SANTA BARBARA, Calif.– When Sue Bird was a young 24-year old WNBA star with the Seattle Storm, just two years out of Connecticut, she made the final roster on the U.S. Senior women’s team that won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Bird was the youngest member of the team.
Staley, at 34, was one of the oldest, along with center Yalonda Griffith. “I really looked up to her,’’ Bird said. “She was constantly in my ear, constantly giving me advice. She was a mentor to all the younger players on the team. She taught us about the pride in representing this country in international competition.’’
Thirteen years later, the two have been re-united here at the first mini-camp for the U.S. team that will play in the 1918 World Cup in the Canary Islands.
Staley is the newly minted U.S. Olympic coach for the 2020 summer games in Tokyo.
Bird, the competitive gym rat from New York City, is 36 years old and will be 40 if she makes the 2020 team and goes after a fifth gold medal. “When I got the invite last spring, I jumped at the opportunity,’’ she said. “I know its three years away, but if I watch my nutrition and keep in shape, it’s something I’d like to do.’’
She is not alone. Tamika Catching retired at 37, but the other 11 players from the Olympic gold medal team that ran a clinic in 2016 in Rio—Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart have all have expressed interest in trying out for one final family reunion again.
“I haven’t heard anything different,’’ Staley said.
Bird, Whalen, Taurasi, Fowles, Augustus and McCoughtry are all in their 30’s so there will be likely be some transition to make room for younger stars like 6-5 forward A’ja Wilson of South Carolina, 6-6 center Jonquel Jones and guard Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream, guard Chelsea Gray of the Los Angeles Sparks and guard Asia Durr of Louisville. But there is still a solid nucleus with Moore, Charles, Delle Donne, Griner and Stewart and it is hard to imagine a U.S. Olympic team without Taurasi—who at 35 is still the best player on the planet—or Bird, the most accomplished point guard in international competition. Like Magic Johnson, she invented winning time on the women’s side.
Bird is part of the proud U.S. legacy of point guards that started with Theresa Edwards and Staley. She was the most efficient player on the court at Westmont College, always making the right play and rarely making a mistake in the two-hour workouts. Despite her age, she is still the most respected point guard on the planet.
“She hasn’t aged a day,’’ the 23-year old Stewart said. “In fact, I think we’re the same age.’’
Bird is winding down her career. She stopped playing for Moscow Dynamo in Russia after 10 years and is likely to retire from the WNBA after the 2020 season. She is starting to look at life after basketball.
But she still thinks he has something to offer to the national team. “Experience,’’ she said. “In the women’s game, that’s what wins. I want to be able to offer the younger players the same kind of advice that Dawn gave me. I think she’s the perfect choice for this job. She’s always calm. She’s an ex-player who knows how to talk to the people here.’’
Bird may be the last iconic true point guard in the USA Basketball pipeline until 14-year old eighth grader Azzi Fudd from Falls Church, Va., who was a star in both the Blue Star 30 camp and the U16 team that won a gold medal in South America last year, grow up.
When Bird leaves, she will be missed and the U.S. women, who have won six straight Olympics gold medals, will be more vulnerable to teams like Canada in Paris during 2024 Olympics.