Storm’s Sue Bird still eyeing Tokyo Olympics despite postponement

7:58 PM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Sue Bird, who at 39 is the oldest active WNBA player, said she doesn’t anticipate the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics changing her plans to try and compete in her fifth Summer Games.

The Seattle Storm point guard, who along with Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi has four Olympic gold medals, hopes to play in the WNBA at least this season and next, and has not specified a definite time she’s looking to retire. Bird will be 40 in October. Her former UConn teammate Taurasi turns 38 in June.

“Sure, there are still some naysayers when they see my age,” Bird said Tuesday. “Now that the Olympics have been moved to 2021, I’m sure the conversation about myself and Diana will change a little bit: ‘Oh, it’s one year later.’

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“But the reality is, I don’t actually think it changes much. Because we have found a way to stay on top of our game.”

The 2020 WNBA season was scheduled to start May 15, but because of the coronavirus shutting down the sports world, it’s uncertain when the season will begin, if it in fact takes place.

“If the WNBA does have a season, I would 100% play,” said Bird, the No. 1 pick in 2002 and a three-time league champion. “But the safety for everyone — not just players but fans — is most important.”

Bird didn’t play in 2019 when she underwent knee surgery. She was working her way back into shape with USA Basketball competitions starting last November. That included exhibition games against top college teams and taking part in Olympic pre-qualifying and qualifying tournaments. Team USA participated even though the Americans were qualified based on the 2018 FIBA World Cup championship.

“The college tour really represented a way for me to ramp back up,” Bird said. “The plan was to be in my peak-performing shape come WNBA training camp. I felt like I was on that trajectory and going the right way. For the most part I felt great. This does throw a little bit of a wrench in that.”

Bird is currently in her apartment in Connecticut. She planned to stay on the East Coast for most of March and early April to do television commentary for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and play with Team USA at a training camp that was to coincide with the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans.

But spending February at her home base in Seattle — the earliest hot spot for the coronavirus in the United States — made her aware of how bad things might get. She said her father, a former doctor, told her as early as Feb. 23 to prepare for the possibility of the Olympics being canceled.

“So I’ve had that seed planted in my head for a while now,” Bird said. “I could see how much this was going to impact our lives. But it’s the best decision.”

Bird isn’t the only Olympian in her household. Her girlfriend, Team USA and Seattle OL Reign soccer player Megan Rapinoe, is also in Connecticut. Bird said they use a stationary bike, do other workouts, and run to stay in shape. But even outdoor parks are closed, so Bird is not playing basketball.

“It’s so small in the grand scheme of what’s happening, I’m not even worried about it,” she said. “There is relief that the Olympics is postponed vs. canceled. That opportunity to be an Olympian again is not going to be taken away. We still have to get there in a year, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not eliminated.

“It also allows all of us to not worry about having to be in peak shape in a few months, since our training now is so limited. So we can focus on what’s important: Be able to support local businesses as much as we can, help take care of those in our community who need it.”

As of Tuesday, Taurasi, who missed most of the last WNBA season with back and hamstring issues, had not commented publicly on the Olympic postponement. But at the USA Basketball game at UConn in January, Taurasi said that she anticipated playing a least a couple of WNBA seasons.

Bird said Tuesday that with athletes such as herself, Taurasi and the NFL’s Tom Brady, who turns 43 in August, eating healthy and staying in shape has helped extend their careers.

“If you can take care of yourself and keep yourself in a playing shape, we can still hang,” Bird said. “If you can do that, your intellect, your experience — those things take over. That’s where you really have an advantage.”

Bird said there hasn’t been a conversation with USA Basketball in terms of extending the program that paid a group of players, herself and Taurasi included, to be available for the exhibition games, tournaments and training sessions the past several months, rather than playing overseas.

“Everyone is going to have to take their time to let this digest and process it,” she said of the Olympic postponement. “I’m sure it will hit people differently. I’m just taking it day by day, going with the flow like everybody else. Because this is so much bigger than sports.”

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