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Sue Bird

(1980 - )

Suzanne Brigit Bird is a professional women’s basketball player and one of only seven women to win an Olympic Gold medal and NCAA and WNBA championships.

Bird was born on October 16, 1980, in Syosset, New York, to a Jewish family with Russian origins. Sue was raised Catholic by her mother but has said she doesn’t identify as a member of either religion.

In high school, Bird played at Christ The King Regional High School in Queens, where, in her second season, she led the team to a New York State championship and the national title. That year she was honored as the New York State player of the year and was named a WBCA All-American.

Recruited by several high-profile college teams, Bird eventually enrolled at the University of Connecticut. Injured during her freshman year, Bird returned in her second year at UConn to lead the women’s team to a 36-1 record and won the NCAA National Championship. In her junior year in 2002, UConn went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament to rival Notre Dame. That year Bird won the Wade Trophy and Naismith Award as College Player of the Year. She considers her greatest collegiate memory to be hitting the game-winning shot in the Big East championship during her junior year.

In the 2002 WNBA draft, Bird was the first selection, taken by the Seattle Storm, and immediately became a star in the league, being named to the All-Star game in her rookie season and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. She was also named to the All-WNBA First Team, one of only two rookies to make that roster.

In 2004, Bird was selected to join the Team USA Women’s Basketball Team at the Athens Olympics, where she would win a gold medal. That same year she led the Storm to their first WNBA Championship, making her one of only seven women to win an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA championship, and a WNBA championship.

Bird acquired Israeli citizenship in 2006 and afterward joined teammate Lauren Jackson and former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi on the Russian EuroLeague team Spartak Moscow. Bird, Jackson, and Taurasi led Moscow to win the Russian Super League and the EuroLeague Women championships.

In 2008, she again joined Team USA at the Beijing Olympics, where the women’s basketball team won another gold medal.

In July 2012, Bird was again named as a women’s basketball team member representing Team USA at the London Olympics. At these most recent Summer Olympics, Bird competed in eight games, Group A Games #s 4, 18, 30, 42, and 52, and Quarterfinal 2, Semifinal 1, and Gold Medal Game. Along with the rest of the women’s basketball Team USA, Bird played against Croatia, Angola, Turkey, the Czech Republic, China, Canada, Australia, and France. Team USA women’s basketball beat France and won the gold medal in the Gold Medal Game on August 11, 2012.

During the 2012 WNBA season, Bird had problems with her knee and played only 29 games. In the off-season, she had knee surgery, preventing her from playing the entire 2013 season. Bird returned for the 2014 WNBA season and was voted to the All-Star team, but the Storm failed to make it to the playoffs.

In the 2016 season, Bird had a great season, averaging 12.8 points per game while shooting a career-high in 3-point field goal percentage and leading the league in assists with 5.8 per game. For the fifth time in her career, Bird was named to the All-WNBA First Team.

Bird competed for Team USA in the 2016 Summer Olympics, helping the team win its sixth straight gold medal as they beat Spain 101–72 in the gold medal game. It was Bird’s Fourth gold medal.

In 2017, Bird underwent left knee surgery but still played part of the season as the oldest active player and starter in the WNBA. Bird was again an All-Star. That year, Bird became the WNBA all-time leader in assists. The Storm was eliminated from the playoffs.

During the 2018 season, Bird became the Storm’s all-time leading scorer. She was also voted onto the All-Star Team, passing Tamika Catchings for most All-Star appearances. She also broke the record for the most WNBA regular-season games played. By the end of the season, Bird finished with a career-high in assists, field goal shooting, and a new career-high in three-point shooting percentage. The Storm went on to win the WNBA title.

In 2018, Bird competed for Team USA during the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup held in Spain, in which they defeated Australia 73–56 to win the gold medal. By winning the gold medal, Bird became the only player in history, male or female, to win four World Cup gold medals.

Bird missed the entire 2019 WNBA season following knee surgery. In 2020, Bird returned for the coronavirus-shortened season. She aggravated her knee, causing her to miss half the games. The Storm won the WNBA championship. It was her fourth championship, making her the first player in WNBA history to win a title in three different decades.

In 2021, Bird re-signed with the Storm on a one-year deal, allowing her to play her 18th season in the league, moving her past Milton-Jones for most seasons played in the WNBA.

Bird has won a joint-record four WNBA championships with the Storm (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020), four Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016), two NCAA Championships with UConn (2000, 2002), and four FIBA World Cups (2002, 2010, 2014, 2018). She is one of only 11 women to attain all four accolades. She is also a five-time EuroLeague Champion (2007-2010, 2013). During her WNBA career, she was selected to eleven WNBA All-Star and eight All-WNBA teams. Additionally, in 2011, she was voted by fans as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time and was voted into the WNBA Top 20@20 as one of the league’s top 20 players of all time.

In 2021, Bird was named one of Team USA’s two flag bearers for the Tokyo Olympic games (postponed from 2020 due to the Covid pandemic). This is one of the biggest honors for an Olympian because it is decided by a vote of the team’s members.

Bird retired at the end of the 2022 season following the elimination of the Storm from the WNBA playoffs. She spent her entire 19-year career in Seattle, where she was credited with keeping the city on the basketball map after the NBA’s Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City.

Bird publicly came out as a lesbian on July 20, 2017, saying that she had been dating soccer player Megan Rapinoe for several months. In 2018, she and Rapinoe became the first same-sex couple on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue.” They announced their engagement on October 30, 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia.
NBC Sports.
Sports Illustrated.
Jewish Women’s Archive.

Louis Keene, “Sue Bird just retired. Here’s what she means to her Jewish fans,” Forward, (September 7, 2022).