SEATTLE — A month ago Sue Bird was standing in the streets of Seattle joking with Storm fans in a video clip about — shocker — returning to the team for a 19th WNBA season.
Now the point guard is quarantined in her Connecticut apartment with girlfriend Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. soccer and Reign star, due to the coronavirus pandemic. When Bird will play on a traditional court again is uncertain, the latest fallout from the virus outbreak being Tuesday’s announcement that the International Olympic Committee postponed the Olympic Games until 2021.
One thing that hasn’t been altered is Bird’s pursuit of a fifth Olympic gold medal — even when facing her 40th birthday in October.
“I’ve always believed the best ballplayers should be on the team, without a doubt,” Bird said via phone Wednesday. “If I’m physically able and I’m playing at the top level and the opportunity is there, of course I’m going to say yes to it. I would feel weird saying otherwise.
“I saw a quote from (Olympian) Keri Walsh Jennings that’s true: When you’re preparing for an Olympics, you’re not really thinking about the Olympics as much as you’re just focused on that one day that you’re in right now. So, now there’s a lot more days ahead of us until then. But you’re still doing the same thing in your day-to-day as an athlete to stay in shape.”
Connecticut closed its parks statewide Tuesday, nixing shooting hoops on the playground with Rapinoe shagging rebounds as a workout for Bird. The Olympians have weights and a Peloton bike in their apartment to stay fit.
Both were relieved when the IOC made its announcement, Bird stating her concern that training at an elite level to be ready July 24 would have only grown more difficult.
But that bubbling anxiety is only transferred to whether their respective leagues will happen this summer. WNBA training camp is scheduled to open April 26, with the season beginning May 15. The NWSL extended its training moratorium through April 5 and delayed its April 18 season opener.
Any delay to the WNBA season would give Bird, the oldest active player in the league, more time to heal from a 2019 knee surgery. Last fall, she averaged 24 minutes per game as a starter for USA Basketball’s exhibitions against top college teams and in Olympic qualifying tournaments as part of her rehabilitation. Bird also participated in a training camp during the NBA’s All-Star weekend in Chicago last month.
Bird helped Team USA qualify for the Tokyo Games by winning the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain. She averaged 4.8 assists per game.
“I was on this nice little steady incline and hoping to be peaking during the summer,” Bird said. “My knee felt great. Obviously with what’s happening now, every athlete in the world is definitely going to struggle in terms of finding ways to stay in shape and finding ways to train. So, it’s a relief for a lot of us that the Olympics were postponed versus canceled. (But) forget being an athlete, now we can focus on what’s most important, which is staying safe, staying healthy and doing what we can do to help.”
Bird and Rapinoe linked with longtime friend and author Shea Serrano via Twitter to donate $2,000 to those in need due to businesses having to shutter if not essential as governors mandate people stay in their homes. The couple also donated gift certificates to their favorite Seattle-based restaurants and are currently planning more ways to assist the community as the economy stalls.
“I’m thankful for being in Seattle the last two weeks of February,” said Bird, who re-signed with the Storm on Feb. 25. “That’s when this all became real. When you started to go into grocery stores and see the toilet paper gone, I understood the severity of it all and that it’s not going to go away.
“When I first came to the East Coast, you could tell in how people were living their lives, nobody was changing anything at that point. The reality in looking back is we all should have been changing once we saw what was happening in Seattle. … I’m informing my friends and family and really anybody who’ll listen that you should stay home for a little bit.”