Sue Bird named 2021 Female Athlete of the Year by USA Basketball
Perhaps as one last tribute to her greatness and a parting gift for two decades of service, USA Basketball named Sue Bird its 2021 Female Athlete of the Year on Thursday.
In her last Olympic appearance, the 41-year-old Storm star captured a record-tying fifth-straight Olympic gold medal and served as one of two US flag bearers at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony.
“What Sue has accomplished in her USA Basketball career is unprecedented, and USA Basketball is proud to celebrate Sue as the Female Athlete of the Year, specifically for her leadership and helping guide the team to success in 2021,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley in a statement. “From training camps through to standing on top of the Olympic podium, Sue was a leader on the court and a tremendous representative of the USA in all that she did, including serving as one of the flag bearers for the US delegation.”
Bird started every game for the US at the Tokyo Games and averaged a team-leading 5.8 assists to go with 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds as the Americans finished 6-0 and captured a seventh-straight Olympic gold medal.
Bird ranks second for Olympic Games played (36) and assists (124) in the US Olympic women’s record book.
“I’ve been so lucky to be a part of the USA Basketball program and to play alongside our country’s best,” Bird said in a statement. “This award is a reflection of that, and I couldn’t be more honored to be named the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year.
“Winning gold medals is never about one player, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the bulk of the credit to my teammates and coaches. Again, I’ve been so lucky to put this uniform on as long as I have and winning gold in Tokyo couldn’t have been more of a team effort.”
Quite possibly, Bird edged Storm teammate Breanna Stewart for the 2021 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year honor.
Stewart, who received the award in 2018, 2013 and 2011, averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4.7 assists at the Tokyo Games and was selected by FIBA as the 2021 women’s Olympic tournament MVP.
Brittney Griner and A’ja Wilson led the US in scoring with 16.5 points.
This summer, Bird said she would not play in another Olympics, but did not rule out playing with Team USA in the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney, Australia.
Bird began playing with USA Basketball in 2000 and was promoted to the US women’s national team in 2002.
The 5-foot-9 point guard has competed in five Olympics and five FIBA World Championships while winning nine gold medals and a bronze to become the most decorated FIBA athlete in history. She owns a 149-8 record with USA Basketball during a 21-year tenure (2000-21), including a 55-4 record with the USA national team.
“Simply being Sue Bird is what makes her great,” USA coach Dawn Staley said. “When you say that name, you know you’re going to get efficient basketball. You know you’re going to get an organized point guard, someone that makes an impact on both sides of the ball. Yes, I know people think Sue isn’t a good defender, but she’s a pretty darn smart good defender. And we don’t win as many gold medals consecutively without her being at the helm.”
Following an upset loss in the second-round of the WNBA playoffs, Bird, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, was noncommittal on if she would retire or return to Seattle next year for her 19th season and 21St year with the franchise that selected her no. 1 overall in the 2002 WNBA draft.
“Offseasons have some highs and lows in terms of motivation, and it can be difficult,” Bird said. “That is daunting for me now from a mental standpoint and getting my body to where it needs to be to be ready for a WNBA season. It’s always difficult. And so there is a part of me I have to ask myself these questions: Do I want to do that again? Do I want to go there again?