Hi!! Sue here. This is my WNBA Finals preview. The title was supposed to be “So I Broke My F*cking Nose (and 16 Other Things That I Want You to Know Before the WNBA Finals)” but we ran out of space. My bad. Thanks for reading. GO STORM.
(1) So I broke my f*cking nose. Not the first time, not the last time — well, O.K., hopefully the last time. But yeah it was pretty bad. One minute I’m pivoting on D, hustling to keep up with Phoenix’s ball movement, and then, you know, BAM. (Or SPLAT, or whatever that sound would be.) I could feel the bone: out of place, cracked off to the side. I could feel the — wait, should we put a GIF here?? Like right at the top? Or is that gross. Alright, scroll past this if you don’t want to see my nose lose a fight to Breanna Stewart’s elbow.
What can I say? Stewie’s got some long arms. I’m not allowed to complain about them, because those arms — they’re part of what makes her the MVP, which makes them probably the biggest reason we’re about to play in the WNBA Finals. But still!! You know?? Ouch. Stewie’s wingspan got me good on that one.
(2) The worst part of a broken nose, as a professional athlete, isn’t the pain — it’s the wait. Our team doctor, Adam Pourcho, did an amazing job of resetting the bone right away. And so just in terms of how I felt, I mean, I could’ve gone right back out there. But then there is the whole “can’t play if you’re bleeding” part, because of the nasty little medical stuff that you don’t even think about: For example, if you’re not careful, I think you can start to, like, leak fluid….. from your brain?? (Sorry, I’m not a doctor — just someone who breaks her nose a lot). Anyway, because of those and other risks, there’s a rule where you’re not allowed back into the game while you’re bleeding.
Oh and then here’s what happens: YOU NEVER STOP BLEEDING.
No, really, you never stop. It’s awful. You’re just bleeding, and bleeding, you’re gushing blood, and they’re trying everything they can do to stop it, they’ve got these fancy doctor tricks, they’ve got these not-so-fancy doctor tricks (including the world famous “shove some little tampon-type thingies up your nose” method) — man, I’m telling you. They tried everything. And our training staff is one of the best in the world. But when you break your nose, the bleeding, it just kind of…. stops when it wants to stop, you know? And not a second sooner.
(3) I Mr. Miyagi’d them. I know some people don’t believe in moral victories, but whatever, I do. And Game 4 against Phoenix was one of them. All year long, you have to understand: I’ve kind of been this team’s…. you might call it “mother hen.” And I’ve welcomed it — I’m the oldest player in the league, and we’re one of the youngest teams, and I love the role I get to play.
But one thing you need to be careful of, when you’re the mother hen, is turning into a crutch. I don’t want to be a leader who this team feels like it can rely on, in a way that holds them back from realizing their true potential. I want to be a leader who shows them how to be great. And even though we lost Game 4 by two…… I’ve never been prouder of them. Because we could have — and I’d argue we should have — won. We should have won an elimination game, on the road, without the security blanket of a veteran point guard. That’s huge. And so, while everyone was disappointed after Game 4, there was a part of me that was actually excited.
Before Game 5, I broke the news to them: “Yeah, I’m playing…. but it shouldn’t matter.”
They didn’t need me.
“You guys had no idea,” I told them. “But I’ve been Mr. Miyagi-ing you.” (Do kids get that reference? I hope so.) “You thought you’d just been waxing on, waxing off — but y’all have been learning to win, this whole time.”
(4) This year’s Mercury weren’t good, they were GREAT. I hope people understand that about our series. I think everyone saw the “No. 5” attached to the Mercury’s seed, and then saw us get up 2—0 on them…. and so when they came back on us, it became a big storyline about how we somehow “let them back in.” But, I mean…… come on. No way. First, if you honestly think that was a No. 5 seed, you’re crazy. That team dealt with injuries all year long — but once they made their adjustments, in the second half of the year? They were elite. And then second of all, yeah: we went up 2—0, and then “let” Phoenix tie it back up at 2—2. We did that. But if you actually watched the series? They could have won every game. I mean, they could have swept us, that’s how well they were playing. And I just really thought that should be mentioned here. We’re talking about a team with DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner and literally the GOAT, you know?? No one snuck up on anyone.
(5) Contrary to reports, I don’t actually own a protective face-mask. Like, I don’t just….… “own a mask” that I “have ready” in the “unlikely event” that I “break my nose.”
I own three.
(6) I’ve gotten a lot of credit for Game 5 — probably too much credit. Listen, I’ll admit it, it’s a good story: Vet gets her face busted up, puts on a superhero mask, becomes unstoppable from three and leads her team to victory. But anyone who watched the whole thing, they know I probably only ranked third on the list of reasons that we won that game. Here’s my top four: (1) Stewie, (2) Stewie, (3) A great team effort, (4) Stewie.
Now, I’m not new to this. I’ve been around. And I know enough to know that it’s a losing battle to complain about how the league MVP isn’t getting enough credit or attention. I understand that I’m probably not going to get much sympathy here, calling the league MVP “underrated.” But…. y’all. STEWIE. Stewie carried us in Game 5. I mean, she just absolutely carried us.
And like I said, there were so many other cool little moments, team moments: Jordin’s big three. Alysha coming up with clutch rebound after clutch rebound. Sami, off the bench, knocking down shots and playing that lockdown defense. (Sami never stops hustling. She’s such a play-maker.) And of course shout out to Most Improved 2018, Natasha — her work on the offensive glass was so huge. We don’t win if she doesn’t get those boards.
And then yes, definitely, I got hot from three.
But all the same: Let’s recognize that this whole team did something amazing together. And that, with Stewie in these playoffs, we’re watching someone play this game on god mode.
(7) I’m not picking my nose. Apparently I’ve been caught with my finger up my nose a bunch of times since the mask came back?? How awful. But listen: you’re just going to have to pardon my fake nose-picking for the time being. If it makes you feel better, though, I promise it’s not actual boogers. It’s that there’s blood in there, because of the broken nose, and I’ve got to get it out. In conclusion: SUE BIRD DENIES ALL NOSE-PICKING ALLEGATIONS. The defense rests!!
(8) Stewie fixed my shot. Alright, so you know how I said that Stewie hasn’t gotten enough credit for Game 5? Well most of that is because of what I already talked about: 28 and 7, 11 for 21 from the field, refusing to let Phoenix run away with it early, pretty much anchoring us in every way. But what I also want people to know is that, my flurry of jumpers there, in crunch time — Stewie really deserves credit for those as well. I started the game shooting alright, but for some reason went cold around the second quarter. And it was Stewie who came up to me, while I was on the bench in the third, and she said, “Gotta use your legs more, gotta use your legs more.” And I’m like, “Huh?” And Stewie looks at me and she’s like, “Your shot. It’s short. Gotta use your legs more.”
And then you saw what happened from there.
But to me, you know, stuff like that — that’s the next level for Stewie, coming up, and it’s the level that separates even the MVPs. Like, there’s the MVP Level….. and then there’s the Diana Level, you know what I mean? And not to say that Stewie’s on Diana’s Level yet, a lot of years go into that — but she has that potential. And stuff like this, that’s the sort of stuff you see from the all-time greats: Just like, when a great player can not only be great within themselves, and have great performances, but when they can also tap into their teammates with that greatness?? That’s the true end game in this sport, to me.
(9) Let’s talk about our fans for a second. WRITING THIS ENTIRE SECTION ALL IN CAPS LOCK IN HONOR OF OUR AMAZING FANS. SERIOUSLY — HOW LOUD CAN YOU GET. WE COULDN’T EVEN HEAR THE REFS BLOWING THEIR WHISTLES IN GAME 5. Y’ALL MADE MY EARS HURT. IT WAS AWESOME. DO NOT F*CK WITH STORM FANS. DO NOT F*CK WITH SEATTLE.
(10) My bad re: Angry Sue. Looking back on it, maybe I didn’t need to get so mad at the refs there like I did. I swear, though — wearing the mask?? It felt like someone was trying to take my face off. But then I looked at the video, post-game, and it was honestly pretty clean. Anyway, you guys, sorry for Angry Sue. Maybe I overreacted
(11) My BFF, the GOAT, is one of the good ones. Listen — it’s always going to be tough to get knocked out of the playoffs. That goes for any series, against any opponent, in any round. But we definitely got to a point there, I’d say somewhere around Game 4, where it became clear that this wasn’t your average series. And one of the things that was so unique about it, to me, it’s how — with us being this younger team, and then with Phoenix being, like I said, a lower seed who’d had to deal with injuries all year?? I think both of our teams kind of came to believe that they were a team worthy of winning the championship — during the series.
Does that make any sense? Like, for us, I think we’d done it all year in the regular season. But then, you know, there was that feeling of slamming the door shut on Phoenix in those first two games at our place — of taking a kill shot from the GOAT and living to tell about it. And I think that’s when everything really changed for us. Now, we didn’t just want to be great; we knew we were great. Which made losing that much more unacceptable. And I think it was the exact same for Phoenix, after coming back against us in Games 3 and 4, to even the series. To them, that’s the moment where it all came together. They knew they were “championship” good now. Which just meant it was going to be all the more devastating for them to fall short of a championship.
Sports are insanely cruel that way, aren’t they? But, yeah — as much as it was a thrill to win that series, it was really tough that someone had to lose. And it was even tougher when you add to it that one of the losers had to be my best friend in the league.
Of course, though, when it was over, Dee was all class. “Happy for you,” she told me, when we crossed paths postgame. “Dang — you f*cking balled out. Crazy series. Good luck.”
And that’s why she’s the GOAT.
(12) But here’s why she’s my BFF. It couldn’t have been more than an hour after I got home from Game 5 that I was sound asleep. After a win like that, you sleep really well. Then I woke up the next morning, and checked my texts. Normal stuff after a big win: “Great game,” “Congrats,” “Saw you on SportsCenter,” etc.
Oh, yeah, and then I had one from Diana.
It was from around midnight — probably an end-of-season thing with her teammates.
I tap the message to view.
SUE. WE’RE OUT AND I’M PLAYING PAC-MAN. I JUST LOST. AND GUESS WHO COMES UP AS THE HIGH SCORE. SOMEONE NAMED SUE. BYE.
(13) We’re back! In the Finals! But it’s not that simple. I’m going to have to backtrack here, just a little bit. Because to understand the story of this year’s Storm team, you really have to understand the story of the last three years.
Three years ago, at the end of the 2015 season, we pretty much hit rock bottom: 10-24, almost last in the league. We’d won the title in 2010….. but now that felt like a lifetime ago. Teams go in cycles, and we were stuck in a bad one — and it felt like there was no getting out, anytime soon. And with my entering free agency during that offseason, and with the last full act of my playing career probably coming up…. you know, it really felt like I was going to have a tough decision to make. Should I stick things out with the Storm? Or should I leave for a contender?
On one hand, it wasn’t even complicated — Seattle, that’s the place for me. It’s always been the place. I mean, you know when kids talk about their “white picket fence” dream? For me that dream has always been becoming a Seattle lifer. I’m talking play out my career here … and then retire here … and then buy courtside seats for the Storm (and Sonics!) here … and just, you know, live out my days as one of those old people kicking around Seattle who loves to talk hoops. That was my dream. But then on the other hand — it was tough, you know? Because my entire identity as a basketball player has been about winning. And I don’t mean that in a cocky way. But it’s more like…… that’s the game I’ve always wanted to play, and the game I’ve always tried to model myself on. I’ve never wanted to chase stats, or accolades, or put up 20 shots a night, or any of that. But I’ve always wanted to go down as someone where, people would talk about me and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, Sue Bird. A winning player.”
And so I spoke to the people in my life who matter to me. Of course I spoke to Coach Auriemma — we had a lot of back-and-forth conversations about everything. You know, when people talk about Coach Auriemma building a program at UConn, I think too often they leave this element out of it: how he really does become a mentor for life to all of the players who come through his program. Like, here we are, in 2018, it’s 20 years after Coach recruited me, and he’s still giving me advice.
But anyway, it’s funny — life is funny. It really is just one of those things. Because you have all of these conversations, you spend hours and days and weeks and months thinking things over, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, something just happens to render all of that….. I mean, almost meaningless.
I haven’t really said as much, publicly, because it was never actually that simple, and never only about this one thing…. but at the same time, it’s like — what’s the difference between “only” and “mostly,” when it comes to a big life decision like this? So I’m never quite sure how to phrase it. But I’ll say it anyway: We won the lottery.
We got Breanna.
And at this point, I don’t mind saying it at all. In fact, I’m proud to, because she deserves it:
One moment, we were just another rebuilding team. And then the next moment, we were the team with Breanna Stewart on it. I mean, even to call it the “lottery” — that’s underselling it, right? Because the lottery is annual. Once every year, for sure, there’s a No. 1 pick. But what happened to us, with Stewie? I’d say it’s more like once every generation or so, that there’s a prospect of her caliber. There’s a LeBron James, or a Tim Duncan, you know? That was Breanna.
We won — so I stayed.
And now we’re back.
(14) This year’s Finals are going to be epic. I believe the Mystics are a great team. I believe we’re a great team. And I believe this is going to be a great, great WNBA Finals.
I mean, you just go down the Mystics roster (not that I’ve done that or anything) — it’s stacked. Kristi Toliver, as a shooter, she can take over a game. Ariel Atkins, as a legit rookie, she can take over a game. LaToya Sanders, just by doing the little things, she can take over a game. Natasha Cloud is coming on as a player. Tianna Hawkins came up big for them last round. It really is just player after player, these waves of talent, and this killer instinct that you’ve seen on display all year. So you’re just racking your brain, you know — thinking about how many weapons the Mystics have, and how many ways they have to beat you.
And then suddenly you’re like, Oh, f*ck. Right. They have Elena Delle Donne.
That’s the level that Elena is on right now, and it’s the biggest compliment I can give her. You’re almost not even counting Elena, when it comes to scouting the Mystics. Because at the end of the day, it’s almost like…. well, what does scouting Elena even mean? What would you gain by it? She’s just too damn good. She’s going to get you.
She’s going to get hers.
Plus, I mean — she’s a flat-out warrior. The way she’s still on the floor, still willing her team to advance, even with that injury? I couldn’t even watch Elena’s injury, because I heard it was so gruesome. And meanwhile Elena, she’s been able to play through it. She’s just special, man.
And any way you look at things, Washington’s a problem.
(15) “The WNBA is good now.” Nope. NOPE. Come on, y’all, I’m begging you, don’t be that guy. Just…… don’t be him! The WNBA’s been good — always.
But at the same time….
I won’t pretend I’m not excited to see our league starting to turn such a corner, in certain eyes. Ratings are up, attendance is up, and mainstream buzz is definitely up. (Please inform my trolls that I am now at the “gets recognized at one Seattle supermarket, sometimes” tier of famous.) And while I’ll maintain that the product has always been up, I would definitely agree that it’s been a particularly fun league to watch this year, with offenses evolving, and scores increasing, and the talent pool as deep as ever.
So whether you’re an open-hearted sports fan, or a Man Online obsessed with his life’s work of proving that the backup center for his DIII college team could beat me one on one, I think we all can agree:
It’s a great time to be keeping up with the W.
(16) You’re late, but it’s fine. I still love you. One of the funniest things that people keep talking about to me this week is how guys like Kobe and LeBron and D-Wade and KD have been showing me or showing the league love on Twitter. And when they bring it up, usually they mean well — but they’re always, like, halfway astonished. Or, like, they’re proud of me, for this major league accomplishment, of, I don’t know, “getting shouted out by a famous basketball player on Twitter.” And it’s just like…… bless your heart. I love you. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and thank you for being proud on my behalf.
But you’re so late.
Quick story. It’s 2004 — we’re at the Athens Olympics. And during the Olympics, you know, the women’s and men’s basketball teams, they spend a lot of time together. But I was really young at the time, in my early 20s, and I think at that point I still maybe had internalized this idea that A Lot of Men Hate Women’s Basketball. And what I didn’t realize yet was that that’s only partially true. The truth is, a lot of men who suck at basketball hate women’s basketball. But the guys who can actually play? 99 times out of 100, they respect us. And the guys who are world class — at, say, an Olympic level? If you’re at that level, I’ve found, everyone has one thing in common: They love basketball to their utter f*cking core. Men’s, women’s, whatever.
But like I said, I don’t quite think I knew that yet. So it’s one of the first days of the Olympics, one of the first days of the men’s and women’s teams hanging out together. And I end up getting into a conversation with one of the younger guys on the team, LeBron James. And we’re mostly just small talking, you know, talking about this and that, Athens, the village, the other countries’ outfits, who can even remember. But then, out of nowhere, right as the conversation was ending — he pivoted. He looked at me, and he said, “Hey, y’all are doing your thing this year. Keep it up.” And in my head, I’m thinking, you know — Nah. This is LEBRON. The guy is just being polite. He probably doesn’t even know what team I’m on.
And I think he could maybe read my mind. Because then he paused, and he turned toward me a little more, almost with a wink — and he smiled. And then he added, “Second in the West.”
(17) LET’S GO STORM!!! Seattle, we’ve got this.