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Friday, July 22, 2011
Sue Bird's play is right to the point

By Meri-Jo Borzilleri

With injuries to Candace Parker and Lauren Jackson keeping two of the biggest stars in the league out of Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game in San Antonio (3:30 p.m., ABC), Sue Bird would rather not dwell on her good health.

"I don't like talking about it," said Bird, the Seattle Storm's point guard, who received 25,077 All-Star votes, second to the Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings (32,706). "You're going to jinx me."

Bird, 30, will play in her seventh All-Star Game, tied with Catchings for most among this year's starters. She and Catchings were voted starters as rookies in 2002.

That number is a tribute to not only Bird's play and popularity as the premier point guard in league history -- starters are voted in by fans -- but also her resiliency.

In her WNBA career, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Bird has missed playing time for health reasons that have included knee surgery and back spasms.

"I definitely had my fair share; I had to have surgery and I've had to deal with it, but yeah, I've also had my fair share of luck," Bird said.

With the WNBA in its 15th season, the league is fortunate to have had Bird running the floor for a good portion of 10 of them. As point guard for the defending-champion Storm, one of Bird's greatest career assists might be to the league itself.

"When she entered [the league] as the No. 1 selection, there was great name recognition from across the country," said Doris Burke, ESPN analyst for men's and women's pro and college basketball. "Coming off the undefeated national championship season [at UConn], she looks like the all-American girl.

"The fact she … handles herself with grace and class in wins and losses, she's probably been a pivotal figure just in terms of how she has carried herself. Then when you think about what Seattle has achieved with her at the reins, you're looking at pretty much the complete package."

Bird is one of only seven players to win an NCAA championship, a WNBA title and an Olympic gold medal. She was named to the league's All-Decade team and is on the ballot for the top 15 players in WNBA history, who will be unveiled during Saturday's game. She is just the third player to reach 3,000 career points and 1,000 assists.

Bird remains a pure point guard as the position morphs from the pass-first, team-first mentality of Bob Cousy to the explosive, game-changing scoring ability of sharpshooters such as Russell Westbrook.

With the exception of heir apparent Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky, one of four rookies named 2011 All-Stars, point guards are "a dying breed," Bird said.

Leave her open, and she can kill you with her shot or a penetrating pass. But Bird, like any classic point guard, thrives on beating you in ways that aren't so obvious.

She places a premium on putting teammates in a position of strength, along with running the offense and leading her team.

"Doing the point guard stuff gives me way more satisfaction, because not everybody can do that," Bird said. "I don't know. There's just not a lot of point guards out there."

Fewer still are of Bird's caliber.

"When I think about Sue Bird, I think about a person who's perfectly suited, by temperament and personality, to play the point guard position," Burke said. "She is confident enough to have the ball in her hands at crucial moments and make all the right decisions, but humble enough to not need the spotlight and to make sure she's putting the people around her in the best position possible."

More debatable: whether being a point guard insulates you from injury more than other positions on the floor. Bird said it's an oft-argued point between guards and forwards. Forwards bang bodies, absorb elbows and get knocked to the floor. Guards run and cut.

They're "a totally different kind of tired," she said.

Parker, the Los Angeles Sparks' star forward, is out with a torn meniscus in her right knee. Jackson, a center on Bird's Storm team, is out after surgery on her left hip.

"That's a bummer," Bird said. "Obviously, they're great players. They would be a lot of fun at the All-Star Game. Injuries are part of it. It's just more unfortunate the fans won't get to see them and they won't be there. But I know for Lauren and I'm sure for Candace, it's not like they're somewhere vacationing. They're going to be working very hard rehabbing and trying to get back on the court for their team."

Bird will be 31 in October. She thinks about retirement, prompted by the usual questions after an athlete turns 30.

"I want to make sure I know what I want to do before I stop playing," she said. "I don't want to stop and then be like, 'OK. Now what?' It's definitely on my mind, but I don't know when that'll be … I'm not giving myself a limit.

"I really like basketball. I'm a fan of it. I feel like I know enough about it where I could be good at something involved in it, " she said. "But I'm not closing the door on other things."