Storm guard Sue Bird (10) dribbles during the first half of a game against the Sun on Aug. 12, 2021, in Phoenix. Bird announced Friday that she will return to the Storm next season, putting off retirement for at least one more year. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Storm guard Sue Bird (10) dribbles during the first half of a game against the Sun on Aug. 12, 2021, in Phoenix. Bird announced Friday that she will return to the Storm next season, putting off retirement for at least one more year. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Bird announces return to Storm for 19th season

The 41-year-old guard and WNBA’s all-time assists leader will put off retirement for at least one more season.

By Percy Allen / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The first offseason domino for the Storm fell when Sue Bird announced she’s returning to Seattle next season.

In an Instagram post Friday morning, the 41-year-old veteran point guard put an end to months of speculation on whether the WNBA’s all-time assist leader would retire or return for her 19th season.

Following a second-round loss in the WNBA playoffs, Bird was unsure about her future.

After the 85-80 defeat to the Phoenix Mercury, she swapped jerseys with longtime friend Diana Taurasi at midcourt as the Angel of Arena fans chanted “one more year.”

“When you have the fans cheer “one more year,” the minute I let myself think about it, it makes me want to cry,” said Bird, who has played 18 seasons over the past 20 years. “So I’ve really been pushing it off and just wanting to focus on this season. It’s a first time for me — I’ll be honest — this is the first offseason where I feel like I need to weigh it.

“Usually I’m like one more year if I feel good, I’ll be there. I think this is the first time when I’m really going to have to sit back and just kind of see how I feel and weigh some things. I know for sure that I want to let the emotion of the season die down. I don’t want to make an emotional decision. And I also feel very lucky that it’s not the physical part that’s “taking me down.” It will be my own decision.”

Whether or not Bird could still be productive was never a question in 2021 when she averaged 10 points, 5.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds while shooting 43.1% from the field and 41.9% on 3-pointers.

Last year, she made her 12th WNBA All-Star appearance and captured her fifth Olympic gold medal with the US women’s national team.

Still, the four-time WNBA champion considered calling it quits.

“Offseasons have some highs and lows in terms of motivation and it can be difficult,” Bird said in September. “That is daunting for me now from a mental standpoint and getting my body to where it needs to be to be ready for a WNBA season. It’s always difficult. And so there is a part of me I have to ask myself these questions. Do I want to do that again? Do I want to go there again?

At the time, Bird admitted she wanted to play in the new Climate Pledge Arena after the Storm spent the past three seasons relocated away from Seattle.

“I’m not going to lie, that would be nice,” Bird said. “But we’ll see. Who knows?”

Bird’s return begins to expand the 2022 roster for the Storm, which has just five players under contract.

Bird is one of five Seattle players who are unrestricted free agents, including All-Stars Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. WNBA teams cannot negotiate with unrestricted free agents until the period officially opens on Jan. 15. Players can then sign on Feb. 1.

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