June 21, 2022
‘Like a fairy tale’: Sights and sounds from the final homecoming of Sue Bird
An ending so perfect, it could have been scripted
BROOKLYN — For the third-straight game, the Barclays Center erupted into thunderous applause as a thrilling fourth quarter came to a close. But this time, the cheers weren’t for the home team. In fact, they were for the woman who put a dagger through the Liberty’s hearts: Sue Bird.
“It wasn’t about the game, it wasn’t about how I played; it was just really about soaking it all in, enjoying the moment, knowing that there are people here that have been so instrumental in my journey to get to where I’m sitting right now. It was really about that.” Bird said, sitting at the postgame podium in front of gathered reporters following the game. “And then, of course, once the ball gets tipped, you play to win… The fact that I hit that last shot just can put a smile on my face, and I think it can put a smile on everybody’s face knowing I hit my last shot here in New York… This felt pretty much like a fairy tale.”
Seattle beat New York 81-72 on Sunday, closing a two-week-long road trip 4-1 to leave the Storm fourth in the WNBA standings. Off-ball guard Gabby Williams had her best pro performance since her rookie year, with 23 points (10-15 FG, 2-3 3pt.), nine rebounds, and three assists, while big wing Breanna Stewart added 18 points (7-16 FG, 1-4 3pt.) and nine rebounds to pull Seattle through a tight second half. But it was point guard Sue Bird who was the Sunday star, both on and off the court.
The New York native’s shot came off a pass from combo guard Jewell Loyd, who herself was wide open on a kick-out from the paint. As Bird’s three sank through the hoop, as the cheers reached deafening levels, a conspiratorial mind might have wondered: did Loyd pass up her own look just to set up Bird?
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“It kind of just worked out that way,” Loyd told The Next. “[You have] Sue to finish it off, in New York, her last time. I knew [the three] was there regardless; I walked back like I didn’t even have to look that much [to see if it went in]. So I’m glad she was able to finish it like that, that’s the perfect way to end her last time in New York.”
For the first 3.5 quarters, Barclays was like any other home crowd. Save for an early Bird three, the Liberty fans were quiet for an opening run from Seattle, grew louder as New York made it a game before the half, and seemed to reach a fever pitch as the teams traded mid-fourth-quarter blows.
Then Bird hit two late threes, including the Storm’s dagger with just 20 seconds left. And the arena reached decibels that not even Sabrina Ionescu’s second triple-double had elicited.
“If there’s a game that’s circled on the calendar for Sue, it’s playing home in New York,” Seattle big wing Breanna Stewart told The Next. “And to be able to see her come here, get appreciated, get shown all the love and get the win, it’s just amazing. And [I’m] really happy to share these moments with her.”
Barclays did have one early moment of cheers for the Seattle point guard — or rather, several moments. Before the starting lineups were introduced, New York’s team honored its city’s biggest women’s basketball legend with a nearly three-minute-long video including highlights and notable interviews of hers, plus acclaim from other sports legends from the city.
“Shoutout to Reshanda Gray,” said Bird with a laugh. “She saw that I was getting choked up a little bit when Megan [Rapinoe, Bird’s fiancee] popped up there, and she caught me. And she was like, ‘Nope, no crying, not today.’”
After the video, former teammates and current Liberty players Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb brought Bird to halfcourt to present her with a custom jersey and jacket, both including logos from each professional New York sports team.
“[It makes me] a little bit [emotional],” Loyd told The Next. “I think, just ‘cause you know how much work she puts in to be here and play, and she puts a lot of time in. So you see all the behind-the-scenes stuff, you see the results, you know the history behind it, and you just want to see her happy and finish off the right way… We want to make sure we’re playing for her and finish out the season strong.”
“I really couldn’t have written this any better,” said Bird. “It’s been a really fun day.”