Seattle Storm's Sue Bird takes pay cut in possible final WNBA season of her career

In what might be her final season in the WNBA, legendary Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird will play for the league veteran's minimum of $72,141, she confirmed at a news conference announcing the deal and her return for a 19th year with the Storm.

"To me, winning championships and being a part of teams that go on that journey, that's everything," Bird said Tuesday. "That's why I play. That's the motivator always. Nothing really matters outside of that. While money is amazing and of course we all want to be in a workplace that rewards you in those ways, I find that winning there are going to be other rewards -- some monetary, some otherwise.

"I'd rather be on a team that has a chance to win if it means that the money has to get spread in a different way. That was really the motivation behind going to the franchise and having conversations around what my salary was going to be because that was the priority."

The conversation wasn't new for Bird. ESPN's Mechelle Voepel reported her willingness to take less money last season and Bird said a similar offer had been made in 2020, the first year the WNBA increased maximum salaries for individual players as part of a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players association, where Bird serves on the executive committee as a vice president.

Both of those years, Seattle ended up having enough money left over to pay Bird the WNBA supermax ($221,450 in 2021).

"Of course I was thrilled about that, especially as somebody who, up until that point, never got a chance to make the [current] max because that's not what it was," Bird said. "I was on some other max that wasn't quite the same. So when there was the new max -- it had nothing to do with helping to negotiate it -- it was more just this is what is available. I've been that player, I just never had the chance, so I would love to have the chance.

"At the end of the day, the winning is more important to me and being on a good team. And if that means, in order to get other players, we needed money to go elsewhere, I was on board for that. I've been on board for that for the past three seasons."

Things changed this year, when Bird's All-Star teammates Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart were newly eligible for the supermax. The pay cut Bird took also facilitated signing guard Briann January in free agency and making a trade sending Katie Lou Samuelson to the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for Gabby Williams.

If the 11 players currently under contract for the Storm make the team's opening day roster, Bird could have made slightly more money -- up to about $86,000 according to salary data from HerHoopStats.com. Bird's decision to take less gives Seattle's front office more options, including adding a 12th player earlier in the schedule.

"It's so hard to predict what may happen during the season," Storm general manager Talisa Rhea said. "We currently have [room] where we're at to carry 11 players. It gives us a little bit of flexibility to make a move for somebody who might be slightly higher than a minimum contract, it gives us flexibility to bring in a player on a seven-day or rest-of-season contract. It just gives us a little bit of wiggle room."

Bird isn't the only WNBA star who took a pay cut this season. According to Rachel Galligan of Winsidr and confirmed by HerHoopStats.com, former league MVP Tina Charles signed a one-year contract for $108,000 with the Phoenix Mercury a year after leading the league in scoring with the Washington Mystics.

From Bird's perspective, those decisions are in line with what she sees across the team sports landscape.

"I've heard some mumblings here and there about me taking the vet minimum, even Tina taking less money, and what's funny to me is this happens everywhere in sports. You see it all the time. No superteam is made without somebody taking less than their market value. That's just the reality of sports. It's probably magnified in our world because the money is less.

"In our world it's a little different. I get that. It's also because we have a hard cap. My viewpoint on it is it's going to happen, it's always going to happen. This is sports. Players are always going to be enticed in certain ways to do that if they want to be a superteam, for lack of a better term."

To some extent, the WNBA's bonus system helps make up for it when players take less money to sign with a contending team. Members of the league champion make an extra $11,356 and the new WNBA Commissioner's Cup -- won by Seattle in its inaugural year -- awards more than $30,000 each to the winning team's players. Those players also benefit in terms of off-court endorsements.

"That's a lovely reality of women's sports right now," Bird said. "When you're a winner, when you're on TV, you're going to get more opportunities. That's why to me, especially if this ends up being my last year, the money will come in other ways. I know I'm fortunate that I can sit here and say that, not all players can, but that's changing for all players. It really is."

There's also one additional perk of taking less money that Bird claimed Tuesday.

"I'm not buying a dinner all season," she joked. "Dinner is on the young bucks now."