Jewish WNBA legend Sue Bird announces planned retirement

The 41-year-old became an Israeli citizen in 2006; she is the only player in league history to win titles in three different decades and is the all-time WNBA leader in assists

Sue Bird is a five-time gold medalist. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via JTA)
Sue Bird is a five-time gold medalist. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — This season will officially be WNBA superstar Sue Bird’s last.

The Jewish four-time league champion and five-time Olympic gold medalist announced Thursday that she would retire following the 2022 season.

“I’ve decided this will be my final year,” Bird shared on social media, accompanied by a picture of her playing basketball as a child. “I have loved every single minute, and still do, so gonna play my last year, just like this little girl played her first.”

The 41-year-old point guard has won everywhere she’s played.

At the University of Connecticut, Bird won two NCAA championships while earning multiple awards as the best player in college basketball. Bird was the first overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft and has played her entire career with the Seattle Storm. This year’s season began in early May and will conclude this fall.

In the WNBA, the 12-time All-Star is the only player in league history to win titles in three different decades. She is the all-time WNBA leader in assists.

Abroad, Bird played for three different Russian teams and won five Russian National League championships and five EuroLeague titles. She also won five Olympic gold medals playing for the US, spanning from Athens in 2004 to Tokyo last year.

Bird has spoken highly of her time playing in Russia — including the fact that it helped make her a millionaire. But as her fellow WNBA star Brittney Griner remains detained by the country in the midst of its ongoing war with Ukraine, Bird has been vocally advocating for her release.

Bird — whose grandparents immigrated to the US from what is now Ukraine in the early 1900s and changed their surname from “Boorda” to “Bird” — became an Israeli citizen in 2006. The decision to apply for citizenship was “basketball motivated,” she said, as it allowed her to play for European teams.

“With my father being Jewish and still having relatives in Israel, it was an easy connection,” Bird told the Washington Jewish Museum. “It was cool, because what I found was in this effort to create an opportunity in my basketball career, I was able to learn a lot about a culture that I probably wouldn’t have tapped into otherwise.”

Off the court, Bird has been a leader in the movement for equal pay in women’s sports.

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird holds the champions trophy after the Commissioner’s Cup WNBA basketball game against the Connecticut Sun, on August 12, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Bird led a successful effort to secure more pay for players who wanted to train for the Games — without having to go abroad to make money.

She also helped WNBA players negotiate a new contract that allowed stars like herself more than triple their salaries.

“If we’re not going to fight for ourselves, no one’s fighting for us, historically speaking,” Bird told MSNBC. “It’s uncomfortable to have to walk into a room and speak of your own value and tell people you’re valuable, [but] it’s incredibly important because you can’t wait for somebody else to advocate for you.”

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