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Seattle says ‘thank you’ as sports icon Sue Bird prepares to retire

Sue Bird, a woman with long brown hair, smiles during a press conference with the Seattle Storm logo behind her.
Elaine Thompson
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird smiles as she talks about her return for one more WNBA basketball season during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Seattle. Bird is a four-time WNBA champion, 12-time All-Star selection and the oldest player in the league at 41.

In June, Sue Bird announcedthis would be her final season, something that many foresaw. This year was a bonus year spurred on by fans chanting "one more year" at her final game last season.

In an interview with KNKX in May, Bird said the fans solidified her decision to return. Asked what she'd like to tell fans at the start of the season she responded: "Dang! So much. First of all, thank you. I'm not blowing smoke, like, legit, if they didn't chant 'one more year' at the end of that year, there's a good chance...I would've already hung them up."

A man signs a cardboard Sue Bird jersey filled with messages from fans.
Grace Madigan
Fans signed a card in the shape of a Sue Bird jersey on Sunday, August 7, 2022. Notes wishing Bird well and expressing gratitude covered the card.

Bird also said that after she retires, she anticipates remaining involved with the WNBA somehow, growing the game and paying it forward.

Bird was drafted as the overall number one pick by the Seattle Storm in 2002. She's played every season since for the team, making her a Seattle icon.

Over the span of her basketball career, Bird has won five Olympic gold medals, four WNBA championships, and been named to the WNBA all-star team 13 times. For many, she is simply the "GOAT" or "Greatest of All Time."

It's why Connor Fredericksen wanted to do something special to honor Bird and her retirement. Fredericksen is the store manager and does social media for Seattle vintage clothes store Throwbacks Northwest. In preparation for Bird's possible last home game, Fredericksen created a t-shirt that had a simple message: Thank you, Sue.

"This project was really to kind of showcase Sue Bird's legacy, not only what she did on the court, but more importantly what she did off the court," Fredericksen said. "She has a very unapologetic behavior for who she is. And if that's being a member of the LGBTQ community, being a woman athlete who's voicing their opinion to get higher salaries, to match those in the NBA, and just being kind of the embodiment of woman empowerment. Sue Bird means so much to this city."

The black shirts have three images of Bird on the front. Fredericksen said the design was inspired by the '90s bootleg shirts you might see outside stadiums before events. Orders for the shirts opened last Thursday and sold out within the first half hour.

"I actually had to take the shirt off of my back yesterday to make sure I fulfilled one of the orders to keep my promise to make sure that these customers could have them for the last regular season home game."

Fredericksen made a promo video for the shirt featuring Seattle rapper, Gifted Gab, who now resides in L.A. Like so many others, Gifted Gab grew up watching the Storm. Bird's retirement marked an end of an era for her.

Seattle Storm's Sue Bird drives to the basket during a preseason game Saturday, May 14, 2005, in Seattle.
Seattle Storm's Sue Bird drives to the basket during a preseason game Saturday, May 14, 2005, in Seattle.

"She's arguably and I don't know how many, too many people that will argue it, but, you know, one of the greatest players in the game — man or woman," Gab said. "There's really nobody that you really can't think of, too many that are playing at that high level for their entire career."

On Sunday, a record-setting 18,100 people showed up to Climate Pledge Arena to bid Bird farewell and thank her for everything. The Storm took on the Las Vegas Aces in a game that would help them secure home court advantage in the playoffs. Fans showed up to the game, which tipped off at noon, as early as 9:30 a.m.

"Man I couldn’t sleep today, I’ve looked forward to today for a long time," attendee Brendan Potts said.

The Storm lost to the Aces 89 to 81. But Bird was all smiles.

"You know, I’m not gonna lie, it kinda sucks to lose my last game here but I lost my first game too so it’s okay," Bird said in a post-game speech when she addressed the crowd.

In the speech, she thanked the fans for showing up and supporting not just her, but the team. It had many people in tears, including fan Rachel Ackers.

"Being a female athlete, Jewish, gay all those things…I remember when she came out and it meant the world to me," Acker said. "I look up to her…oh man, I’ve cried a couple of times tonight."

Another fan Kelly Nakata was also tearing up, but she felt optimistic about having another home game.

"Wish they could’ve put up a ‘W’ with a win but they’re going to playoffs and we’ll get revenge on Kelsey Plum later this week or next week or whenever that is..."

Whether or not Sunday’s game was indeed Bird’s last game in Seattle didn’t matter. The message fans had for Bird remained the same: Thank you.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.