6/9/12||at San Antonio||L||67-80||1-6|
|6/22/12||vs. San Antonio||W||82-76||4-7|
|6/30/12||at New York||L||59-77||6-8|
|7/7/12||at Los Angeles||L||59-83||7-9|
|8/18/12||vs. Los Angeles||—||—||—|
|8/26/12||vs. New York||—||—||—|
|9/14/12||at San Antonio||—||—||—|
|9/21/12||vs. San Antonio||—||—||—|