Sue Bird the Calm in Seattle Storm
Jackson was the first to reach Bird and wrap her in a jubilant hug on Sunday when the nine-year WNBA veteran hit a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds to go to bring the Seattle Storm back from a 19-point deficit in Phoenix and propel them into the WNBA Finals against Atlanta.
The best-of-five Finals series opens in Seattle on Sunday.
"Sue is the backbone of this team," said Jackson, who has been Bird's teammate in Seattle since 2002. They won a title together with the Storm in 2004 and have played in Russia together as well. "That she would be the one to hit that shot doesn't surprise me in the least. She's a superstar."
Not a reluctant one, exactly. But Bird definitely lives on the low-key end of the superstar spectrum.
She is even-keel. She is steady. She is reliable and calm and collected.
She is, she says, what she's always been.
"When it comes to basketball, I don't let loose until we win," Bird said. "I'm not just talking about championships. In the Phoenix game, I was excited to hit that shot. In my head, I'm going crazy. But I know there are 2.8 seconds left and I know they still have Diana Taurasi on their team."
So she "saved it" until Taurasi's final shot clanked off the rim and the series was clinched.
Bird's personality, those "Steady Eddie" tendencies, are tailor-made for a veteran point guard. The older she gets, the more she sees how much it makes sense. She's got the ball. She's calling plays. If she's calm, her teammates are calm. If she doesn't look worried, neither do they. That's why Storm coach Brian Agler ran that final play for Bird in Phoenix on Sunday.
"It's not something I'm doing consciously," Bird said. "I've been that way my whole life. I probably shouldn't say this, but there's part of me that thinks you've got to act like that was supposed to happen. You're supposed to win. That big shot, that was supposed to go in. That's kind of the attitude I have."
Bird has certainly helped to put the Storm on that path this season. A 26-8 record, a 19-0 home record, two series sweeps heading into the Finals.
"The best way to sum up Sue is her professionalism," said Agler. "She gives everybody the opportunity to play to their strengths. It's a tremendous luxury to have somebody like Sue on the team."
Agler said Bird has been a do-everything player for Seattle this season. A scorer, a defender, a rebounder, a leader.
"She doesn't get too high when we win and she's not too low when we lose," Agler said. "She's constant and consistent and extremely low-maintenance. But she does a lot of things you don't see on a stat sheet."
But Bird is not the league MVP. That honor goes to Jackson.
LIke Taurasi, Bird has won championships at every level she's played.
But Bird doesn't get the attention that Taurasi gets. She doesn't have the same magnetic relationship with the spotlight, or frankly, the swagger.
Agler said he doesn't think there's a better point guard in the WNBA.
Jackson said she would love to see Bird get her due.
"Absolutely, without a doubt, I think Sue doesn't receive the personal accolades that someone like me or Diana gets," Jackson said. "She's always been around people who achieve a lot individually. But I think that's a credit to her. She doesn't receive enough credit."
But Bird doesn't allow herself to be defined by credit. She's defined by her ability to take her team and lead them to championship ends.
"It was great for us to come back against Phoenix, not necessarily good that we were in that position, but hopefully that gives us some momentum," Bird said. "I've been to the Finals one other time, but this is still new for me. I hope we make the most of it."