Sue Bird knows the time has come after three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles and at least eight surgeries.
“I’m at the end of my career,” the 35-year-old point guard said last month. “This is more than likely going to be my last Olympics. When you get older, you start looking back on your career more and you want to leave some sort of legacy and to be a fourth time Olympic gold medalist wouldn’t be so bad.”
There was a time when Bird didn’t seem so sure about the Rio Games.
It came most memorably in a group NBC on-court interview with Craig Sager, moments after she helped the U.S. women to their fourth straight gold medal at the London Games, their 41st straight win at the Olympics dating to 1992.
Sager made U.S. (and former University of Connecticut) teammates Diana Taurasi and Asjha Jones commit to a run for Rio. Then he asked Bird, “How about you? You in for the long haul?”
“Oh mannnnn,” Bird said, shaking her head.
That drew Taurasi to extend her right hand and say, “We’re going to Rio.”
Bird accepted the handshake and, with a little less excitement than Taurasi, say, “We’re going to Rio,” and throw up her right hand.
Bird started every game at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, after a lesser role behind veterans Dawn Staley and Shannon Johnson at Athens 2004.
Bird didn’t seem too concerned about the competition to crack next year’s 12-woman roster, saying she thought it was tougher to make the 2004 team two years out of college.
“It’s tricky,” Bird said. “Myself and [London Olympian] Lindsay Whalen are two of the point guards. And now it’s kind of like, all right, who’s next. And while there is some depth there, people that are successful in the WNBA right now at that position, none have USA Basketball experience.”
Bird again started every game at the 2014 World Cup alongside Taurasi in the backcourt, with Whalen seeing plenty of time off the bench.
The fourth guard, 2014 WNBA No. 2 overall pick Odyssey Sims, played the fewest minutes per game of the 12-woman World Cup roster (5.2 minutes).
The U.S. went undefeated through the tournament to clinch an Olympic berth.
There are more young guards in contention.
Skylar Diggins, 25 and a two-time WNBA All-Star, was one of the final cuts for the 2014 World Cup team. Courtney Vandersloot and Danielle Robinson, both 26, joined Bird on the roster for an October European tour.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” Bird said. “There’s Courtney Vandersloot, Danielle Robinson, and then you have two players in Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims who aren’t traditional point guards but can play the spot, so that’s like a route they could go. … Right now I could probably sit you down and talk about all the other positions, and you could probably name like two or three players at each that you know, oh yeah, they’ll probably be on the national team. But the point guard spot is a little different.”
Bird will be nearly 36 come August. Two U.S. women’s basketball players have played at an Olympics at an older age — Teresa Edwards in 2000 and Lisa Leslie in 2008.
Edwards and that 2000 team scrimmaged a group of younger players, including Bird, in Hawaii leading up to the Sydney Games.
“She was ahead of everybody at that position,” said Edwards, the only U.S. basketball player to make five Olympics.
Rio could be a fitting end for Bird given it may also be the U.S. finale for coach Geno Auriemma, who also guided Bird at Connecticut.
It was Auriemma who came back from being an assistant coach at Sydney 2000 and told Bird, then a UConn junior, if you play your cards right, you could be on the 2004 Olympic team.
UConn teammate Taurasi, who is two years younger than Bird and a sushi lover, isn’t ruling out Tokyo 2020. She might want to bring Bird with her.
“I can see if I can change her mind again,” Taurasi said.