Seattle hosts the WNBA All-Star Game for the first time Saturday afternoon at KeyArena. One of the big draws for local fans will be to honor Storm veteran Sue Bird.
KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88'5’s Kirsten Kendrick about Bird – and her team – being in the national spotlight this week.
'Salute To Sue'
"This is a big event. It's kind of a 'Salute to Sue' weekend," Thiel said.
"She's also in the 3-point shooting contest. She's a starting guard on this team. She is one of two Storm reps. Breanna Stewart, the center, was chosen as a reserve.
"This is going to be, I think, a big deal for a lot of fans who have grown to appreciate Sue Bird. Her talent, her diligence and her community participation is really unparalleled."
Bird Predates Jon Ryan, Felix Hernandez In Seattle
"In fact, Sue Bird is the long-tenured professional athlete in all the sports here in town," Thiel continued. "She started in 2002. Kind of amazing. That's a long time for a pro sports athlete to stay in one town.
"The longest-tenured Seahawk is Jon Ryan, the punter. He joined the team in 2008. And Felix Hernandez is the longest-tenured Mariner when he came up and made his Major League debut in 2005. So, Sue predates all of them."
"And at 36, she's still a productive player. She's averaging 30 minutes a game. She's scoring 12.5 points a game and has seven assists a game.
"Really, a remarkable thing. And especially given how much time she has spent playing overseas. That's very difficult to maintain the body. And she's done it so well.
"I'm not saying that this is going to necessarily be her last season but it is a remarkable tenure here in Seattle and I really do hope that people appreciate what she's accomplished and continues to do.
"At an age where a lot of players say, 'Nope. I'm done,' she's still prevailing. It's going to be a great celebration of her feats."
Storm Partnership Also Made National News
Thiel pointed out that the WNBA All-Star game won't be the first time the Storm or KeyArena were in the national spotlight this week. They made headlines for a first-of-its-kind partnership during their home game Tuesday against the Chicago Sky.
"They became the first team in any pro sport to affiliate with Planned Parenthood," he said. "You wouldn't think that a nonprofit so concerned with women's reproductive health would be controversial but, obviously, it's been a lightning rod for a number of years, politically. So, the Storm are taking a little bit of a risk.
"This is an ownership-led initiative. What ownership did was deliver $5 for every ticket sold in the game and that amounted to $42,000 to contribute to Planned Parenthood.
"So that was a real statement about priorities and what drives them. But it's also going to alienate some people.
"There were a handful of protestors this week ahead of the game. Nothing happened. No big conflict. But that's certainly going to grow as attention is given, probably in the national telecast (of the WNBA All-Star Game), to what the Storm did as a precursor for other team's and other causes."
Bird, Rest of Team No Strangers To Activism
The Planned Parenthood partnership may have been an ownership initiative. But players have also taken on activist roles, namely as part of the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
"The social injustice issue has really resonated with many individuals in the WNBA. And the NBA. And other sports as well," Thiel said.
"The Storm players took the initiative by wearing t-shirts symbolizing the protest of social injustice. I think they distinguished themselves in a way that was provocative without being confrontational.
"I think that kind of activism we're going to see a lot more in sports. I don't think there's anything wrong with it.
"In fact, I think we all should know more about our sports teams and the athletes who are part of them. We may disagree. There may be conservative causes that are driving some players. I want to hear about that too.
"I don't think the dialogue hurts anyone. In fact, I hope it enlightens many. And I salute the WNBA and the Storm for being activists in this situation."