Storm star Sue Bird says 2022 will be her last WNBA season

Still in control on the court, Sue Bird lasted about 10 minutes until the emotion of the moment and the finality of the decision got the better of her.

After 21 professional seasons, one of basketball’s greatest careers is coming to an end.

“I feel like I played as long as I could at a really high physical and mental level, and it just got harder,” Bird said, struggling through tears.

The Seattle Storm star and five-time Olympic gold medalist announced Thursday that the 2022 season will be his final appearance in the WNBA.

The announcement of Bird, 41, ended all speculation about his future; she had acknowledged in February when she re-signed with Seattle that this would likely be her last season. She strongly considered retiring after last season before choosing to return for a 19th season as a player.

Bird’s announcement came a day before Seattle’s game at Connecticut, the state where she was a college star and National Player of the Year. The Storm will end its road trip on Sunday in New York, about 30 miles from where Bird grew up in Syosset, New York.

It’s the only trip planned from Seattle to New York this season, which contributed to its announcement.

“Knowing that this would be my last game in New York is really what started the thought process around the announcement that this would be my last year,” Bird said. “So it’s a bit of the how and the when. That was the motivating factor at the time. And I feel like for every athlete, sometimes it really comes down to you know when you know. There isn’t necessarily a recipe for that. You just know when you know.

Bird is a four-time WNBA champion, 12-time All-Star and the league’s oldest player. She has spent her entire WNBA career with Seattle since becoming the No. 1 draft pick in 2002 after her college career at UConn. This season is his 21st with the franchise, although only his 19th after missing two seasons due to injury.

His resume is the envy of every professional sportsman, let alone basketball. National championships at UConn in 2000 and 2002. WNBA titles with Seattle in 2004, 2008, 2018 and 2020, the last to enter the WNBA “bubble” in Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bird won five more titles while playing overseas in the EuroLeague. Last year, she added a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo to accompany those the United States won in 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Bird was the AP National Player of the Year in her senior season at UConn. She is a five-time WNBA First Team selection, the league’s all-time leader in assists, and the only player to appear in more than 500 games in league history.

She’s been honored on every list imaginable as one of the best and most influential players in league history. And she is the standard by which other leaders are judged.

Bird informed her current teammates of her decision at a team dinner Wednesday night and the Seattle coaching staff Thursday morning. Bird also had a long list of former teammates, coaches, executives and friends that she wanted to tell personally rather than hear from him through various channels. Among the most moving was his conversation with Karen Bryant, the Storm’s general manager when Bird was drafted in 2002.

Deep down, they all knew that the clues given by Bird over the past few months led to this announcement.

“Few people do something all their life like athletes do. Don’t get me wrong, I know people are satisfied in other ways. It is not a comparison. It’s just that the sport is different, I think,” Bird said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 5 or 6 years old. That’s really all I know. So of course I’m sad. It’s a bit like mourning knowing that I’m going to miss it. But I mean, I have no regrets. I feel wonderful about my career, the people I’ve met, the things we’ve all accomplished.

Bird said she wasn’t exactly prepared for the farewell tour that will likely follow her each time she visits a WNBA road town for the last time.

“I feel like I personally don’t need this,” Bird said. “But I also understand that there are fanbases who might want to, you know, take advantage of this moment. … But yeah, I’m not prepared for that.

Bird turns 42 in October and was set to retire a year ago, and when the Storm were knocked out by the Phoenix Mercury in the playoffs, fans chanted “One more year!” One more year!” as she did a TV interview from the field.

Those cheers were encouraged by longtime Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, Bird’s former college teammate at UConn and part of those five Olympic gold medal races.

In the end, the fans – and Taurasi – got what they wanted. Bird returned, for exactly one more year.

“Sue Bird is the Basketball Storm,” her WNBA team tweeted moments after Bird made her decision known. “Every moment, every memory has a constant. No. 10. It’s time for the final chapter.

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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