July 12, 2022
Sue Bird reflects on her battles against the Indiana Fever
'It was always a team that you knew was going to be a challenge'
INDIANAPOLIS — Last Tuesday, the Seattle Storm and Indiana Fever faced off for the second time this season — typically a standard regular-season game between two franchises situated miles apart. But this one was different.
This one was Sue Bird‘s 19th and final game in Indianapolis. Bird, 41, is currently playing in her 19th season in the WNBA and announced in mid-June that this season would be her last. The 13-time All-Star has been playing in the league since 2002.
Bird has struggled in Indianapolis throughout her career, posting an 8-11 record in the Circle City. The Storm haven’t lost a road game to the Fever since 2017, which makes Indiana’s success defending home court against the WNBA legend all the more impressive.
Most of those games took place in Gainbridge Fieldhouse (then Bankers Life Fieldhouse), but Bird’s final game in Indianapolis was played in Indiana Farmers Coliseum — about 15 minutes north of downtown Indianapolis at the State Fairgrounds. Bird was celebrated before the game in front of nearly 2,600 fans.
Fittingly, Fever interim General Manager Lin Dunn was able to join Bird on the court before the game. Dunn was the decision-maker who drafted Bird in Seattle back in 2002 and was the Storm’s head coach for Bird’s rookie season. So it was a full-circle moment for both.
Sue Bird spoke to The Next one-on-one before the game, one in which she posted two points and five assists en route to a 95-73 win. The interview is transcribed below, with thoughts from Fever players and coaches about Bird afterward.
The Next: Last time in Indiana. Do you have a lot of memories playing here, especially going against someone like Tamika [Catchings] for all those years?
Sue Bird: I mean, not in this building. Indiana, because Tamika Catchings was here — she was drafted the year before (me), but we basically started the same year — it was always a team that you knew was going to be a challenge because they had [Catchings] on their roster. As they started adding pieces, it (was) arguably one of the toughest — for a period of time there when [Briann January] was on the team when Katie Douglas was on the team — teams to play against in our league. So anytime you beat them, you felt like you accomplished something. And every time you lost, that meant it was a really tough game. And I think that’s part of Tamika Catchings’ legacy.
TN: Do you ever mess with [Catchings] that she went from playing to done and you’re still going?
SB: No. She’s been super sweet through the years. Every time I’ve come back for another year, she kind of texts me and (is) like, ‘You’re crazy! How are you still doing this?’ And she’s right; I was crazy. And I look forward to being on the other side, just like she is.
TN: The Fever now are really young. For you, as a vet, is it fun to go against those kind of energetic teams?
SB: Is that a trick question? I think this team they have a lot of young talent. They’re trying to build something here. And they have really great building blocks to do that. So, I think for me, more than anything, knowing this is my last year, knowing that pretty soon I’ll be a fan just like everyone else, I’m really excited to watch and see how these players and see how these franchises kind of unfold and build.
TN: You’ve seen every coverage over decades. So going against younger teams like this does it give you a new perspective?
SB: I’ve been the oldest in the league for like five years. So this is not new, this is not new.
Other notes from Storm-Fever
-Just four days before Bird’s final game in Indy, the Fever and Storm played in Seattle. The Indiana roster currently contains six rookies, so for half of the team, that night was their first time playing against Bird in their career.
“She’s an incredible player… to play against someone like her, who has been around and knows the game and is just a legend in this sport, it’s always awesome,” sixth overall pick Lexie Hull said.
“It was definitely an experience seeing the GOAT in person,” tenth overall pick Queen Egbo said.
-Fever head coach Carlos Knox had high praise for Sue Bird before the game. “If I took a shot at 40 years old, it would be hurtful for me,” he joked. “Her tenacity, her experience, just what she has brought to the game. It’s irreplaceable.”
-Bird’s last championship came in 2020 and Gary Kloppenburg was the Storm’s coach that season. He is an assistant coach for Indiana now.
-Sue Bird wasn’t the only player celebrated on that Tuesday night. January, who spent nearly a decade with the Fever and was a starter on the 2012 championship team, was also honored before the game.
“I tell everybody, ‘this is exactly where I needed to be to become the person I am today,” January told The Next through tears. She finished with three points and two assists.