SEATTLE — Sue Bird seemed a little uneasy sitting behind a microphone and listening to her coach and general manager shower her with praise.
"I probably could have stayed in the other room for those comments. Gets a little awkward up here listening to people talk about you in that way,” Bird joked.
Bird may need to get used to that kind of attention coming her way from around the WNBA for the upcoming season. She said Tuesday that all signs are pointing toward the 2022 season being her last with the Seattle Storm, but she does not want the upcoming season to be a farewell tour.
“I think it’s assumed to be my last and I do believe all arrows are pointing in that direction,” Bird said. “For some reason, I don’t necessarily want to operate in that space because I think for my personality...it doesn’t necessarily fit for every game I go into to be, ‘This is Sue’s last game in this city. This is her last time putting her shoe on.’ I don’t really operate in that space well, but I understand that comes with it.”
Bird, a four-time WNBA champion, 12-time All-Star and the oldest player in the league at 41, had previously announced she would return for one more season. She waited until Seattle finished its offseason maneuvers — including bringing back Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart — before signing her deal with the Storm last week.
Bird said she expected the first question to be about whether the upcoming season would be her last.
"I feel really lucky that I get to be in this position to make this decision. It gets to be on my terms,” Bird said. “Not a lot of athletes are afforded that opportunity. Obviously, Lauren Jackson being one I witnessed firsthand having injuries and things like that being the reason for her decision. So I just feel really lucky.”
Bird has spent her entire WNBA career with Seattle since becoming the No. 1 pick in 2002 following her storied college career at Connecticut. This season will be her 21st associated with the franchise, although just her 19th playing after missing two seasons due to injuries. She's the league's all-time leader in assists and the standard by which other point guards are judged.
But she's also at the stage where she's playing alongside teammates who have parents her same age. Bird joked that her warmups take as long as her workouts now. And while Bird doesn't want to close the book on the future, it's clear all parties are viewing this season as the likely conclusion.
“She’s been an amazing example for me, for women in general and for everyone who enjoys the sport of basketball,” Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said. “So for this season, I know it’s going to be her finale, but I’m not even thinking about that.”
Bird said last season was the first time she played with the idea of possibly retiring in her mind. Seattle lost to Phoenix in the second round of the WNBA playoffs while Stewart was injured and Bird was met with chants of “one more year” from the home crowd after the loss.
Bird said that resonated and within a few days she called her trainer and decided to start preparing to play in 2022.
“The fans chanted and I think it just gave me this whole other perspective on things,” Bird said. “I never thought this was just about me, but that really made me realize this decision is not just about me.”