Photo courtesy of Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Reign FC Legend: Sue Bird

On Saturday, July 7, Seattle Reign FC hosts the Houston Dash for ReignStorm Night, presented by Carter Subaru. Prior to the match, Sue Bird will be honored as a Reign FC Legend. The Legends Campaign — a partnership between Seattle Reign FC and Avanade — honors women from the Pacific Northwest who have set an example of excellence in our community.

Bird has been the point guard for the Seattle Storm since 2002, when she was the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. In her career with the Storm, Bird has won two WNBA championships, been named to ten WNBA All-Star teams, and set the all-time league record for assists. In international competition, Bird has helped Team USA win four Olympic gold medals. We sat down with Sue to learn more about her path to the WNBA, her outlook on women’s sports, and more.

Q: Did you grow up playing soccer, or have any experience in the sport?

A: I played soccer throughout my entire childhood, up until sophomore or junior year of high school. I was a center midfielder, which is pretty similar to the point guard position. I essentially picked basketball over soccer, but I transferred high schools, and my new high school was in Queens, New York. They didn’t have a girls’ soccer team. I was already going to pick basketball, but that made the decision even more concrete.

Q: When you watch soccer, do you notice any similarities between it and basketball?

A: I think in all sports there’s always a feel out there. Is the team clicking? Do they have good chemistry? In all team sports, you can watch and see if people are playing together. That’s what I see when I watch soccer, and that’s what’s similar to basketball. You can always tell. Some of the positions are similar. You have some people who are out there to score and some people who are out there to defend. Everyone has a specialty.

Q: Do you and Megan [Rapinoe] ever kick a soccer ball around?

A: Not really. We’ll mess around every now and then — more so on the basketball court. It’s easier to do with two people. Megan’s pretty good at basketball; she played in high school.

Q: What would you tell fans about the behind-the-scenes work that comes with being a professional athlete?

A: There’s a ton of work. I hear sometimes from my family or friends, “Oh you went to practice today for two hours. You punched the clock for two hours. That’s not so bad.” They like to make fun of me. The truth is being a professional athlete is all day every day. It’s about how much you’re sleeping, and what you’re eating. You’re mentally and physically preparing yourself at all hours. That’s what it takes to make sure you’re at the top of your game.

When I’m in-season, basketball is on my mind 24/7 in some way, shape, or form. It’s never really off your mind. Don’t get me wrong, you try to find time to chill out and relax. But it’s definitely a 24/7 thing.

Q: What do you see as the greatest obstacle currently facing female athletes and women’s sports?

A: I think it’s the image of it, and the conclusions people jump to without ever seeing a game. There’s just something about women’s sports where it gets a bad rep right out of the gate. With the WNBA, usually it’s a matter of getting [people] in the building one time and they’re converted. It’s one thing not to like something, it’s another thing to have to tear it down. People tend to do that with women’s sports. It’s odd.

Q: What have you seen in terms of growth in women’s sports?

A: There’s definitely been growth. This year alone, our television ratings are up. The one thing I know for sure is that the product itself is continuing to get better. The level of talent is growing with each season. It’s literally survival of the fittest. These are, no joke, the toughest leagues to play in because there’s only so many teams and so many roster spots, so by nature you’re going to only have the best players. It makes it really difficult, and it’s not diluted in any way. As long as the product is continuing to grow and get better, you’re always going to have a chance to grow the business. I think that’s a positive.

Q: What do you want your impact to be on the younger generations who grew up watching you?

A: I think just by being a professional athlete — especially a female professional athlete — I do think we’re role models. Years and years from now this will still be considered some of the early times for professional women’s sports in America. I’m one of the players that’s a part of that. I do take it seriously, and it’s great for young girls to be able to look up to professional athletes who are women. I didn’t have that experience growing up. It’s great to be one of those role models.

Q: What advice would you give to women entering the workforce, whether in athletics or any other field?

A: It needs to be fun. If everything works out and it becomes your job, great. At the same time, you need to enjoy it. You don’t want to dread going to work or not look forward to it. You want to enjoy what you’re doing. You have to remind yourself why you’re doing something, and always have fun and enjoy it.