A benefit to the WNBA starting training camp later is most players have trickled into their respective cities earlier to begin one-on-one workouts and get settled. (In the past, camp started in April with season-openers hovering around mid-May). For Storm PG Sue Bird, that means moving to a new home in Queen Anne and reuniting with teammate Lauren Jackson, who Bird hasn’t seen since winter.
It’s the first time in five years that Bird hasn’t returned a champion from some nether-region, however. There was the 2010 FIBA World Championships title in October, but Bird’s Russian team, Spartak, placed second in EuroLeague and the country’s postseason.
Bird will not return to the club next season and neither will Jackson, who left with an ankle injury. Neither have discussed where they’ll play after the 2011 WNBA season, but Jackson has made clear she’ll dedicate May 2012 through the London Games to her Australian national team in pursuit of a gold medal.
Here’s what Bird had to say about Russia, the 2010 WNBA championship rings, and new acquisition Katie Smith. We spoke Wednesday after the unveiling of the ring designed by new sponsor Blue Nile.
Women’s Hoops Blog: When did you return to Seattle?
Sue Bird: A couple of days ago, I was keeping a low profile.
WHB: You saw online mock-ups of the championship rings, but didn’t design it, was the viewing to pick a favorite?
SB: What you see now is what we saw. I think they just wanted our input for, ‘What should that color be?’ ‘What should this color be?’ We were able to chime in, which was nice. It’s great for them to include us in that and definitely personalize it even more so. It was pretty much already done. No structural changes were asked of us.
WHB: I noticed there isn’t much color in it. There were emeralds in 2004.
SB: It looked better, kind of clean that way – in my opinion. These rings are tricky because they symbolize and they’re special and you don’t want to mess them up. You don’t want to wear them, in a way. This one, you could kind of get away with wearing, which is nice. It’s loud, but it’s not crazy. I’ve seen some other rings where I’m like, ‘I would never wear that.’
WHB: Like the Lakers’ championship ring?
SB: No comment…I’ve never worn anything I’ve ever won. I like to keep them in their nice, pretty boxes.
WHB: So, what happened in Russia with the team being unable to win as it had done in the past?
SB: We finished second in both EuroLeague and Russian League. It’s one of those things where, as a competitor and athlete, we were sad and disappointed. It’s hard to get that close and not win, kind of seal the deal. But I think it’s going to be one of those things when we kind of step back…we lost a lot. A lot in terms of talent, the players and still our GM (general manager) and Pokey (coach Pokey Chatman) were able to put a team together that was able to succeed and did some great things. I know for me, in the moment, it’s hard to see that. But I know looking back, I guarantee you put that team on paper versus these other teams and nobody would have picked us in the Finals. There’s something to be said for that. But it’s not winning.
WHB: Is it also the way it happened, injuries and late arrivals, that maybe if you started with that team it would have been able to repeat, again?
SB: No. Both Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) and I came in January and, oh yeah, if we would have had Lauren it would have been different. Sorry, I almost forgot. Generally when a player is not there, you can’t think about it. Where there times when I thought, ‘Oh, man! If Lauren where here, maybe X,Y, Z would have happened?’ Of course. But I think we made the best with the roster that we had and everybody did a great job.
WHB: Seeing the transaction to get Katie Smith in Seattle, what did you think?
SB: You’re going to hear me say this a lot because I think for the last five years in exit interviews it’s been like, ‘So, what do you think we need?’ And I’m like, ‘Katie Smith! Katie Smith, please!’
SB: Yeah. I’ve played with her first of all, so I know what it’s like to play with her. It’s very easy for me, personally. The times that we have played together it’s been great chemistry. I think for our team, everything she brings to the table complements what we have and what we need. She’s going to fit perfectly and I’m really looking forward to it.
WHB: When you used to play with her, you’re talking Olympics, right?
SB: Yeah and we’ve done a ton of trainings. It would be me, her, and Diana (Taurasi). That was the backcourt. It was just super easy. Honestly, the way that I played with Diana so much, it’s just a certain chemistry. It’s a little less (with Katie) because we haven’t played as much as Diana and myself, but there’s an ease there with Katie…I’ve known Katie since I’ve been in the league, it’s like 10 years. It’s been a long time.
WHB: Back to the ring, where does this one rank?
SB: Winning a championship in the WNBA, to be honest, is one of the harder things to do. To have done this twice now and this one coming in the fashion that it did with the records – not losing in the playoffs – I don’t know if a season like this will be duplicated. So, of course, it kind of elevates it a little bit. And to bring a championship to a city, that in itself is really special.
WHB: Now you’re here, although you do leave for USA Basketball Training in Las Vegas from May 10-12 and everyone has the same time, but how do you think this extended training camp will fare for the Storm? (camp opens May 15)
SB: It can only help.
WHB: And you’re healthy?
SB: Yeah! I have the USA stuff, I’ll come back and there will be physicals and it’s go time. It’s great that everybody will be in training camp and everybody will be together. For somebody like Lauren, camp is really important because she had to deal with the injury and she probably hasn’t played at this level in a long time. So, for her that will be great. Having new players come in, it’s always good to get comfortable with one another. This training camp is going to be great for us.
Here’s Bird’s interview with KING-TV
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*PHOTO CREDIT: Sue Bird courtesy of the WNBA/Getty Images