SEATTLE — After playing her final game in the WNBA on Tuesday as the Aces eliminated her Storm from the playoffs with a 97-92 win in Game 4 of their semifinals series, Sue Bird wasn’t sure how to feel about her career coming to an end.
“I think initially I felt sad about the season and the game,” Bird said postgame. “I then think, as the emotions started to come to the surface, that’s also what I know deep down in that, that was my last game. So it was a combination of those two things, but overall it just feels kind of weird.”
A year after Storm fans chanting “One more year!” in the wake of a playoff elimination by the Phoenix Mercury helped convince Bird to return for a 19th WNBA season, the sentiment was gratitude after this loss.
Initially, Bird headed toward the locker room with teammates and coaches before reversing course and remaining on the court. Given hugs by all the members of the Las Vegas team and coaching staff, Bird then acknowledged the crowd by raising her hand multiple times through an extended ovation that lasted until she finally headed into the locker room.
“I didn’t really want to leave the court,” Bird said. “It felt like that’s where everybody was going, so I just followed at first. But I also wanted to kind of have one last moment to say thank you, to soak it all in, because in some ways it is a happy thing.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished here. Of course I’m sad, but there’s happiness too, to be able to have a moment like that with the fans, to have them chant the way they did. I know the tears don’t look like happy tears, but there’s a lot of happiness.”
Seattle coach Noelle Quinn, who played alongside Bird for the Storm before becoming her coach, stayed in the arena bowl to experience the sendoff.
“I wasn’t here to witness our last [regular] season game and feel that energy, so I wanted to stay and feel that today,” Quinn said. “It’s amazing what she’s done for the city of Seattle, for the organization and for this team.
“It’s tough not finishing this season having her ride off on a white horse with a championship, but she’s won enough for the both of us, so just proud to be part of her journey.”
“Obviously it was disappointing, sad,” Loyd said of the team’s mood in the locker room. “Little laughs. But I think for us, we played with Sue for so long — we’re the last three [left] since coming in. It’s obviously not how we wanted to finish for her. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”
Stewart was coming to terms with the idea that Bird would no longer be a presence with the team on a day-to-day basis going forward.
“As sad as it is that we’re not having the ability to compete for a championship,” Stewart said, “I think what’s more devastating is the fact that we’re no longer going to be on the court with Sue. We’re not going to see her in practice, we’re not going to play with her in games. I think that’s what hurts the most — having that come to a reality really, really quickly.”
Bird acknowledged the void that retiring will leave, saying she is not even going to try to replicate the emotions playing the sport at its highest level for two decades has provided.
Still, as Bird walked away after finishing with 46 assists and just six turnovers in six playoff games, there was no second-guessing her decision.
“Of course my body feels good,” Bird said, “so that can trick ya, but there’s a reason why I felt comfortable and I felt confident in this being my last year. Being able to say that out loud was a big hurdle. Once I kind of jumped over that, I knew I did the right thing because of how I felt afterward.”