SPORTS

Sue Bird Is Tired Of The WNBA Being Compared To The Men's Game

The WNBA veteran believes the game should be appreciated on its own.

Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird has been a winner throughout her entire career. She won two state titles and a National Championship in high school, two more National Championships at the University of Connecticut, two WNBA titles with the Storm and three Olympic gold medals for the U.S. Women's National Team.

In short, she has been a model of consistency. But as Bird enters her 14th season in the league, she is proud of how far the WNBA has come. Still, she'll admit she is tired of one thing in particular: people comparing her league to the NBA.

Bird spoke to The Huffington Post on behalf of the WNBA's "Watch Me Work" campaign, celebrating the start of the league's 20th season in May. Among other things, the 35-year-old discussed how she maintains her performance on the court even as she gets older and how she deals with criticism of the WNBA.

You’ve been in the league since 2002. Can you speak about how things have progressed over the years and how the WNBA has changed specifically?

First thing that comes to mind is just the talent level. It’s gotten increasingly better. Every single game is competitive, every single night you can lose. In a way, the talent level has been a survival of the fittest and what you’re finally seeing is almost a new start. When the league started, there weren’t any college kids, for example, fresh out of college. And now with each year, it’s just been survival of the fittest. So now, what you’re seeing is, at our 20th year, probably our best talent pool.

Considering you’ve been in the league for a good amount of time, what do you do stay fresh, to stay relevant in the WNBA?

I think with every stage of your career, you kind of adjust and things change. If you were to ask me, at 22 years old, what my diet was like, I would have been like, "I don’t know, whatever’s in front of me, I’ll eat." And now I’m more way more particular, just way more attentive to that side of things with nutrition. Same thing goes for my workouts. When you’re 22, 23, you can take five months off and then [have] somebody throw a ball out and a pick it up and go. When you’re 35 and you’ve had six, seven surgeries, you can’t do that anymore. So everything I do now that I’m at this part of my career is really just goal-oriented and where I want to be physically. I just try to control the things I can control, so when I do start a season, I know that I’ve done everything I can to be at my maximum shape. 

You’re a two-time WNBA champion and three-time gold medalist. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Maybe that Justin Timberlake tweeted about Diana [Taurasi] and I after our 2012 gold medal win, [that] is probably my greatest accomplishment. [Laughs] No, it’s hard to pick between any of those rings or medals. The one thing I can say about the Olympics is you are representing your country and there is something special about that and it’s something that goes beyond sport.

So that is special in its own right. But I was part of two Seattle Storm teams that one for the first time in the city. At the time, it was the first time the city had a championship in, like, 25 years, so there’s something special about that too -- same can be said for college. I have been really lucky to have won on those levels and it’s hard to choose. So we’ll stick with JT.

Women athletes constantly deal with a lot of hateful comments on social media and other platforms. Can you tell me a time when you were truly bothered by a sexist comment on social media from a fan or media in general? How do you deal with some of those comments?

Truthfully, on social media, especially when it’s something directed towards me, I ignore it. I’m not going to engage if people are just trying to stir the pot. I think the thing that kind of -- I don’t know if "bothers" is the right word, I just don’t really understand it -- is, for whatever reason in the world of sports, people love to put women’s basketball down. It’s not enough to dislike it. They have to rip it apart. And, for whatever reason, with women’s basketball they do that and I think a major reason is because we get compared constantly to the men’s game. And the bottom line is, there’s no need to do that.

You don’t see them comparing Serena Williams to Djokovic, you don’t see them comparing Abby Wambach to Landon Donovan. There’s no need to. It’s the same sport, but a different game. And people, for whatever reason, like to do that. It makes no sense, one thing has nothing to do with the next. And I guarantee you that 90 percent of the people that do like to talk trash about women’s basketball haven’t even been to a game anyway. It’s just a bandwagon thing for them to do. And that’s fine -- everybody’s entitled to their opinion -- but for whatever reason, it’s become the cool thing to do and I don’t really get why.

You don’t see them comparing Serena Williams to Djokovic, you don’t see them comparing Abby Wambach to Landon Donovan.

The irony of the whole situation is, if you go talk to some of the best male basketball players in the world, LeBron James -- and these are guys on the national team, especially during the Olympics -- we’re in close proximity and we talk. And LeBron James watches women’s basketball and he’ll know things, he’ll be like, "Oh, Seattle, you guys are second in the west right now, good job," and he’s aware. And it’s funny because if those guys see value in women’s basketball I don’t know why another guy would feel the need to tear it down.

Despite the increased popularity in women's sports, the WNBA has recently faced some decreases in viewership and attendance. What do you think the WNBA can do to increase those numbers?

The one thing I will say is, in my experience with the WNBA and women’s sports in general, people do like women’s sports. For whatever reason, there is a disconnect between that and maybe them purchasing season tickets, or going to games or buying the jersey. When a team is winning and being successful and doing well, the people come out, so those fans exist. I mean, they’re there.

They just don’t tend to come out as much until a team is on the successful end of things. They’re there, now we just got to get them to come more consistently throughout the season. We’re in our 20th year. No other female league can say that. Even though there’s a long way to go, we’ve still done some pretty good stuff up until this point. We’re in a good spot. We just need to keep getting better.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

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