Sue Bird, one of the greatest point guards in women’s basketball history, may also be its most surgically repaired.
Ask her how many operations she’s had in her career, which began at UConn in 1998, and Bird starts counting them on both hands.
“Are you including my nose?” she said. She finally settles on nine.
The latest, to remove a large cyst that had grown in a bone in her left knee on May 9, is keeping her out of the WNBA for the first time since she joined the Seattle Storm in 2002. But she was with her team Sunday, watching it defeat the Connecticut Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“What I know about Sue is that she just loves to play basketball,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “She takes care of herself very well and this down time she is having now is going to give the remainder of her body a lot of rest. She will come back with renewed energy and I look for her to play to age 35 and beyond.
And after spending the first few weeks of post-operative time in Greenwich, bonding her sister and becoming acquainted with being an aunt, Bird, 32, will finish her recovery in Seattle.
“I still can’t do anything for another six weeks,” Bird said. “No running, no jumping, no anything.”
Even though she’s been through so much physically, she is not ready to stop playing, not even after making her debut as a studio analyst on ESPN earlier this season.
“That [being on television] was much tiring than I anticipated,” Bird said. “You have to focus, pay attention. It was a totally different feeling than even the one I’d have after a game. It was kind of exhausting.”
Bird said she decided to have this surgery to insure that she’ll be able to play for as many more years as she wants. And that encompasses the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“That was the entire purpose of the surgery, but we’ll see,” Bird said. “At this point, it’s about health, how I feel – and if USA Basketball asks me [to play]. You just take it a day at a time and see where it takes you.
“I do understand that I have to start planning for after basketball,” Bird said. “I don’t want to finish [playing] without having some kind of a plan about what’s coming next. That [the future] is more in my thought process than it’s ever been. But I feel like I’ll go as long as my body can.”
It’s likely she will continue playing this winter in Russia, where she has played overseas for the majority of her career.
Overseas is where women’s basketball players make the majority of their money and Bird is just one of the many stars who have decided to either skip or curtail WNBA play to prepare for Europe, Asia or Australia and EuroLeague play.
“It’s weird,” Bird said. “To do something for 11 summers, 11 seasons, 11 years, and then, all of a sudden, not be doing it and not even think twice about it. It’s even weirder now to be with the team and not be able to help or play. But sometimes you have to play the cards that are dealt and just stay positive and help my team anyway I can.”
Bird’s career is already unparalleled at her position. She played on two national champions at UConn and has been a seven-time WNBA all-star with two league championships in Seattle, the first (2004) won playing for current Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan.
Bird has also won three Olympic gold medals and is one of just seven — Maya Moore, Swin Cash, Kara Wolters, Diana Taurasi, Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes – to win NCAA and WNBA titles, a FIBA world championship and Olympic gold.
“I am still going to try and help this team [the Storm] as the season goes along,” Bird said. “I think as time goes on, what they will be will become clearer.”