Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird (10) warms up before the game against the Washington Mystics at the Verizon Center in Washington, Saturday, May 24, 2014. Bird announced that she is gay in an article from ESPNW. (Chuck Myers/MCT)
Photo: Chuck Myers/TNS
Photo: Chuck Myers/TNS

Sue Bird isn't just a legend for the Storm, she's a rock for Team USA

Because she's Sue Bird, the 37-year-old reigning matriarch of the USA Basketball women's team, she must address two pertinent topics that will dog her until the day she retires.

No. 1, how is your health? And No. 2, speaking of retirement, when do you plan to step away from the game?

"So far, so good," Bird said this week. "It's always a work in progress. You just try to do what you can, when you can and control as much as you can. And then, hopefully you've done the work to lead up to this moment — to lead up to training camp, to lead up to games where you can just go out there and play and not have to worry and think."

A year ago, the perennial Storm All-Star point guard missed the team's training camp and the first two games of the WNBA season while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on her left knee.

It was a minor setback for Bird, who averaged a career-best 6.6 assists and 10.6 points in 31 games while earning her record 10th WNBA All-Star invitation and helping Seattle to the postseason.

Since the 2017 season ended with a 79-69 first-round playoff loss at Phoenix, Bird reprised the offseason plan she's dutifully followed since 2015.

During a three-month respite, she vacationed in the Caribbean and dabbled as a TV basketball analyst before returning to the court Dec. 1 and increasingly ramping up conditioning drills in preparation for her 16th season.

"I see the work she puts in and I see the thought she puts in," said new Storm coach Dan Hughes, who is a USA Basketball assistant. "What intrigues me is watching the process she goes through and the sacrifice she makes to put her body in that situation. And not many athletes do that."

Indeed, Bird is soaring into a place reserved for sports' most durable stars, including Cal Ripken Jr., Martina Navratilova and Tom Brady.

Bird is one of 19 players — including Storm stars Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd — attending the Team USA training camp at Seattle Pacific University this week. It's the final tuneup for the 2018 FIBA World Cup held Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain.

If Bird makes the 12-player roster — and there's no indication she won't — then it would be her fifth appearance in the FIBA World Championships.

"She's just a seasoned vet," Team USA coach Dawn Staley said. "There are no wasted movements out there with Sue. She understands what needs to take place, and she gets it done."

Staley teamed with Bird to win an Olympic gold medal in 2004. Staley was the sage veteran while Bird made her Olympic debut.

"In her first Olympics she just really enjoyed it," Staley said. "I think she really enjoyed all of the external stuff, and she kind of just rode the coattails of the veterans. At the same time she was gathering information because she knew that she was the next one to take on that leadership role, to take on being a captain, to take on understanding and giving that information back to some of the young players."

Fast-forward 14 years, and Bird is the only point guard with Olympic experience in camp because Minnesota Lynx veteran Lindsay Whalen decided to retire from international competition.

Finding Bird's backup is one of the top priorities for Staley and the USA Basketball selection committee.

"You want there to be a next point guard," Bird said. "That person hasn't necessarily shown themselves 100 percent yet, so it's still a little bit in the works. The same way Dawn helped me, I want to pass it on to somebody else."

The playmaking point guards in camp vying for a roster spot include Atlanta's Layshia Clarendon and Dallas' Skylar Diggins-Smith.

"Ideally, you want a point guard that can come in and play in that backup role and get good experience," Bird said. "Then obviously when I retire from USA Basketball, they're ready to step up."

And while we're on the topic of retirement, Bird repeated what she's been saying in recent years whenever anyone asks how long she intends to keep playing.

"Right now I feel good," Bird said. "I'm in this training camp. We got the World Cup coming and I'm down. And then we'll talk in a year and I'll let you know how I feel then.

"It's not me being weird about it or trying to dodge (the question) or anything. I don't feel comfortable being like, 'See you in two years.' That's not fair to USA Basketball and the other players competing for the spots. It's just not."

But make no mistake, Bird has every intention of playing in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and becoming the first man or woman to win five basketball gold medals.

"If I'm able and willing, absolutely I want to play in the Olympics," she said.

And maybe then, two months shy of her 40th birthday in October, Bird would close the chapter on a storybook career.

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