Burning questions with Sue Bird
Star guard Sue Bird of the WNBA Seattle Storm talks about her other job in Russia, her love for Dave Chappelle, a possible future in Israel, how women would fare against men in hoops and her disappointment over Edward in the movie "Twilight.''
1. During the winter and spring you play for Spartak, a team just outside of Moscow. When you left Russia at the end of last season, oil and gas -- which are a huge part of the Russian economy -- were near all-time highs. When you went back this winter, the prices had crashed and the recession had hit. What changes did you notice in Russia?
Sue Bird: The way I saw it most in Russia was with how it affected women's basketball. A Moscow team almost folded. For a week, actually, they did fold. Luckily, another sponsor was able to come on, otherwise they would have had to just drop the team. I'm not sure where the owner's money was, but he was like, immediately, "I'm out." And for a lot of people whose contracts are being renegotiated, there has been a shift. The money has lowered a little bit. Otherwise? As you know when you were there, the Russian lifestyle is that you're either really, really rich or really, really poor. And so I don't know if I would see the effects as much in Russia as I would here.
2. We've had many movies about professional men's teams. Baseball movies, football movies, basketball movies. What would a good plot be for a movie about women's basketball? Would it take place in Russia?
It would probably have to. I think the article that you wrote and the one Sports Illustrated wrote, which was about Russian ownership in general -- that's where the intrigue is. When I'm out and about, people first ask me about the WNBA because it's in the United States, but then the conversation shifts immediately to Russia. "What's it like playing there? What's the culture there? How are you taken care of? I hear you got this and I hear you have a chef" and on and on. That's where the intrigue and interest is, in Russia. And in some ways, that's the way it should be. The movies about men's basketball, like "Hoop Dreams," are all about the money and the recruiting. Pretty much every men's basketball movie, except "Hoosiers," is in some way, shape or form about money and the NBA and the glitz and the glamour. For us, our glitz and glamour is a little bit in the WNBA but mostly overseas, not just Russia.
Who would play your owner in Russia, Shabtai von Kalmanovic?
Oh, my god. Anyone with a mullet would qualify. Shabs might be the only one who can play himself.
3. You must have one of the great passports in sports. You've played basketball all over the world and in some of the greatest cities -- Beijing, Moscow, Athens, Storrs, Conn. Of all the places you've been, where would you most want to go on a vacation and where would you most want to live?
My best vacations have been in Hawaii. When I go on vacation, it's a time to relax and chill, not necessarily go crazy like a spring break vacation, but for a relaxing vacation, I think Hawaii. Maui would be my destination. To live? I think I'd really like to live in Israel. Even for someone like myself who is not that into religion, you go to Israel and it's breathtaking in a lot of ways. It's beautiful. The weather is always nice year-round. There are great beaches. It's very Americanized, and they speak English so it would be easy.
So Tel Aviv? Is it a pretty city?
Yeah. When you're high up looking at the city, it looks like a million Monopoly houses spread out. But it has this old feeling to it, too, whether it's the way the brick is laid or what. I don't know, it's just a fascinating place. It's also in the Middle East so it has that desert feel to it. It's got great theater. It's right on the water. It's just really cool.
4. You travel so much -- what do you do when you're on all those flights?
I read and I sleep and I always have my iPod in. I'm either reading with it in or sleeping with it in.
You sleep with your iPod? That's a waste of energy.
Yeah but it puts me to sleep.
So what have you read recently?
I read "Twilight" when I was overseas. I actually liked it. I didn't expect to, because I generally don't like fantasy like that because it's far-fetched but I liked it. It's pretty good.
My niece loves it. And there is a whole group of women aged 30-50 called Twi-Moms. A friend of ours saw it seven times in the theater. She couldn't get enough of it.
I read the book and I thought it was amazing. So you read a book and you have this whole mental image of what people look like and the place they are and then I watched the movie, and I know women go gaga over Edward but I could have picked 10 better Edwards.
I was sitting in the theater and there was this huge moan from these middle-aged women when they first see him on the screen. I just don't get it.
I have to say that I fell asleep the first time I watched the movie because I was a little jet-lagged. But then I finished it later on and it got better, but I'm reading the second book now because I really love the books. Reading them is much better.
5. What superpower would you most want
Wait, you didn't even let me give all the options.
You don't have to. Invisible. I'm probably like the nosiest person you'll ever meet. Not in a rude way, but I like to be in the know. To be very aware of my surroundings. I'd like to take advantage of that.
So you'd be sneaking around all the time
Yeah. Haven't you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall? I wouldn't need to fly. I wouldn't need X-ray vision
What about being able to shoot lasers from your eyes like Cyclops?
I wouldn't need to kill people with my eyes. I just want to be invisible.
6. You've won the Final Four, a European championship, a WNBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. Which one means the most?
They all mean the same. [Laughs] It's funny, it's not which ones mean the most but the differences of what they all mean. For the Olympics, you're representing your country -- it's the ultimate goal. That takes it to a different level. A lot of people have chances to win national championships in colleges. A number of people have chances to win a WNBA championship but not many people can win a gold medal, and to the average American that's the most amazing accomplishment they've ever seen. When I was on the plane back from Beijing, and they figured I had the gold medal in my pocket, people were like molesting that gold medal.
And you're hogging them. You have two gold medals.
Yeah. And just to keep it going, with college, it was about keeping a tradition alive at Connecticut and that was very difficult. When you have a bull's-eye on your back? It's really hard to win.
Imagine what the pressure would be like at Tennessee, where they really have a great program.
Oh, whatever. And then in Seattle, winning was the first time for us, and no one expected it and the city embraced us and I hadn't seen that before. I know it sounds cheesy, but they really do have meaning in these different ways.
7. Speaking of Seattle, how is it being the only team in the city with a championship at some point?
We kind of have to carry basketball on our own now, so it's different. I went to a Sounders game last night and they had 29,000 people and are doing really well, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them have success at the championship level. But it's cool, it's nice. I miss the Sonics. I love basketball and I think the NBA is great for a community, so it makes me sad that they're gone. But we're still here and I think all of us have embraced being the only pro basketball team in Seattle.
What is it like being owned by a group of women as opposed to the previous owners, who weren't exactly enthusiastic about a WNBA team?
The thing about our owners is they are people, women, who were fans. They were ticket-holders and they loved the Storm, so they are really passionate about it and really, really involved. I have to say, the owners we had before Clay Bennett
You're not allowed to mention his name.
Yeah, I know. But Howard Schultz was a busy guy, and he would come occasionally come to our games, but there was Jack Rogers, and he was at every single game and all the practices. He was involved, but I would have to say that the owners we have now, it's on a whole new level, as far as their support and involvement. We can go to them with problems off the court or on the court and you can really feel the support.
8. You're holding a dinner party and can invite anyone from history or the present. What three people do you invite?
Oh, god that's a tough one. I'll go family for a minute. I never got to meet my dad's dad. And I hear that he was a great guy and everyone loved him and I'm not directly named after him, but I have the same letter in my middle name, "B." His first name was Barney, and what can you do with that as a girl? So I'm Bridget in the middle. So I think it would be cool to meet him to see what he was like. And after that? There are so many interesting people. Oh! I'm a big fan of Dave Chappelle. First and foremost, he's hilarious. As I became a big fan of his I learned he's very socially aware. I saw his "Inside the Actor's Studio" interview, and even in his jokes -- he makes fun of everyone -- you can see his underlying, society-driven views. He's just aware. I think he would be interesting to talk to. You go on our team bus, and it's like 80 percent of the quotes we say are from Chappelle. And then after that? Let me think. I know when I go home, I'll be like, "Oh, I should have said this!" Ummm, I should get a female in there. How about Hillary Clinton? She's a powerful woman.
9. What anxiety dream do you have a lot?
I can't run fast. I'll need to get somewhere and I can't move.
This is on the court?
No, I don't think I've ever had a basketball dream. No. I know that sounds weird.
You must be completely confident about basketball.
I don't think it's that. It must just come out a different avenue in my dreams. But I've definitely had those dreams where someone is chasing me and I need to get away or I need to get somewhere, and I just can't physically move. My legs won't go. Maybe it's a fear of getting older and aging on the court.
10. You were practicing against men today. What do you get from that?
Just by genetics, they're bigger and stronger and faster. A lot of the guys we play against are better as well. Janell Burse's fiancé plays against us, and he plays overseas and he's good. For the most part, they're bigger, stronger, faster, so it's harder to play against them. It's harder to dribble the ball downcourt. It's harder to get your shot off, so the whole idea is you play against someone like that so when you do play against women, it's easier. It's like working out with a weighted ball.
What do you get asked about most when people ask about the differences between men's and women's basketball? How would you do against a boys' high school team?
Yeah, that does come up, and I just think it's stupid to compare it. I have compared it because I've been asked and I've given my answers so I've stopped because it's like comparing apples and oranges. You don't compare men's and women's tennis. People realize that [tennis] is a different game and so is men's and women's basketball. They play above the rim and we don't have that luxury, so we do other things. It's just different.
You just have to appreciate each sport for what it is.
Yeah. And I know some people have broken down that gender gap in golf and Danica Patrick in car racing, but it's a little different in individual sports, especially a contact sport.
Will a woman in 10 or 20 years break down the gap and maybe play in the NBA?
I doubt it. Because even though we've seen huge, huge growth in women's basketball, with more and more women dunking, and huge growth in what they can do, we've seen the same growth in the men's game. Look at LeBron's physique compared to Michael Jordan's. So even though we're getting better and better, so are they. I don't know that anyone is going to be able to get in there.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com