Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird said she isn't sure if Sunday's WNBA playoff loss to the Phoenix Mercury will be her last career game, but she is not in a hurry to make a decision.
"I've been really trying to push away those thoughts," Bird said after the Storm fell 85-80 in overtime in the single-elimination second round. "The minute I even let myself think about it, it makes me want to cry. This is the first offseason where I feel like I need to weigh it. Usually, I'm like, 'Nope, one more year if I feel good, I'll be there.'
"This is the first time where I'm really going to have to sit back, see how I feel, weigh some things. I know for sure that I want to let the emotion of the season die down. I don't want to make some emotional decision."
Bird, who turns 41 in October, just completed her 18th WNBA season. All of those have been with Seattle, the team that drafted her No. 1 overall out of UConn in 2002. On Sunday, she played nearly 37 minutes and finished with 16 points and five assists.
Last year, knee issues limited her to 11 of the Storm's 20 regular-season games in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida. But she then played in all six playoff games as Seattle swept its way to the franchise's fourth WNBA title, all with Bird as a key player.
This season, she played in 30 of the Storm's 32 regular-season games, plus the Commissioner's Cup final (won by Seattle) and the Tokyo Games, where she earned her fifth Olympic gold medal.
"I feel very lucky that physically I'm still... it's not the physical part that is 'taking me down,'" she said. "It will be my own decision."
Her longtime friend and foe, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, made her return in Sunday's game after being out since Sept. 6 with an ankle injury. Taurasi and Bird played two years together at UConn, winning the 2002 NCAA title. They also have played together on five Olympic teams and four FIBA World Cup teams.
Taurasi had 14 points, six assists and four rebounds Sunday. After the game, she and Bird exchanged jerseys, something they had talked about doing before the game. Taurasi turned 39 in June and also has dealt with questions about how long she intends to play.
"It's a very hard and tough decision," Taurasi said. "When you've played basketball your whole life, it's easy for the outside to think you're done. Or, 'maybe she's had enough, she's played long enough.' You saw what Sue did today. Sue kept [her] team in it for the whole game. Ability-wise, Sue is always ready to play. We know that firsthand from the Olympics and playing against her. Sue is the ultimate professional.
"That is the tricky part about being a WNBA player. Now she has eight months to think about does she want to play again. That's a long time to think about do you want to do everything it takes to get back on the court. And at our age, whatever we used to do, it's times 10. So that's a decision she'll make."
Bird has talked in the past about not wanting to end her career having played in an alternate arena, Angel of the Winds in Everett, Washington. That's where the Storm had home games this season, as the finishing touches were put on the refurbished Climate Pledge Arena, formerly known as KeyArena in Seattle. That's the arena where Bird has played most of her home games.
She also played the last few weeks without Storm star Breanna Stewart, who suffered a foot injury on Sept. 7 and didn't play again. With a healthy Stewart, the Storm won the WNBA championship in 2018 and 2020. With Stewart out the entire 2019 season due to an Achilles injury, Seattle also lost in the second round.
Bird also expressed Sunday something she has said before: She wishes the WNBA playoffs did not have single-elimination playoff games for the first two rounds, a system the league went to in 2016. She would prefer a return to having teams play series for every round, which is the consensus among all WNBA players and coaches. Many think the WNBA will go back to that, maybe as early as next year.
Whether all those things are enough to sway Bird into staying at least one more year, as the Storm fans chanted for her to do postgame Sunday, remains to be seen.
"You have this purpose when you're in a season, and all of a sudden in the blink of an eye, it's gone," said Bird, who no longer plays overseas as she did for several years in Russia. "I'll wake up tomorrow and be like, 'This is weird, I have nowhere to go. I have no purpose.' I'm not eating to get ready for practice, practicing, and 'when's the next game?' It's just gone."
Bird already is a lock to be a Hall of Famer, having played more games (549 regular season, 54 postseason) than anyone in WNBA history. She also is the league's all-time assists leader (3,048 regular season, 318 postseason). Bird is second only to Taurasi in 3-point field goals in the regular season, with 945. Bird averaged 10.0 points and 5.3 assists this season.
"She goes so hard, she prepares, she competes," said Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, one of Bird's Olympic teammates this year. "Her legacy speaks for itself, what she's done in this game. Everybody knows that name. [She's] been one of the faces of basketball for a very long time."
Taurasi said Bird is "a winner in all facets of life."
"Basketball, we know what's she's done," Taurasi said. "But what she's been able to do off the court, I think, in the last two-three years, pushing things that she hold very valuable to herself. Those are things that people are going to remember about her.
"She's a great point guard, a great leader. I've learned so much being around her. All those things I'll take with me, and I'll try to pass them down. She's the ultimate winner and the most unselfish person I've ever been around."