HomeSportSue Bird Became the Legend She Needed: ‘There Was No Real Path’

Sue Bird Became the Legend She Needed: ‘There Was No Real Path’

Sue Hen peeked upcourt as she caught the outlet go. Her Seattle Storm teammate Natasha Howard had streaked forward of her like a large receiver, as she often did at any time when Hen was working the offense in transition. Howard realized that she was open beneath the basket and braced herself. Hen, she knew, would discover her like at all times. She simply didn’t know the way.

Hen slithered into the lane, drawing a defender. Then, with out trying, she whipped the ball over her head and into Howard’s awaiting palms.

“My fingers have been at all times prepared for Sue when she handed me the ball,” mentioned Howard, now with the Liberty. She added: “That proper there, it’s like: ‘Wow, OK, Sue. You bought eyes behind your head.’”

Hen counts the go amongst her favourite assists in her 19 seasons with the Storm. She has loads of passes to select from: Hen is the W.N.B.A.’s profession chief in assists.

“I’ve slightly little bit of a Rain Man mind so maintain on a second,” she had mentioned as she tried to select her favourite help. After a second, she cited the no-look go to Howard, in 2018, and a between-the-legs go to a trailing Lauren Jackson within the 2003 All-Star Sport. She wasn’t completed.

“Oh, there’s additionally one other one to Lauren,” Hen mentioned. “It was within the playoffs in opposition to Minnesota. I feel it was like 2012 and we have been down 3. We wanted a 3, and it wasn’t a flowery help by any means, however we ran a play to perfection. I hit Lauren. She hits the shot.”

These are the sorts of assists that Hen constructed her repute on. “The timing round an amazing go is so the individual you’re passing to doesn’t have to vary something that they’re doing,” Hen mentioned.

At 41 years outdated, Hen is inside weeks of the top of her W.N.B.A. profession. In June, she introduced that she would retire on the finish of the season, although most individuals had anticipated as a lot. On the finish of the 2021 season, followers chanted “one more year!” at an emotional Hen and stored up the marketing campaign with hashtags on social media for months by way of the low season. In January, Hen nodded to the marketing campaign in an Instagram submit and wrote “OK.”

Her résumé had room for yet one more season, however simply barely. She is a 13-time All-Star and has received 4 championships. She toppled Ticha Penicheiro’s profession help document of two,599 5 years in the past and now has 3,222 regular-season assists in a league-record 578 video games.

Because the assists have piled up, Hen has advanced as a passer.

“From time to time, it may be fancy,” Hen mentioned. “From time to time, you do need to look the protection off, however for me, it’s simply at all times about making an attempt to learn the protection and be one step forward, so you could find that individual.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve undoubtedly used the no-look extra, and after I do a no-look these days, I’m not making an attempt to appear like Magic Johnson did or one thing like that. I’m actually simply making an attempt to look off the protection. I’m simply making an attempt to get them to suppose my eyes are trying elsewhere, in order that I could make the play.”

No different participant is as synced with the league’s infancy and progress, its historical past and current, as Hen, the consummate ground basic who excelled by way of consistency by delivering the ball to the suitable individual on the proper time in the suitable spot, yr after yr, decade after decade.

“She is the W.N.B.A,” mentioned Crystal Langhorne, who transformed 161 of Hen’s passes into buckets, the fourth-most of any teammate behind Jackson (624), Breanna Stewart (345) and Jewell Loyd (217), in keeping with the Elias Sports activities Bureau. “It’s going to be loopy with a league the place she’s not there anymore. Sue is the prototype.”

Listening to these kinds of compliments has been one of many nice and sudden byproducts of asserting her retirement, Hen mentioned.

“You simply at all times knew what to anticipate from me,” Hen mentioned. “Everybody knew in the event that they turned on a Storm sport, what they have been going to see. So, it’s type of onerous to think about it not being there, as a result of it’s been there for 20 years.”

Hen entered the W.N.B.A. in its sixth season as the highest general choose within the 2002 draft, carrying heavy expectations into Seattle after two N.C.A.A. ladies’s basketball championships at Connecticut.

She made her first professional help to Adia Barnes, now the ladies’s basketball coach at Arizona. Barnes, 45, final performed professionally 12 years in the past and spent a number of years as a broadcaster earlier than teaching, all whereas Hen continued stacking one help after one other.

“I completely forgot that,” Barnes mentioned of Hen’s first help, laughing. “I made the shot, in order that was a very good factor. I don’t bear in mind it, however you possibly can act like I do. Make it sound good, please.”

Barnes does recall Hen’s steadiness from the start. The pair typically roomed on the highway.

“She was only a true level guard, and I feel what separated Sue is, she’s a connector, so that you wished to play together with her.”

Barnes received a championship in 2004 with Hen and Jackson, who turned a dynamic pick-and-roll pairing, and Hen and Jackson received one other in 2010. They left defenses helpless. If a defender ducked below a Jackson display, Hen might bury a 3. In the event that they doubled Hen, Jackson might drive to the rim or come out for an open jumper. The ball sometimes arrived on time.

“There was actually no manner to assist it,” Barnes mentioned. “It was simply very, very, very onerous to protect and so they made it look seamless.”

Hen mentioned her consciousness of angles and spacing was at all times on, even when strolling by way of a mall.

“You’re at all times transferring in a manner, seeing issues in manner that’s much like being on the court docket,” Hen mentioned. “Clearly, you’re not in a sport, so that you’re not having to maneuver quick or do issues with urgency, however I feel you simply at all times transfer that manner when you’ve gotten that sort of imaginative and prescient. That sounds insane. It’s really not.”

Teammates would spot Hen carrying binders and notebooks to review the sport. “You don’t really want to ask how she does it,” Howard mentioned. “She simply does it.”

Receiving a go from Hen impressed confidence, Langhorne mentioned. Right here was one of many sport’s greats, entrusting her with the ball and to make the suitable play.

“Even after I was engaged on my 3s and I wasn’t as assured, if I knew Sue kicked it again to me, I used to be like: ‘Oh, yeah, shoot it. She’s giving it to you for a cause,’” Langhorne mentioned. “Which I by no means even actually mentioned out loud earlier than.”

Accidents compelled Jackson to depart the W.N.B.A. in 2012. Hen discovered her subsequent submit associate in Stewart, one other Connecticut product who Seattle took with the primary general choose in 2016. The 2 received championships in 2018 and 2020.

“She is aware of the place everybody is meant to be earlier than generally we even do,” Stewart mentioned. “She is aware of which block I would favor to get the ball on or which go goes to get by way of and which isn’t. Generally, once you’re on the basketball court docket, a participant makes a lower after which the go comes, and generally with Sue, the go comes after which the participant makes the lower as a result of she’s seeing the protection generally faster than us.”

Hen mentioned Penicheiro, who retired in 2012, and the Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot are among the many level guards she has most loved watching as a result of “they’re actually enjoyable.” Vandersloot not too long ago handed Lindsay Whalen to turn into third on the W.N.B.A.’s profession assists listing. She’s the lively participant closest to tying Hen — and she or he’s nonetheless greater than 800 assists away.

Hen broke Penicheiro’s document together with her 2,600th help to a reducing Carolyn Swords in 2017.

“It was really a reasonably good go, and she or he deserves it. And information are supposed to be damaged, and if anyone breaks your document, you need it to be a participant like Sue Hen,” Penicheiro mentioned.

“All people loves Sue,” she added. “If she was an ass, it’d be simpler to go in opposition to her and attempt to stick it to her, however she’s too good and I’m, too.”

Even one help from Hen is a second to recollect. 13 gamers acquired one help from Hen, in keeping with Elias. The listing consists of Courtney Paris, who regarded Hen as considered one of her favourite gamers rising up and spent most of her W.N.B.A. profession on alert as an opponent who had the unenviable process of making an attempt to play workforce protection in opposition to her.

“The second you go to assist, she’s going to seek out the smallest piece of area to get the ball to whoever must get it,” Paris mentioned.

Paris joined the Storm in 2018 and didn’t play typically in her two seasons in Seattle as her taking part in profession wound down. Paris didn’t bear in mind the kind of go she acquired from Hen or how she scored, however she recalled being excited over the sequence.

“It was a full circle second from watching her after I was a youthful participant,” Paris mentioned.

Ashley Walker, one other member of the one-assist from Hen membership, who performed with Seattle in 2009, was equally appreciative.

“She’s one of many pioneers,” Walker mentioned. “She’s somebody that individuals look as much as, and she or he did it with such grace, such confidence. And it’s simply superb to know that I’m part of that have and I really get an opportunity to say: ‘I caught a go from Sue Hen. What did you do?’”

Hen has additionally made her mark in the course of the postseason together with her assists. She set a playoff document with 14 assists in a 2004 Western Convention finals sport in opposition to Sacramento, then broke it with 16 in Sport 1 of the 2020 finals in opposition to Las Vegas. Vandersloot broke that postseason document final yr, with 18 assists in opposition to Connecticut.

The chapter is closing on one of many W.N.B.A.’s most memorable careers. Hen mentioned she achieved all the pieces she wished to within the league, establishing targets within the second.

“The straightforward analogy right here is, who does all people chase within the N.B.A.? Michael Jordan,” Hen mentioned. “As a result of Michael Jordan performed a full profession. He received six rings. So, six rings turned the usual. In our league, after I obtained into the league, that didn’t actually exist.”

She continued: “There was no actual path to observe, as a result of no one had that 20-year profession but. So, I actually didn’t know what to dream, and so to take a seat right here now with all of the championships I’ve, I simply really feel actually happy.”

Now a younger participant — Hen named Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings for instance — can mannequin the milestones within the careers of gamers reminiscent of Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

Many, in fact, will take a look at Hen’s illustrious profession.

“I feel there’s something that motivates you in that manner, however on the similar time, forging your individual path, I loved that as properly,” Hen mentioned. “I’m unsure. Perhaps having one thing to chase is best. Perhaps there’s extra stress.”

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