Aces spoil Sue Bird’s retirement party, topple Storm 89-81

SEATTLE (AP) — Sue Bird was at the conclusion of her speech to the sold-out crowd, almost all of whom remained, and decided – perhaps hoped – that this wouldn’t be the last time she would play in the city that it’s called home for the past two decades.

“I don’t really have that ‘mamba out’ moment,” Bird said, referring to Kobe Bryant’s resignation speech. “I just want to say I love you, thank you very much and see you in the playoffs.”

The day, set in honor of Bird and her career with the Seattle Storm, turned sour as the Las Vegas Aces pulled away to a late 89-81 win on Sunday. A’ja Wilson scored 29 points and Kelsey Plum added 16, including an important 3-pointer in the last minute.

But the result didn’t detract from the three hours in which Storm fans, WNBA fans and the city of Seattle thanked Bird for her career as the face of the franchise. The largest crowd in Storm history honored Bird at the Climate Pledge Arena for her career as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Bird said while the day was recognition for her, it was also recognition for the players and coach she has played with throughout her career and the franchise’s accomplishments.

“I think today was an honor for me and people showed up, certainly showed up. It was really amazing,” Bird said. “But I think it’s really a celebration of Storm basketball because I’m sort of Storm basketball.”

Unfortunately for Bird and Seattle fans, the Aces weren’t ready to play their part. Wilson dominated the first three quarters, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young both scored 15 goals and the Aces never fell behind in the final 28 minutes.

“I wasn’t trying to ruin Sue’s party. She invited me,” Wilson joked.

Breanna Stewart finished the season with a season-high 35 points and Tina Charles added 19. Bird finished with nine points, six assists and four rebounds, but the result was similar to their first game in Seattle 20 years ago — a loss.

“I’m not going to lie, it kinda sucks to lose my last game. But guess what, I lost my first game too. So it’s OK,” Bird joked to the crowd after the final buzzer.

The result counted and not in the same breath. Both Seattle and Las Vegas were battling for playoff spot, and for the Storm, the loss was a blow to their chances of holding home field advantage in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. The Aces secured a top 4 seed and kept their hopes alive of catching Chicago for the No. 1 seed ahead of last week.

But the playoff position was completely secondary in the focus of the day.

Bird is the WNBA all-time record holder for assists and games played. At the end of this season, Bird will retire with five Olympic gold medals and at least four WNBA titles, along with the two championships she won at UConn.

“To be so good for so long,” said Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon, who was an opponent of Bird in her first WNBA game on May 30, 2002. “A lot of people have nine to ten years to be great. She’s been amazing for decades, which to me is remarkable.

For the most part, Bird said she’s able to keep her emotions in check. She was surprised when she left the dressing room to face the court before the game and members of her family lined the hallway with her fiancee Megan Rapinoe being the last in the reception line.

An overwhelming wave appeared to hit them during a video tribute just before the tip, which included messages from Rapinoe, LeBron James, Russell Wilson, Chloe Kim, Lauren Jackson and Bird’s college coach Geno Auriemma, and thunderous cheers from the 18,100 in attendance, the largest Amount ever contained for a Storm home game.

“We all know you’re not going away. I look forward to what your next act is,” Auriemma said.

Bird said it felt a bit like college graduation night, where all the ceremonies and emotional moments come before the game, “and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you gotta play this game.'”

“So in a weird way, it wasn’t that difficult to break this down,” Bird said. “Like a little moment where you look up at the jumbotron and it all comes back. But other than a few moments where I could feel the emotions building over those 40 minutes, I didn’t really have to fight that too hard.

For now, Bird’s next act is trying to get the Storm back on their home floor. Seattle is currently fourth overall and with the WNBA’s new playoff format, Seattle would end up hosting the first two games of its inaugural playoff series if it can hold that spot.

Seattle was without head coach Noelle Quinn after she tested positive for COVID-19 and was on the league’s health and safety protocols. Aces spoil Sue Bird’s retirement party, topple Storm 89-81

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