Sue Bird found her voice later in her career, just as WNBA found its voice

0 Comments

Sue Bird just knows how to win. That’s what she does. It’s what she has always done. Few in sports can rival the success the point guard has had in women’s basketball. Bill Russell and Serena Williams come to mind.

Still, despite decades of success the G-O-A-T narrative is relatively new.

The Greatest Of All Time chatter seemed to pick up traction about the time the 5-foot-8 unselfish floor general stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight a few years ago.

“Sue to me in some ways is an example, or is an illustration of how the league has grown. she came in when it was just a few years old and there was no social media then and Sue was a much more private person then,” Storm owner Ginny Gilder said. “Sue really has found her voice in the last five or six years, and the league has found its voice.”

Bird’s career came to an end Tuesday night with the Seattle Storm’s 97-92 home loss to Las Vegas in Game 4 of the semifinal series. The 41-year-old Bird had eight points and eight assists.

Sue Bird has been more outspoken off the court on various issues, including social justice, LGBTQ issues and women’s rights over the last few years since she started dating her fiancee, soccer great Megan Rapinoe.

“I felt like I was open. Everyone in my life knew. I just hadn’t had this conversation with a reporter,” Bird told The Associated Press in 2018 about her sexuality “I understand now by saying it publicly you can have an impact. That’s what we’re talking about right now.”

People have a history of listening to what champions have to say — Russell won 11 NBA titles and Williams has 23 grand slam tennis titles — particularly when they win the right way.

Bird captured two college national titles at UConn, four WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm and five Olympic gold medals with the U.S. That doesn’t include the countless titles she won while playing overseas in the Russian league during WNBA offseasons or the five FIBA World Cup championships she won.

One of the most beloved players in women’s basketball, the guard with the nerdy sense of humor doesn’t have the public swagger of her friend and fellow basketball superstar Diana Taurasi.

Bird also doesn’t have an MVP trophy, though her value has never been questioned. Her greatness comes from putting teammates in position to do great things. The Storm saw it and they drafted her No. 1 in 2002, and she has spent her entire WNBA career in Seattle.

Bird is part a rare club; a group of professional basketball players to play 20-plus years with the same organization, including Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki.

“The bond she has with Seattle, that is a very special thing,” said Dan Hughes, who coached Bird for a couple of seasons as well as on the Olympic team in 2021. “In a major league city that has football, had basketball, has baseball has all those kind of sports. has a university close, there’s nothing quite like what she’s created.

“In that community, there are people that all have their Sue Bird story. People identify with her in Seattle and that doesn’t happen very often. When it does it’s pretty special.”

Like other aging champions in Serena, who indicated she is done with competitive tennis, and Allyson Felix, the track star who also retired this year, Bird didn’t let her career end without putting up a fight.

She hit a 3-pointer in Game 3 that gave Seattle the lead with 0.8 seconds left only to see Las Vegas hit a shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime where the Aces pulled away for the win.

Bird had a rough finale to her career scoring just eight points on 3 of 8 shooting.

The loss ended a ride she has shared with Taurasi, also a UConn alum.

“Looking back on it, it’s been incredible to be in a job with your best friend for 20 years,” Taurasi said. “You don’t get to do that, most people don’t get to do that in any job, let alone basketball. So, it’s been an incredible journey.”

One that has made Bird — the WNBA’s career assists leader — one of the most popular and respected players to ever play in the league.

After Bird announced this would be her final season, fans flocked to watch her play one last time. Storm road games routinely drew the largest crowds of the season for the host team, including 14,162 who came to see Bird’s final game in Phoenix against Taurasi.

It’s an admiration that carries over to her peers.

“When you play with her and are in her presence as a teammate, you have an appreciation of so much for what she brings,” said Jen Rizzotti, who coached her on the 2021 Olympic team. “She is so well respected, the players in the league talk so highly about her and look up to her.

And of course, the way Bird carries herself would make any parent proud.

“To see what she’s accomplished, I can’t say enough about her,” said Bird’s mother, Nancy. “It’s amazing, she’s always loved the sport.”

Bird has managed to literally share her love of the game with others.

“She’ treated people the right way and led the right way,” Rizzotti said. Bird “has been so unselfish in a way that made other players look really good, it’s hard for anyone to dislike her.”

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
0 Comments

The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
0 Comments

If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

San Antonio Spurs v Denver Nuggets
Morgan Engel/Getty Images
0 Comments

Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.