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As Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles say goodbye, WNBA players reflect on their legacies

Retiring stars Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird were celebrated at the WNBA All-Star Game in July. (Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA regular season is nearing its end, and so are the careers of two of the game’s best players.

Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird will meet for the final time in the regular season Friday, as Fowles’ Minnesota Lynx host Bird’s Seattle Storm. In the coming weeks, each will step onto a WNBA court for the final time as a player. Still, the impact each has had on the game will remain.

Los Angeles Sparks forward and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike underlined the power of both players, which extends well beyond their stat lines.

“The legacy that they’re leaving – it touches so many young players that I can’t wait to see how that evolves in someone else’s game,” Ogwumike told Just Women’s Sports. “They’ve done so much for the league, so much for the culture, so much for certain franchises that are now living in history.

“I’m happy we can give them their flowers while they’re still going hard and hooping.”

As a young player, Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum looked up to the duo, who she said not only influenced her game but also made her proud to be part of a league like the WNBA.

“You can’t speak enough to what both of them have done in different realms of the sport,” Plum said.

Speaking at the WNBA’s All-Star weekend, stars from across the league pointed to Bird and Fowles as trailblazers, role models and leaders.

Chicago Sky guard Candace Parker has played against Fowles since she was 14 years old and matched up against Bird for the first time in college in 2006, but also has gotten to play alongside both as part of gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic teams.

“For me personally, they’ve made me better as teammates but also made me better competing against them,” she said. “It’s amazing to be able to honor them.”

For Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones, Fowles is “the toughest matchup” that she’s ever played against in her career.

“So strong physically. So dominant. A great finisher around the rim,” she said of the Lynx center. “She’s definitely someone that I look up to, someone that I try to model and shape my game around. She was the prototype of what success for a long time in this league looks like.”

Jones views Bird as a “prototype” for point guards in the league. The Storm star has helped shape the game both for the WNBA and women’s sports as a whole, Jones said.

“I’m happy to say that she’s a member of the WNBA and I’m a member of the WNBA with her,” she added.

When Fowles and Bird each were asked about the other’s impact, both focused on the strengths of the person – not the player.

“Sue Bird is everything this game needed: her leadership, her sisterhood, her friendship and just the things she does for the community,” Fowles said. “I think any young player, young point guard should have a good foundation of role models to go off of and Sue Bird is definitely one of those people.”

For Bird, Fowles’ care for her teammates sets the Lynx center apart from the rest.

“Sylvia is the one player I think in our league, when you see how her teammates interact with her, how they take to her – I know they jokingly call her grandma and whatnot – she really just has a certain nature about her that is so warm, so welcoming and so inviting,” Bird said. “I think the way that she impacts her team, the way she’s able to bring groups together, I can’t even think of another player that does it the same way Syl does.

“Believe me, I could sit here and talk about points and rebounds and championships and all of the things, but that, I think, is the secret ingredient that she has.”

Younger players, including Atlanta Dream rookie Rhyne Howard and New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, recognize how Fowles and Bird have elevated the WNBA.

“It’s pretty remarkable, what they’ve meant to our sport and to everyone,” Ionescu said. “Where they came from and where they’ve left the game is absolutely in better hands. We’re excited as younger athletes to continue to pave the way for those to follow but they’ve done an incredible job and their career has been nothing short of amazing.”

For Howard, Fowles and Bird have provided footsteps to follow.

“They’ve set the stone,” Howard said. “They’ve been and done everything that young rookies like me want to do. So just to have them to look up to is big.”

Seattle Storm star Jewell Loyd sees in the retirements of Fowles and Bird a call to action for those still in the league and those to come.

“They’re what it means to be a professional athlete. To be a role model. To be a leader,” she said. “They are a generational talent. It’s sad that they’re leaving but they’ve left their mark and it’s our job now to carry that through.”

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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