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Q&A With Sue Bird: Inspiring The Next Generation, Mindset Heading Into Possible Final Season, Partnership With Gatorade

Sue Bird looks on for Seattle.

EVERETT, WASHINGTON - MAY 15: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm smiles while taking the court to accept her championship ring from the the 2020 WNBA season before the game against the Las Vegas Aces at Angel of the Winds Arena on May 15, 2021 in Everett, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Sue Bird has accomplished so much - on and off the court - over the past two decades, and she’s not done yet.

Earlier this year, Bird announced that she will return to the Seattle Storm for the 2022 season. The four-time WNBA champion and 12-time All-Star will play for the league veteran's minimum.

Bird is playing for more than just her team at this stage in her career. She knows the impact she has on the next generation of players.

On Thursday afternoon, Bird surprised UCLA commit Kiki Rice with the news that she’s the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

We caught up with Sue Bird to discuss her ">work with Gatorade, this upcoming WNBA season, her advice to young athletes and much more.

The Spun: Can you tell me about your work with Gatorade?

Sue Bird: I’ve been really lucky. This is actually my second time I’ve been able to give a young player who’s had an amazing season - in this case it was Kiki Rice - the surprise news that she’s the Gatorade National Player of the Year. We popped in on a Zoom, her and her team. I was able to surprise her with that news. To be honest, it’s so fun to do this because it’s so wholesome to see her reaction. It’s just so special.

The Spun: What does it mean to you being able to have an impact on the next generation?

Sue Bird: It means a lot. I know it’s twofold. In some ways, I’m aware of how much this means because I didn’t get these opportunities as a kid. There just weren’t female athletes being put in the forefront making an announcement like this. At the same time, I was lucky enough to have a see-it, be-it moment when I watched the 96’ Olympic team and saw Jen Azzi. I was lucky to have one. These moments are so special. At this point in my career, it’s less about my basketball in terms of my play. It’s more about setting up this next generation for success.

The Spun: Are there a couple of players who you believe have a chance to be the next face of the WNBA?

SB: You’re putting me on the spot, huh? The good thing is I’ve gotten to see so many stars because they’re on TV and social media. You can’t not mention Paige Bueckers, NaLyssa Smith and Rhyne Howard. Even Azzi Fudd is having a great freshman year. I can go around the country - there are so many talented players. But then you have players like Kiki Rice, you have players like Juju Watkins. You see these players on social media, and I can already tell they have a skillset that wasn’t a thing when I was young. It’s just the players are getting more and more talented, which is really exciting because you know the game will be in good hands.

The Spun: What would be your advice to young stars about handling the spotlight/pressure?

SB: In this new world of NIL deals, players are becoming their own brand and business way sooner than ever before. The one thing I’d tell a younger player is that you got to keep the main thing the main thing. Without basketball, none of the other stuff comes. Everything is built off your passion and work on the court. It’s easy to fall in love with the other stuff going around, but you have to remember your game is what helps you get those opportunities.

The Spun: There has been a lot of talk about this being your last WNBA season. How do you block out that noise?

SB: I don’t know. It depends on what day you ask me. Some days, I’m like “Oh, this is definitely it. This is the end.” Other days, I’m like, “Well, maybe I can play a little longer.” The fans have been chanting “One more year.” It could definitely be my last year. I’m doing my best to not get caught up in it. I’ve been pretty coy about it, which some members of the media probably don’t love. It should be an interesting summer though.

The Spun: Your résumé is as long as a CVS receipt. What's left for you to accomplish at this stage in your career?

SB: I’ve never been an accolade person. I’ve never sat down and thought about what I want to win or lead the league in. I just put winning first. I know it sounds so simple, but when you have that mindset, all the other things seem to fall in place. I’m not going to approach this year any different. I’ve definitely talked about how the fans chanting has given me some extra motivation, but I haven’t changed my mindset.

The Spun: The United States women's national team recently settled its equal pay lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. What do you think we as a whole need to do in order for women’s sports to take that next step?

SB: I think we feel like a corner has been turned in terms of support. I think it’s important to not let this just be a moment. So for someone like yourself, don’t just cover it now because it’s a hot topic. Try to commit and view women’s sports as something that’ll be here for the long haul. I want people to view us as an investment, not a charity. Even from a fan standpoint, don’t just come to our games for charity’s sake. Come to our games because you believe it’s a good product. We need to keep pushing the envelope so players like Kiki Rice will be set up for even more success. And then, it’ll be up to her to set up the next generation.

The Spun: It’s March, so I feel like I have to ask you about your alma mater. What’s your confidence level in UConn this tournament?

SB: I’m feeling pretty good. I think they have a ton of talent. UConn has been hit hard with injuries and COVID disruptions, but they’re peaking at the right time. And honestly, March Madness is about peaking at the right time. Kentucky is also peaking at the right time. Even though South Carolina lost to Kentucky, that loss could be a big motivator. I can go down the whole list, but those teams are definitely in the mix. But, of course, I have my UConn Huskies going along the way.

The Spun: What would you say is your favorite moment from your basketball career?

SB: I mean, you said I have a CVS receipt for a résumé. So I’d say the championships stand out.

Whenever she decides to retire, Sue Bird will walk away from the hardwood as one of the most decorated players in the history of basketball.

For now though, Bird is focused on setting up the next generation of superstars for success.

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.