Storm's Sue Bird dishes off the court as well
Storm guard Sue Bird shows she can dish up food when she's not dishing out assists on the court.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sue Bird rolled up in an indigo blue Range Rover, alone.
At precisely 6 p.m., she rang the doorbell, wearing designer jeans, Burberry printed kicks, a black cotton top and sparkling yellow-diamond stud earrings — her staple. And I freaked.
Most of the Storm players talk about the importance of being on time. But I grew up a coach's daughter and have never known an athlete to be on time for anything. Bird is the first.
"How long were you thinking this would take?" she asks.
Wanting to do something different, I had asked Bird to drop by my friend Brian Medford's home for dinner. The neutral site was Bird's idea, her new home on Queen Anne off-limits to photos.
"Gotta keep something private," she said.
I've covered Bird for 10 years and we've gabbed about everything from Russia to rap but sometimes there are parameters. I asked her once if she thought it was odd that she has never been known publicly to be dating anyone. "No," she replied.
I figured I'd be her sous chef while she made her famed chicken piccata, along with spinach and goat cheese salad. It's a dish she saw on television and looked up online while playing for Spartak in Moscow. Diana Taurasi and Lauren Jackson were the first to try it three years ago, loving every lemony bite.
What Bird does give is even more precious than answers to rumors or glimpses into her nest: Time.
"Well, how long do you have?" I asked Bird as I sat on the arm of the couch.
"Tell me what you're thinking and I'll tell you what I'm thinking," she replied.
Oh. My God. But this is Birdy. I can't tell you how many times we've gone through this dance.
She never wants to ruffle any feathers. Typical of Libras, she's diplomatic, pragmatic and ever charming.
We simultaneously agreed it shouldn't take any longer than three hours.
I put on one of my favorite aprons and Bird asked for a dishrag to tuck into her right jean pocket. Yes, even in the kitchen, she's cool. And the hair. Unlike on the basketball court, it changes styles at least five times during the evening. A few years back, she spent a couple hundred dollars on a Japanese straightening technique, inviting me along, but I didn't go. The result knocked her natural curl out, with teammate Katie Smith swearing it's the key to Bird's sustained popularity.
For our dinner, the shiny brown locks started down with a simple part in the middle. Then came a low ponytail once she placed the chicken in a heated sauté pan. "It's getting long, it might fall in there," she said. Some funky bun thing followed, a seemingly five-minute-are-you-flirting-with-me hair flip as she fingered through any tangles, another odd-level ponytail and finally back to down at meal time.
"Do you use avocado or egg whites in your hair — how do you get that killer shine?" I had to ask as I watched her brown the chicken. She loved that I had found thinly sliced breasts. In Russia, where Bird cooks most of her food, she has to slice everything herself — from the chicken to the almonds for the salad, because her neighborhood markets don't carry many options. She can speak Russian now, using a translator on her phone to find some ingredients. Mexican food has become a craving because it's the one flavor not found cheaply there. Her teammates are constantly amazed by her quesadillas.
"I have no idea," she casually answers about her hair with a smile. She has been asked this before. "It's weird because somebody two days ago after the game was like, 'We all decided in the stands that your hair is shinier today.' I was like, 'Interesting. Very interesting.' I just use Pantene. And I don't put any product in on game day, just hair spray because of the fly-aways. I can't have shoestrings, you can imagine what this would do. My hair is like a big knot at the end of a game from all of the wagging."
Ah. This is Sue Bird. Like peering over the fence of a private yard, it feels taboo sometimes to witness the real Sue. She's all sound effects and body expressions and offbeat humor. With Hot Jamz 94.5 FM bumping in the background, she sings bits of every song. I'm all dance moves and giggles and distractions.
"All right, sous chef!" Sue suddenly snaps at me. This must be what it's like to be in a Storm huddle.
I needed to hit my mark as I helped Sue take the browned chicken off the stove, having already made the juice concoction of lemon, capers and chicken stock. I had also chopped the red onion for the salad under water because Sue says you won't get teary eyes that way. I didn't.
"This is the first time I get to boss you around. Just kidding," Sue said after I equated her directing me in the kitchen to her being a point guard on the floor. "I'm kind, nice, until you mess up. Lauren, she's just that good where she can mess up and it'll be OK. But, yeah, she just loses her brain sometimes, that's all. It happens to the best of us."
Bird, 30, doesn't like being bossy, claiming it's why she could never appear on her favorite cooking show, "Top Chef." Especially at crunchtime when we were lined up side-by-side plating the linguine, chicken and salad.
I freelanced, telling Sue to use butter instead of Pam to brown her almonds as she preferred. But it put Sue out of her element, making the almonds soggy and inedible. No problem. She browned the few remaining from the bag and didn't listen to me with the baguette.
Saying, "that's how I roll," she toasted slices of the bread in a conventional oven — completing her use of every appliance and tool in Medford's baker's kitchen — then spread the goat cheese on top with a sprinkle of ground pepper and salt.
The aroma of lemon filled the air and we were ready to dine, sipping room-temperature filtered water. Surprisingly it's Sue's favorite way to drink water, too, getting used to it in Russia because it's better for your system. If there wasn't a game, she would have wine, Champagne being an instant headache. If I wasn't on the clock, I would have wine.
Sue's nondenominational, although her father's Russian-Jewish heritage provided a way for her to get an Israeli passport years ago. That enabled her play overseas on rosters with other Americans, counting as a European. At the dinner table, however, she doesn't bless the food. She didn't object as I did, a norm for me even if it's just a bag of popcorn at the movies.
Each bite was divine. A little tangy, a little creamy, but light enough where you didn't feel bloated. Nothing worthy of a restaurant, according to Sue, who is one of many financiers of her former college coach Geno Auriemma's spot in Connecticut and a new tavern in Boston. It's simply a dish that tastes complicated, but is easy enough for a Monday night where conversation spills from literature to the stripper-name game. Sue's, in case you're interested, is Mindy Azalea after her family dog Mindy and Azalea Drive, where she lived growing up in Syosset, N.Y.
We laughed at that.
As time ticked, though, Sue never pulled out her phone to text and didn't check the time on her bulky watch, which was placed on the counter while we cooked. Thinking I didn't want my story to be the reason for the Storm losing the following day, I finally called it a night.
She posed for a photo, fretted about leaving the dishes (she always cleans as she goes) and left alone. The next day, Bird scored 22 points in a Storm win.
And when asked the key to inconsistent Seattle continuing to win, Bird's reply was simple.
"Play well and eat well," she said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog
Your Opinion Matters
Take our survey and enter to win $100. Enter Now!