Sue Bird Talks Asterisk, Olympics, and the Fallout From WNBA Twitter Beef

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Sue Bird is WNBA royalty and in the middle of her 18th season, with 11 All-Star nods and four titles on her resume, she is uniquely qualified like few other individuals to offer up an opinion on just about everything related to the league that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Including some Twitter beef that may have caught your attention from earlier this week.

If you somehow missed it, the Liberty’s Jazmine Jones and the Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith jawed at each other on social media after an outlet posted a highlight of Diggins-Smith deking Didi Richards with her impressive handle despite the Liberty ultimately prevailing. Being the sage basketball observer that she is, the living legend—who let’s not forget also won two NCAA titles during her days at UConn—hopes sports fans don’t ignore the serious issues the controversy unearthed.  

“I think the other conversation that’s really happening in this Twitter war right now is that what you see in women’s sports—because we get such small coverage, there’s percentages out there, like 4 percent, 5 percent of media coverage—it’s just a very small piece of the pie,” says Bird. “Because we only get one highlight a week people are going to be scrapping and clawing for it. The problem isn’t this one thing, it’s that there needs to be more coverage for everybody, there needs to be more than one highlight per week on some of these channels.”

She’s right, of course, and there are even deeper issues the Twitter scuffle brought to light that Bird says should be properly addressed. But because she’s one of Complex’s favorite basketball personalities to chat with, we peppered her with a bunch of other basketball-related questions during our phone conversation Wednesday. We tackled topics that included asterisks, this summer’s Olympics where she could become just the second basketball player ever to win five gold medals, and her participation in the latest Moët & Chandon Greatness Under Pressure campaign that also features Carmelo Anthony and designer Don C.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Speaking of greatness, you’ve authored a few incredible performances during your career. Curious if you think that WNBA title you and the Storm won last season was the hardest and most rewarding championship in the league’s 25-year history?

Yeah, a lot of people have talked about their being an asterisk during the 2020 season, but this was the hardest one. The reason why is because there was just obviously so much more going on and the season was representing something much bigger than basketball. But simultaneously we were still being asked to be professional athletes and play the game and play at a high level. What’s interesting is you can really connect it to Greatness Under Pressure because there was just a lot on all of our plates. We were fighting for certain things from a social justice standpoint, advocating, we were being strategic, and being an activist in our world requires a lot of energy—emotional energy, a lot of time, and here we were dedicating our time to that, but also dedicating our time to the basketball part of it and finding ways to continue to be great under that pressure, because it did exist. So for me and our team, we happened to be the team standing at the end, but I happen to believe that every single person in that was in that bubble came out on top because we accomplished so much off the court.

You bring up the whole asterisk thing and that’s kind of theme for some NBA fans these days. As a competitor, how do you feel about fans or observers wanting to attach an asterisk to every single champion in the history of basketball?

Everybody wants to put an asterisk on everything. And the truth is that’s a part of sports. The news just came out about Chris Paul and sadly the world we live in with COVID right now that’s a part of sports. There are things out of your control. And they happen every year. So what makes any year different from the next when these types of moments take place? I’ve been fortunate enough to win four times and there’s a little bit of luck that goes into winning a championship. And I’ve also been on the unlucky side of it where there’s been years our best player got injured and couldn’t play in the playoffs. That’s what it is.

In the WNBA doc, there’s that scene where Megan Rapinoe, who entered the bubble toward the end, told you about the special sense of community she observed while down there. How much of that carried over into this season?

As a league we’ve really figured out who we are. We’ve established who we are, what we stand for, what our values are, and I think the bubble just put that on another level and it really set a standard for how we want to move in this world, like I said what we want to stand for, and that community gives you confidence. I think I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit here, but not really—I think women do a really good job of leaning on each other in those moments and we understood we’re a community. We understood that our voice was going to be louder as 144. It wasn’t going to be one person on one social media channel doing one thing. It wasn’t going to be that. We knew we had to be together, locked in, and together as I said 144 of us. That was going to be where our big microphone was going to live. We learned from that and moving forward we’ll always move as one.

Now I need you to pick a side. Where do you fall on the Jazmine Jones/Skylar Diggins-Smith Twitter squabble?

[Laughs.] Let me start by saying this, truthfully you could probably go back and forth on the sides. In the end, what Skylar was talking about is a real issue, a real point to make so I’m probably on Skylar’s side with that. The overarching argument here is two things. 1. Obviously, what Skylar said in terms of which players are being marketed the most, is that based on skin color, that kind of a vibe, that’s a conversation that needs to be had. I think the other conversation that’s really happening in this Twitter war right now is that what you see in women’s sports—because we get such small coverage, there’s percentages out there, like 4 percent, 5 percent of media coverage—it’s just a very small piece of the pie. Shout out to Bleacher Report for putting a highlight on their channel, but because we only get one highlight a week people are going to be scrapping and clawing for it. The problem isn’t this one thing, it’s that there needs to be more coverage for everybody, there needs to be more than one highlight per week on some of these channels. Then you would see the Skylar highlight, which was legit. That deserved to be played. Then you would also see Betnijah Laney balling out and winning the game. And then you would see other players. So that’s really to me what this argument also brings up that in the larger scale we need more coverage, more highlights. Not just one opportunity so everybody has to scratch and claw for it.

Wanted to talk about the Olympics because they’re coming up. I know the team hasn’t been selected, but you’re widely expected to be on it. I think that would be a no-brainer. Have you allowed yourself to think about what the emotional ride will be like if this is your last run at a gold medal?

No, I haven’t at all. I just don’t operate well like that [laughs]. I get real nostalgic and kind of take it as it comes. Listen, if they call me up and tell me I’ve made the team of course I’m going to be super excited about that. It’ll mean a lot—for me growing up there was no WNBA so the Olympics was always the end all, be all, the ultimate goal. So to have a chance to do it for a fifth time is incredible. To represent your country is incredible. To go into other countries is incredible. However it shakes out, I’m excited about it.

Let’s talk about the campaign you’re appearing in for Moët & Chandon. I gotta say, you looked pretty fly dribbling in a silk suit for it.

Listen, dribbling in a silk suit, it just flows, it just works. I had a lot of space in there, it was working with me, I loved it. It’s been great being involved in this campaign. It’s one of those partnerships that makes sense. Whenever you can have a partnership make sense, obviously with Moët and NBA, including myself, Moët’s really been there for a lot of huge moments, for my career, for a lot of athletes’ careers, and the things this company represents and wants to put forth is really what all of the people are about, right. What it is is you see the success at the end, you see the rings, you see the championship, but it’s all about what it takes to get there and that’s the whole Greatness Under Pressure aspect of it. It was a lot of fun to be a part of, I had a lot of fun in my silk suit, and it came out super dope and I’m super excited to be a part of it.

You just touched on it, but I’ll ask you to go a little deeper. What does Greatness Under Pressure mean to you?

When it comes to what you see at the end, like I said, which is the rings and the championship, it’s really about the journey and the little things that it takes to get to those moments. Because Greatness Under Pressure for me, those pressure moments aren’t about that moment itself. It’s about all the work you did to get to that point where you don’t even notice the pressure. Or if you do, you’re comfortable in it because you’ve already put the work in. And that’s not specific to athletes. I think that can go for really anybody in any walk of life, whatever it is you’re doing. I think people can relate to having to put in the work over time in order to get to that pressure moment and seeing the greatness come through.

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