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In Sue Bird’s farewell season, nothing (and everything) has changed

Sue Bird played her last regular-season game with the Seattle Storm on Sunday. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

As she handed off the microphone on Sunday, Sue Bird’s final words echoed throughout Climate Pledge Arena: “I love you. Thank you so much. I’ll see you in the playoffs.”

After 21 years in Seattle, Bird left the court following her final home regular-season game, an 89-81 loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Game 576 in a Storm uniform.

In that time, nothing has changed, and everything has changed for the Seattle legend.

Sue Bird during her rookie season in 2002. (Mitchell Layton/WNBAE/Getty Images)
Sue Bird during her final home regular-season game in Seattle. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

She has the same perfectly gelled ponytail, holding her brown curls in place. The same warm smile that she flashed when the Storm drafted her No. 1 overall in 2002. The same competitive edge, the one she used to lead the Storm to four WNBA championships, and the one she expressed on Sunday when she promised the cheering crowd that she still had more basketball left in her, enough for a Storm playoff run.

She’s different, too. Seattle helped with that.

In 21 years, Sue Bird has found herself. She’s a proud gay woman, with her fiancée Megan Rapinoe cheering her on courtside on Sunday. She’s an activist for the game, for women, for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. She’s a role model in every sense of the word.

Sue Bird kisses fiancée Megan Rapinoe before the game Sunday. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Two decades ago, Bird didn’t know it was possible for a woman to play professional basketball for as long as she has.

In the NBA, there was Michael Jordan, whose six rings served as a benchmark for success. But in the WNBA, a league in its infancy, Bird didn’t know what a long career even looked like.

“There were no players that had 20-year careers. I don’t think there were players that had 10-year careers,” she said. “There wasn’t this model to copy or emulate.”

There is now.

“I think that 21-year-old me would be surprised that I’m still going,” Bird said. “Not because she didn’t think we had it in us, but because she wouldn’t have even thought about those things.”

In 2002, the entire WNBA was thinking about Sue Bird.

Fresh off an NCAA Tournament championship run — the third in UConn program history — and multiple Player of the Year Awards, Bird was slated to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Lin Dunn, who coached the Storm from 2000-02, started watching Bird casually during her high school days at Christ the King, and then even more once she enrolled at UConn.

When Dunn learned that her team would have the No. 1 pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, she really started paying attention to the point guard from Long Island.

“I watched so many of her games, read every article and studied everything available,” Dunn said.

She also answered a lot of phone calls. Dunn recognized Bird as a franchise cornerstone, a sentiment shared by nearly every team in the league. Dunn remembers the Detroit Shock and the New York Liberty being particularly relentless in their pursuit of the No. 1 pick.

“The more people called me about her and the more they offered me, the more it made me say, ‘There is no way I’m letting that pick go. She is too valuable,’” Dunn said. “I mean, I knew she was good, but I thought, ‘She might be even better than I thought.’ So I was determined to hold onto her.”

During her rookie campaign, and the Storm’s third season in existence, Bird averaged 14.4 points, 6.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Her team also enjoyed a winning season for the first time.

Bird was instantly living up to the hype, and everyone took notice.

In 2002, the Storm weren’t the only professional basketball team in Seattle. One day, as the Storm finished up a practice at the facility they shared with the Sonics, nine-time NBA All-Star Gary Payton came up to Dunn to chat about Seattle’s newest basketball player.

“He said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a point guard like Sue Bird. She sees the game a second or two ahead, and that is really unusual,’” Dunn recalled.

Bird was also highly competitive. During her first season, the Storm players decided to pick horses for the Kentucky Derby. What started as a fun activity turned into an obsession for the point guard as she studied everything she could about the Derby participants.

She was willing to do whatever it took to win.

“I’ve seen that a lot in the latter part of her career,” Dunn said. “She figured out how to extend her career by becoming the fittest person she could be. She changed her diet, she changed her training regime so that I can extend my career. That’s her competitiveness.”

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

In addition to her four titles with the Storm, Bird was named a WNBA All-Star 13 times. She earned All-WNBA First Team honors three times and Second Team honors twice, and she led the league in assists three times.

Bird’s point production has dipped over the years — down from 14.2 points per game in her rookie season to 7.9 this year — but her playmaking abilities have remained consistent. Her vision, which impressed Dunn, Payton and countless others back then, has helped her average 5.6 assists per game throughout her career.

Dunn, who is now the interim GM for the Indiana Fever, only coached Bird for one season in Seattle, but she remained a fan of the guard from that point on.

And throughout that fandom, Dunn has watched as Bird changed on and off the court.

Part of that was finding her voice.

Bird referenced the Wild Rose, a lesbian bar in Seattle, during her postgame remarks to the crowd on Sunday. Twenty years ago, Bird wouldn’t have been as candid about her sexuality.

She also wouldn’t have had her partner cheering for her from the sidelines. Nor would she have spoken out about issues, beliefs, politics — anything other than basketball.

“I definitely was part of a shut-up-and-dribble generation where that’s what we did. We didn’t complain too much or talk about things too much because we were scared to, or because it was the vibe,” Bird said during All-Star weekend last month. “It was an unspoken vibe, but it was there. Even coming out as gay, that’s not something I would have done in the early part of my career.”

Bird helped Seattle find its footing on the basketball court, and Seattle helped Bird find herself off of it.

“I did want to acknowledge everyone who made this moment possible,” Bird said, addressing the crowd at Climate Pledge Arena. “And not just this moment and having a sold-out crowd, but allowing me to be myself. It took me a minute to figure out who I was, but once I did, I was all right. And you guys allowed me to do that.”

In the postgame press conference, Bird, 41, said she didn’t think about what to say to the crowd before the game. She only knew she wanted to speak from the heart.

She spoke eloquently and thoughtfully, something she’s become known for during her time in the league. Although she didn’t have a script, every word was intentional.

During the “shut-up-and-dribble” era, Bird spoke with a different kind of intention. Her motive was to, as she put it, “fit the vibe.”

Now, she’s helping create the vibe.

(Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

As a rookie, Dun remembers Bird as being quick-witted and friendly. But in a crowd of people, the point guard was quieter. If she didn’t know someone, she kept to herself.

“Some of the things that meant a lot to her, she knew it mattered to her, but she was never really able to verbalize it and take a stand,” Dunn said. “I loved seeing her find her voice as she grew older.”

Sunday was a moment to celebrate Sue Bird for everything she is and everything she’s done.

It was also a moment to celebrate everything she will continue to do.

Bird is stepping away from the court, but never from the WNBA, and never from the voice she worked long and hard to find.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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