SEATTLE -- It was Sue Bird's party, with seemingly every guest happy to be in attendance to share the special occasion with her. But on the court, the WNBA All-Star Game was a thrilling display of three particularly electric post players.
For the winning West All-Stars, who defeated the East 130-121 on Saturday at KeyArena, the No. 1 draft picks from 2011 and 2012 -- Minnesota's Maya Moore and Los Angeles' Nneka Ogwumike -- led the way. Both already have been league MVPs, and they have the ability to will their teams to championships.
Last October, Moore hit what might have been the shot to win the WNBA Finals, a vintage Maya turnaround baseline jumper. But on the other end, Ogwumike's second effort after her shot was blocked clinched the championship.
On Saturday, Moore had 23 points and three assists, Ogwumike 22 points and seven rebounds. The All-Star Game MVP was awarded to Moore, but it could have gone either way. For that matter -- since which team wins this game really isn't that important -- the honor could have gone to East star Jonquel Jones of Connecticut.
About the only thing Jones missed during All-Star Weekend was the gathering Bird had at a downtown Seattle nightspot Friday night; Jones said that after an early morning of raising the WNBA flag atop the Space Needle, she was too tired for any revelry in the evening.
She put her rest to good use. Jones finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, and played the role normally reserved for Phoenix's Brittney Griner, who was selected for the game but couldn't play because of knee and ankle injuries. That is: Jones dunked. It came near the end of the game, putting an exclamation point on just how talented the young Sun center is.
Admittedly, both the East and West were in collusion with Jones' dunk; everyone wanted her to do it.
"We said, 'What do you need us to do?' " Ogwumike said, smiling. "She said, 'I just need some space.' And we're like, 'OK, cool.' I thought that was the cherry on top."
Of course, when the real games start again, everyone in the league will be trying to get in Jones' way to slow her down. (Or, you know, hoping a teammate does that.) She's a 6-foot-6 force who is on the express elevator to league stardom, and she seems ready for that. Don't be surprised to see her dunk when people are trying to stop her.
"I just wanted to go out there and have fun," Jones said. "I want to get back to my team healthy and make that playoff push. That's the main thing. But it's great to go out there and have a good game here."
Jones might have been Ogwumike's teammate; she was picked No. 6 in the 2016 draft by the Sparks, but they immediately traded her to Connecticut for guard Chelsea Gray. The deal has worked out well for both teams; Gray, who also was an All-Star, played an integral role in Los Angeles' run to the championship last year.
And Jones is now a teammate of Nneka's sister, Chiney Ogwumike, although she is sitting out this season after an Achilles' injury. The Sun have come together better than a lot of folks were expecting, with Jones averaging 15.8 points and a league-high 11.2 rebounds. Whatever the Sun accomplish this year is something they'll be able to build on next season when Chiney is back.
The Sun are 12-9, third in the league standings behind Moore's Lynx (16-2) and Ogwumike's Sparks (14-6). A whole lot can happen between now and playoff time, but right now, Connecticut seems best positioned to possibly prevent a repeat of last year's Minnesota-L.A. clash in the WNBA Finals.
Of course, if we get that matchup again, it would be epic. The three Sparks players in the All-Star Game -- Ogwumike, Gray and Candace Parker -- combined for 46 points and 17 rebounds. The four Lynx players -- Moore, Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson -- had a combined 47 points and 13 boards.
And the dynamic flair with which both Moore and Ogwumike play -- while also being so reliable -- makes each the type of standout you find your eyes glued to when they're on the floor.
"I know the East had a lot of youngsters," said Ogwumike, who turned 27 earlier this month. "But I still consider myself kind of a youngster. And Maya's only a year ahead of me. So it's good to see some of the talent in this league still ripening. We all know what Maya can do; to play with her and against her is an honor."
Moore complimented both Ogwumike and Jones, saying of the latter, "Diana [Taurasi] and I were talking about her on the bench. We were like, 'Wow, this next generation!' She's putting in the work, and she's coming into her own. She's got gifts, and she's a competitor. You don't have to tell her to go get it; it's fun to watch her play."
As much as these three post players were dominant in their performances, the day -- in fact, the last several days -- were about a celebration of Bird, the Seattle guard. In general, she would prefer to avoid that spotlight, but she understood, of course, why it was on her. And she was very touched by it all -- the crowd's multiple ovations, the compliments from her fellow pros, the entire atmosphere of "Bird-a-palooza."
Who deserves that more than a 15-season pro who has spent her WNBA career here in the Pacific Northwest being the symbol of this Storm franchise?
"Because it's an All-Star Game, not a real game, you can actually look around and see what's happening," Bird said. "You're not so focused on a game that you're not seeing the distractions around you. This was special because I understood what was happening around me the entire time.
"So I think 90 percent of the game, I was smiling. The only time I wasn't was when Stewie blew that layup and the 3-point contest."
"We're in good hands ... Jonquel, especially, shows you this new-age player, 6-6 and can hit step-back 3s and had the dunk at the end there. She was skillfully doing some really difficult stuff, and she made it look easy."Sue Bird on the next generation of stars
Bird laughed as she said this; she was referring to a pretty sequence in the game when Bird expertly fed Storm teammate and fellow All-Star Breanna Stewart for what would have been a highlight-reel play. But Stewart did what she rarely does: She missed a reverse layup.
"Oh, Stewie, you're never going to live that one down," Taurasi teased her in the West locker room.
As for the 3-point contest at halftime -- won by sharpshooting Allie Quigley of Chicago -- Bird just didn't have her touch. She did, however, have a game-high 11 assists.
"It was great for me and the Storm to host this and do it right," she said. "I think we accomplished that. Everything for this has been extremely thoughtful; that would be the best word."
And Bird, 36, was quite thoughtful when it came to discussing players like Moore, Ogwumike and Jones, who are still in their 20s.
"I think what it means is we're in good hands," Bird said. "With every new generation that comes up, you get to see that women's basketball is going to be OK. It's continuing to grow. Jonquel, especially, shows you this new-age player, 6-6 and can hit step-back 3s and had the dunk at the end there. She was skillfully doing some really difficult stuff, and she made it look easy.
"That's exciting to see, because eventually I'm going to be a fan, and I'll get to cheer them on."