Wednesday, August 15, 2012
SEATTLE — There were a couple of moments where Sue Bird forgot which team she was talking about. And there was the occasional loss for words.
But at first glance, the Storm point guard was the same despite partying until Sunday morning after winning a third Olympic gold medal on Saturday. Players popped bottles of champagne in a private hotel gathering to celebrate. Then Bird made the 4,800-mile flight from London to Seattle to practice with the Storm on Tuesday.
“I just need some sleep,” Bird sheepishly admitted.
The All-Star led Team USA in preserving the women’s winning streak that stretches back to the 1992 Barcelona Games. The dominating run is now 41 games, and the current team defeated opponents by an average of 34.4 points. Bird averaged 4.5 assists in eight games.
Team USA’s toughest game was against Australia in the semifinals where the Opals led by four at halftime. Bird helped lead a defensive charge after the break in an 86-73 victory. Team USA beat France 86-50 to clinch its fifth consecutive gold medal to become the winningest women’s team in traditional Olympic sports.
“It was a process, this last month,” Bird said. “We kind of knew for the most part that we were going to get out of pool play (preliminary rounds) whereas other teams had to scratch and claw. For us, it was really about using those games to get better, knowing that come the medal rounds it was going to get a lot more difficult and we saw that against Australia. I don’t think they could have played much better.”
Back with her Seattle team, Bird noticed coach Brian Agler implemented more offensive schemes and improvement from teammates. She only participated in drills Tuesday, not live action.
Yet the Storm (9-10) will begin the second part of the WNBA season the same way it ended before the leaguewide hiatus — without Lauren Jackson.
Flag bearer at the Games, Jackson returned to her native Australia to celebrate the Opals’ run and other Aussie medalists. The decision was made by Jackson but also part of her obligation to the national team. The country held a welcome for its contingent at the Sydney airport. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was among the first to greet Jackson, a four-time Olympic medalist.
Other events are planned this week, meaning Jackson will miss at least two more WNBA games. The Storm resumes its season Thursday against Phoenix (4-15) at KeyArena.
“Lauren has a great opportunity to go home and be recognized,” Storm teammate Tanisha Wright said. “She deserves that recognition. She’ll come back and she’ll fit in. We’re not worried about that.”
Keeping Bird’s spirits high is a concern. Her mother lost her longtime partner, Dennis Burden, two weeks before the Olympics. Bird missed some training with her national team to mourn with family and said London was a good distraction.
Nancy Bird and Burden had been together since Sue was in high school. He attended most games throughout her career, but wasn’t planning to attend the Olympics before his sudden death from a heart attack.
“It’s hard,” Bird said. “When I got back with the team it was nice to be around that setting with people who make you laugh and you don’t have to think about it, it’s not right there in your face ... but now my mom has to go home to an empty house. She’s actually going to come out here for about a week to kind of get away. I’m sad he’s gone, but now I need to take care of my mom.”
The Storm’s schedule will help. The team plays six games at home in August.
There’s also the memory of a third gold medal.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Bird said.