Storm's Sue Bird playing MVP basketball with little rest
No matter where Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird has been in the world, from South America to Asia, from Moscow to Mercer Street, for the past 22 months she has had a game to play.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Atlanta @ Seattle, 7 p.m.
Imagine a world where the games never end, where the gym is always open, where every day is game day.
No matter where she has been in the world, from South America to Asia, from Moscow to Mercer Street, for the past 22 months Storm point guard Sue Bird has had a game to play.
Since the fall of 2006, basketball has been nonstop for Bird. She played in Moscow in the 2006-07 Russian Super League season. Came home to play for the Storm. Went to Chile with USA basketball and qualified for the Olympics.
Then she rested for a week and a half.
After that, Bird left for Russia for a USA team training camp. Then she played on that team's 2007 college tour, had four or five days to pack before another season in Russia.
Just reading her itinerary is tiring.
After winning a championship in Russia, Bird returned for this WNBA season, then went to Beijing and won her second Olympic gold medal, before coming back for the Storm's late-summer playoff run.
She has had roughly two weeks off in the past 22 months and yet, instead of breaking down, instead of looking as if playing another game of basketball is the worst option in her life, Bird is thriving.
"The one benefit of playing as much as some of us play is you're in great shape," Bird said after Thursday's practice. "I feel like I'm probably in the best shape of my life, and it's from constantly playing."
She also is sleeping more and eating better. She has sworn off junk food, lost weight and gained muscle.
Now, a month before her 28th birthday, in her seventh season with the Storm, Bird is playing MVP-caliber point guard. She is carrying the team, which lost former MVP Lauren Jackson last month to ankle surgery.
In Jackson's absence, Seattle is 7-4 and Bird has increased her scoring average from 13 to 17.5 points per game. The Storm, which plays its last home game tonight against Atlanta, is in second place in the West behind San Antonio.
"She's my hero," teammate Sheryl Swoopes said, passing Bird on her way out of practice.
I've known Bird for seven years, seen her in her best days and some of her worst, but I never saw her happier than she was in Beijing where she was the gold-medal winners' starting point guard. Her grin, after beating Australia, was as bright as her medal.
"After we [Americans] lost the world championships in Brazil we knew they were going to say, rightfully so, that we were down and this was going to be the year to beat us in the Olympics and all that stuff," she said. "And for us to not only win, but win the way we did, and the way that we played and the camaraderie on the team, I mean it was such a wonderful trip.
"To think about it for that long and to have this buildup, buildup and then for it to be everything you wanted and more, I mean I don't know that you could be happier than how I felt after winning that."
She has played so much basketball for so long, in so many different settings, and seemingly Bird has gotten better with every game and every continent.
"She's an exceptional player and person," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "She has the ability, probably unlike a lot of people, to just stay on an even keel, and I think that helps her in terms of playing in the moment. She thinks the game and the situations in the right way. I think all those things help her get through all this."
The past couple of years, it seemed as if Bird had lost a step. An aching knee that required surgery last July (she missed only five games) was stealing her quickness.
This season, despite all of the games, Bird looks young again, healthy again, quick again. She said the turnaround began in Russia.
"Last year, after losing in the first round of the playoffs three consecutive years, mentally I had this idea of what I could and should be playing like and I wasn't living up to that for myself," she said. "And I know for my team I wasn't living up to that and that's hard to take as a player.
"And when I got to Russia last year I told myself, 'Enough is enough.' The last three years, personally, had been kind of a waste, because I just basically let them fly by. And I didn't want to do that any more. I wanted to work on my game."
When Agler got the Storm job, he told Bird he wanted the ball in her hands and he wanted her to be more aggressive with it. He wanted her playing the way she played in the Storm's 2004 championship season.
"He's still in my ear about those things," Bird said, "and it's worked out. But the difference, knock on wood, is that I just feel better. ... Last year I had to deal with my knee and those things, they can take steps, they can take quickness, they can take these things off your game. And when you're finally free of that, it's just amazing how much better I feel."
When this season ends, the gym will stay open for Bird.
The first game for her Russian team, Spartak Moscow, in the EuroLeague, is Oct. 16, which also will be her 28th birthday.
"If we [Storm] go all the way, then I won't get any break," Bird said. "But that's OK, because that means we went all the way. I mean if I didn't love this, if someone didn't love it, I don't think they'd be able to keep this schedule up. But I do love it, so I can always bounce back."
In Sue Bird's world, there is always another game to play, always another championship to chase.
The eternal sunshine of the open gym.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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