It was an emotional afternoon in Seattle and not only because the reigning champion Storm were eliminated from the playoffs.
The second-round matchup between the No. 4 Storm and No. 5 Phoenix Mercury marked potentially the final meeting of superstars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. It was nearly two full decades ago the former UConn teammates began their ascension up the WNBA leaderboards.
But that time is coming to an end, as tough as it is to accept. And Storm fans would like to put it off as long as possible. With Bird and Taurasi at midcourt alongside ESPN reporter Holly Rowe for a postgame interview, fans at Angel of the Winds arena began chanting "one more year" to their GOAT.
It brought Bird close to tears as Taurasi pumped up the fans to continue.
Storm fans don't want this to be the last game for Sue Bird 🥺 pic.twitter.com/HoSWUyRB9Z
— ESPN (@espn) September 26, 2021
Bird, who turns 41 on Oct. 16, has signed one-year contracts in recent years as she assesses every offseason whether she wants to continue. There's a real feeling this could be the year she walks away after a fourth WNBA championship in 2020. She is the first player to win a title in three different decades (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020).
But she's also still playing at a high level and has adapted her game as the years pass.
“Through my career, I’m lucky in a way,” Bird said last year during the playoff run. “My position and how I play it allows for longevity. I never really relied on my physical quickness or speed or size, obviously. So as long as I continue to add to my game from a mental perspective, I was always going to be able to stay on the floor. Assuming, again, the physical part stayed with me as well.”
In the 85-80 overtime loss on Sunday, Bird was arguably the best Storm player on the court with Breanna Stewart on the bench in a boot and Jewell Loyd struggling offensively. Bird scored 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting in 37 minutes. She was 4-for-8 from 3-point range and added three rebounds, five assists and one steal.
Her clutch 3-pointer tied the game late in regulation. It's a shot she's made so many times in her 18-year career. She's also been incredibly reliable in the box score. Only in 2020, a smaller sample size, did she average fewer than 10 points in the regular season. For her career, she's averaged 12 points on 43% shooting with 5.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Bird is the league's all-time leader in assists (3,048) while Taurasi is the league's all-time leader in points (9,174). They have each stayed with the same franchise their entire careers and played countless classics against each other. They've also won five consecutive gold medals on Team USA, becoming the first to do so.
Following an emotional postgame chat with Rowe, the duo traded jerseys as the crowd roared. Taurasi, dealing with an ongoing ankle injury, will continue her season on Tuesday when the Mercury face either the No. 1 Connecticut Sun or No. 2 Las Vegas Aces in a best-of-five series. It's also unclear if Taurasi will retire as she has dealt with injures off-and-on over the years.
Bird's impact has gone beyond the court. The point guard is a vice president on the WNBA Players Association board and helped lead the league in supporting Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia last year. She's also become the household name she should have been decades ago with growing sponsorship deals that put her front and center. Her CarMax commercial in which she says her passcode is "GOAT" is iconic.
Her relationship with U.S. national women's soccer team superstar Megan Rapinoe, shown courtside during her interview, has also brought Bird and the league into the larger culture. The sports power couple are engaged to be married.
If it is the end, it feels like a coaching career could be in Bird's future. Eventually, the "one more year" chants will come to an end, even if it's not right now.