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WNBA Pays Tribute To All-Timers Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles During Their Final All-Star Games

By James Kay | July 11, 2022, 5:10 p.m. (ET)

Sue Bird of Team Stewart competes during the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game on July 10, 2022 in Chicago.

 

CHICAGO — The WNBA All-Star Game is intended to celebrate the league’s biggest stars each season. This year’s game and surrounding festivities turned into a tribute to two of the biggest stars the league has seen in its 26 seasons.

After taking home countless awards, championship rings and a lifetime worth of wins, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles are calling it quits after the current WNBA season.

Bird, a point guard for the Seattle Storm, is a four-time WNBA champ and the league’s all-time leader in assists and games played. Fowles, who plays center for the Minnesota Lynx, has won two WNBA titles and pulled in more rebounds than any player in league history.

Both had standout careers with Team USA, too, with Fowles earning four Olympic gold medals to Bird’s five. Bird also won four FIFA World Cups, tying her with teammate Diana Taurasi for the most decorated players in international basketball history, while Fowles earned one.

Following the current WNBA season, the more outspoken Bird, 41, and shyer-by-nature Fowles, 36, are stepping away.

Both players were all-smiles throughout All-Star weekend — Bird’s 13th appearance, and Fowles’ eighth — an indication they have made peace with their decision to leave the league they helped build. 

“The word I’m landing on is maybe a little bit of closure,” Bird said following Sunday’s All-Star Game at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, where she and Fowles served as team captains. “I think as an athlete when you come to the end of your career, so much goes into the decision to actually retire. So the way people have reacted and these little moments I get both in Seattle and on the road, it just — I know it’s the right timing for me but it does, it gives it a little like, OK, this is going to be all right.” 

There had been murmurs around the league before the 2022 WNBA season that Fowles was ready to move on from basketball. However, the 2017 league MVP and four-time Defensive Player of the Year decided to give it one more year.

The league has given her literal flowers along with video tributes and, in the Chicago Sky’s case, a recliner — ahem, throne — for when retires. 

 

 


Even after she has continued to play at a high-level this year and went viral after finishing a one-handed dunk in the All-Star Game, Fowles said she has no regrets about calling the 2022 season her last. 

“It has not made it harder,” Fowles said about all the attention she has garnered in her retirement tour. “You know when you have your mind made up. I appreciate the love that I’m getting, which is weird because I always shy away from it. But it’s been comforting knowing that people do appreciate the things that I have done throughout my last 15 years in this league.”

Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vandersloot hug during the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game on July 10, 2022 in Chicago.

 

Bird, Seattle’s all-time leading scorer, is the only WNBA player to win a championship in three different decades, while Fowles represents an era of Lynx basketball that will go down as one of the most dominant dynasties in basketball history.

At the same time, both recognize the immense talent that is following them. 

“I think I’m getting out at the right time because they are running too much, they are jumping higher and they got too much energy and that’s definitely not something I’m trying to do in year 15,” Fowles said laughing. “To see these girls flourish and think about what they’re going to be like in the next couple of years I think is going to be amazing. They are going to do really good things for our league. I just hope to see everybody flourishing in their own way.”

Throughout All-Star weekend, the two WNBA legends were showered with praise and stories about how they impacted the game beyond the hardwood. Bird’s teammates pointed out multiple times how she helped them with their fashion sense and game-preparation. Fowles was referred to multiple times as “Momma Syl,” which fell in line with all the stories that were told about her comforting nature.

Bird’s Storm teammate and fellow 2020 Olympic gold medalist Jewell Loyd had a chance to witness Bird’s legacy played out up close. The backcourt duo has been together for the entirety of Loyd’s career as the product out of Notre Dame blossomed into an All-WNBA player. 

“What we’ve learned and we’re still learning from Sue … I have a big notebook of stuff that she’s taught me over the years,” Loyd said. “It’s nice and thick. You want to make sure that we continue her legacy and our legacy, and that’s just treating the game with respect, going about everything as professional as possible, but adding our personality in it as well. I think we’re doing that now.” 

Las Vegas Aces’ forward/center A’ja Wilson, another member of that 2020 U.S. Olympic team, has developed into one of the best frontcourt players in the WNBA and credited Fowles for what she has done for the league. Wilson said she picked got to pick the Lynx legend’s brain during their time together at the Olympics last year. 

The 25-year-old Wilson said ahead of the All-Star Game that she looks at Fowles’ physical make up and hopes she “looks that good” at 36.

“Syl’s game and to be her teammate in the Olympics is truly special,” Wilson said. “It’s one of those things where Syl is always going to put a smile on your face. We don’t call her Mama Syl for no reason. Like the nurturing of it, she understands how to talk to us, and I love that about her, and I’m going to miss it.” 

As they head into the twilight of their careers, Fowles and Bird both mentioned they have some things in the works post-WNBA. Bird is one of the most colorful personalities in the league and has clear talent as someone who can potentially be on the airwaves soon (as displayed during the NCAA women’s basketball tournament). Fowles, who has been pursuing a degree in mortuary science, said she looks forward to returning to the WNBA at some point. 

“Y’all aren’t going to get rid of me that fast,” Fowles said with a smile.

Same goes for Bird, who kept her future plans vague but is keeping the door open to a possible return to the WNBA outside of her playing career. 

“I’m just really proud for two reasons: One, that we have found our strength in our voice, and I’m just proud that I got to be a part of a small part of it at the end of my career,” Bird said.

James Kay

James Kay is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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