WNBA legend Sue Bird, the league's all-time assists leader, announced Thursday that she will retire at the end of the 2022 season.
"I've decided this will be my final year," Bird, 41, posted on social media. "I have loved every single minute, and still do, so gonna play my last year, just like this little girl played her first."
The 12-time All-Star and eight-time All-WNBA selection had previously said she considered retiring after the 2021 campaign, but this past offseason she signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Storm, where she's spent her entire 21-year WNBA career. Though she'd indicated this could be her last season, she didn't publicly commit to anything until now.
"You just know when you know," Bird told media in Connecticut Thursday following the announcement, adding that the Storm's East Coast trip, which features her final game in her home state of New York on Sunday, spurred the timing of her announcement.
"Of course, I'm sad," Bird said. "It's a little bit of like a mourning, knowing I'm gonna miss it. But I mean, I have no regrets. I feel wonderful about my career, the people I've met, the things we've all accomplished... And I'm excited for the next chapter."
She joins Sylvia Fowles, the league's all-time rebounding leader who's also considered one of the all-time greats, as WNBA luminaries to announce their retirements following the 2022 season.
Bird's decorated career across two decades and at all levels catapults her into the conversation for one of the greatest basketball players and champions of all time. The former No. 1 draft pick in 2002 won four WNBA titles with the Storm in 2004, 2010, 2018 and 2020, making her the only WNBA player to win titles across three decades. She also was selected to each of the WNBA's milestone teams, including most recently W25 in 2021.
"I am very proud of playing my whole career in Seattle," Bird said. "I just have enjoyed all of my time here. I feel so connected to the team, to the city, to the fanbase, to all the people that have come through, and that's really what it's about. I think as you go through a career, you realize it's really about the people. So I'm just really lucky that I've played for a first-class organization alongside some of the world's best, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Bird added to her storied success on the international stage last year in Tokyo, when she helped USA Basketball take home its ninth Olympic gold medal and seventh straight. Alongside close friend and former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi, the pair became the first basketball players to win five Olympic golds.
The Syosset, New York, native starred at Christ the King High School in Queens before opting to play for coach Geno Auriemma at UConn, where she guided the Huskies to national titles in 2000 and 2002, the program's second and third championships. She was named national player of the year in 2002 while part of arguably the greatest starting five in women's college basketball history.
Bird's extensive trophy case also features four FIBA World Championship gold medals with Team USA and five EuroLeague titles with Spartak Moscow and UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Bird, who missed time this WNBA season in COVID-19 protocols and most recently with a non-COVID-19 illness, is averaging 7.8 points on 33.8% shooting (both career lows), but her 6.6 assists per game are tied for the second most in her career.
"I feel like I've played as long as I can at a really high level, both physically and mentally," Bird said, "and it's just gotten harder."
Still, her longevity -- which she credits to her work with performance trainer Susan Borchardt -- is unmatched, as her 19 seasons playing in the league (she missed 2013 and 2019 thanks to injury) are more than any other player's. She's the only WNBA player to appear in at least 500 games, starting in all 559 career contests.
"I hope other players can see a career like this one, see the length of it, see the success of it, and know that they can do it too," Bird said. "Not that it's easy, but it's doable. There's ways in which you can play a very, very long time. And hopefully, I'm one of the athletes that helped start that narrative in women's basketball."
The 5-foot-9 point guard recorded her 3,000th career assist on July 9, 2021, and boasts 3,114 dimes -- 514 more than any other player -- heading into the Storm's game Friday against the Sun, averaging at least five assists per game in 15 of her 19 seasons and at least six five times. She is a career 39.2% shooter from 3 with a penchant for hitting big-time shots when her team needs it, and also comes in second in career 3s (965), fourth in steals (700) and seventh in scoring (6,639).
"It's exciting to watch people who score, it's exciting to watch people who can make amazing plays on the floor," Bird said her legacy of how she played the game. "But it's also really valuable to have a player who puts the team first, who thinks of the game in that way, who always enjoyed being the one out there like the glue. And you can have success in that way too."
While initially being relatively soft-spoken, Bird has increasingly opened up about her personal life, transforming her into a culture icon in the process. She came out as gay and revealed her relationship with (now engagement to) soccer star Megan Rapinoe, with whom she hosted the ESPYS alongside fellow Seattle star Russell Wilson in 2020. Off the court, she served as vice president of the WNBA players' association and helped negotiate the league and players' landmark collective bargaining agreement in 2020.
Bird diversified her off-court portfolio in recent years with various endeavors, including a front office position with the Denver Nuggets and an ESPN megacast with Taurasi during the women's Final Four this past spring. She said there are things "on the horizon that I can look forward to" as she considers next steps.
"That's really the beauty of it," Bird said. "When Derek Jeter retired, he said he was looking forward to being a young person again. I realize 41 is actually young. So it's really exciting just to know that what's ahead of me, I can be young again, I can try new things and see what's out there."
Bird's announcement coincides with the Storm's second-to-last regular-season road trip to Connecticut, where she spent her collegiate career.
"There certainly isn't anything that Sue left undone or to prove," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There's going to be a lot of stories written and comparisons made about her and everything she's done. It really is no exaggeration to say, I don't think in our lifetime of watching basketball, that we've seen anyone play that position at a higher level and for a longer period of time than Sue has."
The 9-5 Storm, who have won two of the past four WNBA titles, are No. 4 in the WNBA standings as they seek to send Bird out on top with one last title.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.