BRAD BARNETT HAS seen all sides of Sue. The renowned Bird historian, aka Sue's lifelong best friend, grew up around the corner from her in Syosset, some 30 miles east of midtown Manhattan. Brad and Sue were born 13 days apart in October 1980, and their older sisters were sports teammates.
The "adventures of Brad and Sue" soon commenced -- except for a brief hurdle when they were 4 or 5 years old: Barnett was so startled to see his usually jeans-clad, short-haired buddy wearing a dress for the first time that he burst into tears.
"I said, 'I'm not playing with her anymore! She's a girl!'" Barnett says, laughing.
They've been there for each other through everything, including Sue's parents' divorce when she was in high school, her injuries and the doubts she might not have shared with anyone else.
You won't find a bigger Bird fan than Barnett.
Of course, they are also relentless competitors, even trying to outdo each other with birthday presents. (Barnett concedes that Bird won when she sent a singing telegram to his house.) As teens, they once had a game of one-on-one that got so heated that it came to a 20-minute standstill when both refused to get the basketball after it rolled to the other end of the gym. Bird finally retrieved it with a flourish of profanity on her way out the door.
Barnett cracks up recounting the time that Bird, around age 7 and the youngest on a local track team coached by Barnett's father, finagled her way into a race against much older girls. She finished second and was furious.
"My dad always tells the story: 'She was staring down the girl who won like she wanted to go over and bite her,'" Barnett says. "And Sue always says, 'Oh, come on. I wasn't going to bite her!' And he says, 'Suzy, you looked like you were going to bite her.'
"He said then she was going to be something special. That's how competitive she was even that young."
But Herschel Bird, Sue's father, says her ability to enjoy life without everything revolving around athletic success has helped prolong her career. He recalls getting a call from the UConn coaching staff after the knee injury that ended Sue's freshman season in 1998-99 after just eight games.
"They said that she didn't look devastated, she was interacting with her teammates, living her life about the same as if she hadn't been injured," Herschel Bird remembers. "They were worried about that. They thought she was taking it too well."
Herschel says it's as if Sue has expertly calibrated herself to keep a safe distance from mental or physical burnout. That said, he also points out her resilience.
"She's broken her nose four or five times. She's had 10 surgeries," Herschel says. "I keep waiting for her to get 'old,' but I don't see it."
Bird thinks she gets a lot of her "balance" from her mom, Nancy. But there's also the fact that Bird typically shows people only what she thinks they need to see.
Something she once heard Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski say has stuck with her: The psyche of the best players sometimes is taken for granted because they seem to be fine, even when they're not.
"And I thought, Yeah, those people can get pushed to the side and not worried about," Bird says. "But, actually, I enjoy that people don't have to worry about me. I can take care of myself.
"You're probably never going to know if something bad is happening in my life. I think I was just made that way."
BIRD'S UNFLAPPABLE FAÇADE is legendary: cool, calm, composed -- no matter the situation. Except, as she admits now, "everybody cracks. Some just hide it better."
She thinks back to 2012, when her mom's longtime partner died right before the Olympics. "He didn't raise me. They didn't start dating until I was in college," she says. "But he was in my life. And very important in my mom's life."
Bird went to the funeral and then motored through the London Games and returned for the WNBA season. "I was sad, but I was juggling everything OK," Bird says. "Nobody was any the wiser."
Until halftime of her first game back with the Storm, when she broke down.
"The team told everyone I was sick. But the truth was, I had to go home," she says. "It was as if all the emotion -- everything that I had put to the side for that month -- just hit me in one moment. My battery was on empty."
A few months later, she decided to sit out the 2013 WNBA season to have surgery, rehab and rest.
Susan Borchardt, a former Stanford point guard who became a strength and conditioning expert, helped Bird during her rehab, but also gently nagged her about improving her diet, workout and sleep regimens.
Bird was noncommittal. "I took for granted what being in great shape meant," she says. But she also heard the chatter that she was past her prime and fading away.
“She is diplomatic, empathetic and incredibly intelligent. Oh, and did I mention she is always right? You can't argue with the woman.”
She slogged through a 2014 season in which she says she "felt like crap" much of the time. That's when she told Borchardt: "My life is in your hands." Together, they built a daily diet/exercise/rest plan that Bird has followed without fail. She has also fully embraced technology; she now uses the WHOOP fitness tracking device that monitors the entirety of an athlete's day and provides specific data to implement.
"Once she knows something works," Borchardt says, "she buys in all the way."
But there had been another big question to face after the 2014 season: Should she stay in Seattle? The Storm were in rebuilding mode. Bird and teammate Lauren Jackson, a guard-post pairing that former Seattle coach Brian Agler called "like John Stockton and Karl Malone, with championships," won titles for the franchise in 2004 and 2010. Although Jackson didn't officially retire until last year, injuries effectively ended her WNBA career in 2012. The Storm went 12-22 in 2014 and missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Then Agler left to coach rival Los Angeles.
Free agency loomed for Bird after the 2015 season. She began to consider finishing her basketball career elsewhere. Perhaps back east near her family, where she could play for the New York Liberty. She already had an apartment in Greenwich, Connecticut, near both her sister's home and the Liberty's training facility.
Can your heart belong to two places on opposite coasts, about 2,900 miles apart? It can. For Bird, they're both "home." Long Island will always be where she grew up. Seattle will always be where she actually became a grown-up.
Yet if there were ever a time when the love story between her and Seattle might have ended with a respectful, wistful breakup, this was it.
But that didn't happen. Two quintessential Bird qualities kept her in Seattle: loyalty and optimism. She sought advice from those she trusted. If they suggested that her best chance at another title might come elsewhere, "I always found myself defending the Storm," Bird says. "I helped build something here. Kids grow up with a white picket fence idea, right? My white picket fence in basketball was to stay with the same franchise."
By the end of 2014, Bird's mind was made up: She was sticking with Seattle. She signed a contract extension in February 2016. The Storm also had gotten their second consecutive No. 1 pick and added Breanna Stewart to the roster after Jewell Loyd. Both won the WNBA rookie of the year award and are tent-poles for the Storm's future, with the chance to learn from the best in Bird.
"Now it seems like an easy decision to stay, with Jewell and Stewie here," Bird says. "But when I made the choice, we didn't have those players yet. It was not easy.
"Of course I want to win another ring, but it wasn't about ring-chasing. It was about playing meaningful games for a contending team. I believed I could do that here."
And Jackson would have laughed at anyone who disagreed with Bird on that -- or anything else.
"She is diplomatic, empathetic and incredibly intelligent," Jackson says. "Oh, and did I mention she is always right? You can't argue with the woman."
Last year, despite the extra demands of the Olympics, the fitter-than-ever Bird had one of her best seasons. "That's when I could go to sleep at night and think, 'I'm back,'" she says.
It has continued into this season, but Bird knows it won't last forever. At some point she will move on to broadcasting, or coaching, or both, or something else entirely -- "She has so many options," Storm coach Jenny Boucek says -- and when she does, it will be with the knowledge that she checked every single box to maximize her playing career.
"She walks the walk of what it is to be a franchise player and put a team on your back," Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis says. "People say she's the face of this franchise. But what it really means is she's a huge part of its soul."
AS A POINT guard and a leader, Bird tries to keep everyone on her team happy, an instinct instilled in her at UConn. Coach Geno Auriemma took her aside as a sophomore and said that from then on, whatever went wrong with the team was her fault. This was after she'd missed most of her first season with the knee injury.
Such is Auriemma's genius at reading people. He made Bird feel ownership for everything because he knew that the more responsibility she had, the more she would thrive.
"Coach Auriemma always says, 'Basketball is not a game of how-to, it's a game of when-to,' " Bird says. "Because you're going to get to some point, like the WNBA, where everybody can do things. But it's the people who know when to do them -- the right time -- that's where great players can separate themselves."
“If you're, say, 6-[foot-]2 or bigger, and you played basketball on a decent level, and you're still in shape, maybe you might beat me one-on-one. I actually don't give a s---. I am a better basketball player than you, and that's the bottom line.”
Sometimes keeping the peace tested Bird's diplomacy.
"It's like anything in life: You pick your battles," she says. "I have not always done this right. I could tell you stories of times when I should have been more confrontational, but instead, I kind of bobbed and weaved and avoided what could have been potential conflict on a team.
"There are times you just have to swallow something and move on. That's learned. There are subtleties you pick up with experience. I don't think I would have been telling you this at 22."
Still, players have always responded to her. As Taurasi puts it, "I can tell you to go set a screen, but if you don't like me, you're going to tell me to F off. When Sue says it, you want to do it for her."
This season, Bird is averaging 10.8 points and 6.9 assists for the Storm, and she is on her way to breaking Ticha Penicheiro's WNBA career assist record (64 short). She also has a knack for hitting clutch shots -- the daggers -- which gained her the nickname Sue "Die, b----es!" Bird, or "DB" for short, from admiring fans on internet message boards.
"I witnessed it for seven years," Agler says. "Multiple times that she hit the shot or the free throws to win a game or were at the biggest moments."
As competitive as she is, Bird would never actually use that language with opponents. But she can be hilariously blunt when it comes to the "bandwagon that hates on women's basketball" and the random guys who are obsessed with the idea that they could beat her one-on-one.
"You know what? If you're say, 6-2 or bigger, and you played basketball on a decent level, and you're still in shape, maybe you might beat me one-on-one," Bird says. "I actually don't give a s---. I am a better basketball player than you, and that's the bottom line."
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who befriended Bird at the Olympics last year, would agree.
"She plays with a fluidity you don't often see," Irving said after attending a recent Storm game. "She's the consummate professional, as well as understanding the game of basketball in its totality.
"I finally get the chance now to know her as a person. But you can call me one of those people who's been a Sue Bird fan in the background for a long time."
Mechelle Voepel began covering women's basketball in 1984, and has covered that and other women's sports for ESPN.com and espnW since 1996. (Follow @MechelleV on Twitter.)