I cried when Sue Bird told the world she's gay
Yesterday, Sue Bird told everyone that she's dating Megan Rapinoe, and I cried at my desk. I shouldn't be surprised by my tears (I cry at everything), but I am. I didn't expect to cry when Bird told the public something that was never really a secret. And I certainly didn't expect to choke up in the middle of a meeting right before being told that I should write about what was making me cry in the first place.
But Bird's decision to let fans see this side of her stripped me bare. I can't even think about it without tears pooling at the corners of eyes, and I can't speak about it without feeling sobs clawing at my chest.
I'm a journalist who writes about women's basketball, but right now I'm mostly the scared queer kid in rural Indiana -- the one who still has a basketball signed by Sue Bird (and Lauren Jackson) tucked away in a bookcase, which sits under two Seattle Storm license plates taped to the wall of my video game room.
I became a fan of the Seattle Storm when I was 11 because they drafted Sue Bird. When the Storm acquired one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, they also brought in a fan from the middle of nowhere who would drive two hours to Indianapolis with their father to see one game a year (well, two games once the Chicago Sky were formed) for the remainder of their childhood.
It's hard to explain why I cried; I'll get there eventually. For now, I'd much rather write about almost anything else, including all of my awkward interactions with Sue Bird.
I met her twice before working at espnW, once in Seattle when I was 14 and once in Chicago when I was 15. I was an honorary Storm captain both times, trekking out to the middle of the court wearing the shooting jacket I'd purchased after saving my two-dollar-per-week allowance for months. It was the first significant purchase I made for myself.
In Chicago, I wore a Sue Bird jersey under the jacket and let my brother wear my custom Storm jersey with our last name on it, but we had to wear generic shirts over our tops because we were sporting the away team's colors. Still, Bird saw the green of my brother's jersey and put her arm around him to pull on the jersey underneath, taunting the Sky players. My brother still talks about it sometimes.
The first time I interviewed Bird, our conversation lasted two minutes, and I nearly told her that story. I was an adult at the time, but it's hard not to feel like a kid when you meet the owner of the first jersey you ever bought. I wanted to be professional, though. So I only told her I'd met her twice as a kid, and since I wasn't a kid anymore, I prayed she might have forgotten the interaction.
She did not.
The second time I interviewed her, she waved me off when I tried to introduce myself again. "I remember who you are," she said to me. We were on the floor of Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, after UConn beat South Carolina to win its 100th consecutive game. Megan Rapinoe stood 50 feet away.
I became a Sue Bird fan when I fell in love with basketball, just after learning to spin a ball on my finger, and right before hiding myself from a truth that I couldn't confront as a kid in rural Indiana.
As a queer adult, I don't need childhood heroes to be out in order to feel affirmed in my identity. I didn't need to read Bird's thoughts on her sexuality to know that it is okay to be gay. Twenty-six-year-old Katie Barnes, who has been out for 10 years, does not need Sue Bird.
But these moments, these stories, these treasures that I have carried with me from Indiana to Minnesota to Ohio to Connecticut have melded together to create a time capsule for the child I used to be, the one who wanted nothing more than to hear their basketball hero say the words, "Me too."