Basketball icon and sneaker queen Sue Bird is turning 40 in 2021, if you can believe it—the same year in which the Olympics will now take place. Bird, who is signed as a point guard for the Seattle Storm (the WNBA schedule is still unknown due to coronavirus concerns), was predicted to be a key factor with Team USA this year despite still recovering from knee surgery. But when Dick Pound announced there would be a postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Bird’s eligibility apparently became a question (as did the eligibility of many athletes, including Bird’s partner Megan Rapinoe, perhaps you’ve heard of her?).
“I was on this nice steady incline and was hoping to peak this summer,” Bird said in an interview with The Seattle Times. “My knee felt great. Obviously, with what’s happening now, every athlete in the world is definitely going to struggle in terms of finding ways to stay in shape and finding ways to train. So, it’s a relief for a lot of us that the Olympics were postponed versus canceled.”
At 39, Bird is currently the oldest active player in the WNBA, which has inspired the usual chatter from casual basketball fans unaware of Bird’s might and power about whether she can still do it. It’s a conversation that older male athletes like Tom Brady (42) or Vince Carter (43) somehow get to avoid, and seems particularly unfair considering Bird has four gold medals and was part of the reason Team USA qualified for Tokyo in the first place. Bird’s take on the skepticism towards her is both humble and pragmatic: “I’ve always believed the best ballplayers should be on the team. If I’m physically able and I’m playing at the top level and the opportunity is there, of course, I’m going to say yes to it. I would feel weird saying otherwise.”
While Bird still has the speed of any player at alma mater UConn, her mind remains in the present moment. During her self isolation, Bird told the Seattle Times she has used her time and her money to donate to those in need and host Instagram live conversations which she and Rapinoe have called The Wine Down. (“You can’t drink with UConn players,” she said in the latest Wine Down, after Rapinoe admitted it was hard to keep up with Bird and fellow basketball star Diana Taurasi.) As for how she’s handling this strange time without basketball or formal training, she told the Times, “I’m informing my friends and family and really anybody who’ll listen that you should stay home for a little bit.”