The largest crowd in the history of the Storm was on hand the other day, but it wasn’t because of the action slated to take place on the court. True, the match against the rival Aces figured to be a humdinger; the fact that the green and white were battling for home court advantage in the playoffs served only to underscore the significance of the set-to. On the other hand, there could be no discounting the real reason 18,100 fans showed up at the Climate Pledge Arena, more than at any time since the franchise set up shop as the millennium turned. Not even contests during their four Women’s National Basketball Association championship runs could approximate the outpouring of support.
The reason was clear. Living legend Sue Bird was about to play her last home game — or, rather, potentially her last home game, what with changes to the postseason structure no longer guaranteeing that the Storm would open the doors to their arena anew in 2022. And, yes, the Thank Yous came early and often; a couple of ceremonies and a video tribute that included messages from such notables as LeBron James, Geno Auriemma, Russell Wilson, Lauren Jackson, and partner Megan Rapinoe rocked the proceedings even before the opening tip.
Needless to say, Bird was moved by the development. Last year, a similar situation unfolded, and the love she received got her to lace up her sneakers for one more year. This time around, she simply basked in the adulation, at peace with her decision to exit stage left; she looked forward to pursuing interests other than basketball. And, to their credit, hoops habitués did not pressure her to keep strutting her stuff; instead, they showed their gratitude for an unmatched resume.
Indeed, Bird will be missed. She was a singular force, and if there was any letdown to the occasion, it was that the Storm absorbed a setback when the battlesmoke cleared. Then again, it was probably fitting; as she noted in her valedictory, she did lose in her first home outing as well. And so she has gone full circle, with nothing but good — and lasting — memories to carry her through the next phase of the career all and sundry call life.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.