Storm pays tribute to Bird in home finale; Aces spoil show

SEATTLE β€” The stage was set for a memorable game on Sunday as the Seattle Storm celebrated Sue Bird’s 19 seasons with the franchise ahead of their final regular-season home game in Seattle.

A record crowd of 18,100 filled the Climate Pledge Arena for the Storm’s game against the Las Vegas Aces. Bird was honored with an on-court tribute pregame, a video featuring highlights from Seattle’s four championships with Bird and by former teammates and coaches in attendance.

Only one thing didn’t go to plan: the Aces’ 89-81 win, which saw them hold Seattle behind 29 points from forward A’ja Wilson and several key fourth-quarter buckets from guard Chelsea Gray.

“I’m not going to lie, it kinda sucks losing my last game here,” Bird said when addressing the crowd after the game. “But it’s okay, I lost my first match here too.”

As Bird’s comments indicated, the loss could not overcome the emotion of a two-decade day.

“Apart from the result,” she told reporters, “it was a wonderful afternoon for me.”

When Bird took to the field for practice over an hour before the game, she could already feel the energy of the fans arriving early and see many of her jerseys and t-shirts showcasing her in the crowd. By the time the Storm ran out for the pre-game lay-up lines, passing through a tunnel of friends and familyincluding fiancee Megan Rapinoe, Bird noted that fans are already in their place rather than waiting for a whistleblower.

For Bird, the pregame ceremony followed by an important game β€” Seattle could have moved into a Las Vegas game in the standings with a win β€” was reminiscent of Senior Day at the University of Connecticut.

“You have this big ceremony and your parents take you out and you’re all emotional,” she recalled. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh, you have to play this game.'”

There were still nostalgia interruptions during the game action. Bird noted seeing the highlights of his rookie season 20 years ago (including his career-high 33 points against the Portland Fire, which came two decades ago on Tuesday) and remembered the moment.

For the most part, however, Sunday’s game was simply a clash between two of the WNBA’s top teams, both battling for playoff seeding. Tina Charles, who came to the game wearing Bird’s high school jersey from their shared alma mater (Christ the King in Brooklyn, New York), kept the Storm in the game early. At halftime, Charles and Breanna Stewart had 14 points and six rebounds apiece, though the Aces still led by one.

Neither team led in double figures the entire game, but Seattle could never get ahead in the second half as Las Vegas seemed to respond to every rally. Stewart, who finished with a season-high 35 points, and Charles (19) were the only Storm players to score in double figures. Four of the five Aces starters scored at least 15 points for their team.

Wilson jokingly apologized when a reporter asked him after the game to be “party breakers” for Bird’s tribute.

“I wasn’t trying to crash Sue’s party,” Wilson said. “She invited me to the party. I’m just trying to have fun, trying to lighten it up a bit.

“It was a great night for Sue. I’m so happy that she and [Sylvia Fowles] both receive their flowers. The things that Sue has done with this franchise are amazing. I’m honored to be her teammate on the Olympic team, especially getting her fifth [gold medal] next to her. It’s a big night for her. I’m sure it’s going to continue to be a great night for her and that’s for sure love.”

In Bird’s case, she didn’t just receive metaphorical blooms in the form of deserved career compliments. She was literally handed a flower by a young fan sitting at the edge of the court before making it “to keep”.

The memorable moments helped Bird overtake the result.

“Look, Vegas is a really good team,” she said. “I think – myself included – we made a lot of mistakes that were in our control. Eight points, I don’t think, really tell the story. They just extended it at the end. We review them and even if I would have loved to get a win… maybe it’s a sign of good things to come. It went well in 2002.”

Pokey Chatman, who served as Seattle’s interim head coach with Noelle Quinn missing the game due to WNBA health and safety protocols, acknowledged the loss was painful but vowed to bring the team back to Climate Pledge Arena for the playoffs.

“I think when everyone gets home and we pack up and go on a trip tomorrow,” Chatman said, “it’s gonna be like, ‘Damn, I wish I could have done that for her.’ [But] Sue doesn’t make you feel like that.

“The good thing is that it’s not over yet and we’re going to come back here.”

To earn a bye to the first round of the playoffs, the Storm will need to hold off the Washington Mystics for a top-four seed. Washington’s home loss on Sunday to the Los Angeles Sparks kept Seattle one game in the loss column.

If the Mystics win their final two games, both against the league’s worst Indiana Fever, that means the Storm will have to finish at least 2-1 on a road trip that begins against the WNBA-leading Chicago Sky. and ends in a rematch. Sunday in Las Vegas.

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