Series note: The Storm conducted exit interviews on Thursday, giving me the opportunity to ask players everything from views on their season to fashion and hair tips. I’ll post conversations from each in the upcoming days. Centers Ewelina Kobryn (Poland) and Ann Wauters (Belgium) won’t be featured due to their quick return home. Here’s a conversation with co-captain Sue Bird, who finished the regular-season leading the team in points (12.2) and assists (5.3).
Q: Dropping any bombs this offseason? Last year you let it be known you played the entire season with a hip labrum injury and needed surgery, do you need another procedure on the left hip?
Sue Bird: I’m having surgery Friday. (The Storm reported it was a successful procedure Friday morning and Bird has begun rehabilitation). This is literally like deja vu because it’s the same exact thing, same exact place, almost the same exact timing. Then I’m going to go to my team (UMMC Ekaterinburg) overseas January 1. It’s really pretty much the same, which is good. I know what to expect. I know how to get through it. And the best part is I know it’s going to be successful. I’ll never have to drop anymore bombs in regards to my hip. So, I’m very excited to put the hip stuff in the past because I’ve been dealing with it for a long time and this past month has been tough.
Q: In the past you said playing on it doesn’t make the injury worse, right?
Bird: Yes and no. It’s an interesting injury, I’ve come to learn that about it. It’s basically 100 percent based on symptoms. So you have it — you could have it — and if you don’t have symptoms, you’re good. The minute it becomes symptomatic, that’s when it becomes a problem. For me, my body is my job so I have to take care of it. The good thing about having this last year is that I have MRI’s to go back on. So the doctor (Dr. Marc J. Philippon) took a look at my most recent MRI and said, ‘Yeah, there’s some progression there. It’s gotten a little worse.’ When you hear that, you realize you need to nip it in the bud.
Q: How is the rehab?
Bird: The rehab (last year) really wasn’t that bad. I don’t know if this is because I’ve had other surgeries, I mean the ACL rehab is very difficult. So, I compared it in my own little head. My rehab, you just take it step by step and nothing was too painful. It’s just about hitting each milestone as you go and before you know it you’re back on the court. It wasn’t a painful thing and I’m hoping that’ll be the same this time.
Q: When did you know you’d have to have surgery?
Bird: I got an MRI a week ago, maybe, and once I talked to my doctor it was right before Game 1 (of the Western Conference semi-finals series against Minnesota). That’s when the whole thought entered my head about, ‘Oh, man, I might have to have surgery on this.’ Prior to that I really wasn’t thinking I was. But he actually said, ‘You’re good in the short-term. If you were starting a season, I would have a different opinion about that. But you’re in your season, finish it.’
Q: Did it affect you mentally?
Bird: No, not really. If anything, finally talking to him put my mind at ease. When you’re feeling pain and you don’t know what it means, that’s when you’re kind of like you get a little mental. But once I talked to him? Now I knew what I had. You’re good in the playoffs? Cool, I don’t have to think about a thing. He really, in a way, put my mind at ease. In those three games, with each game I felt better and better. I think adrenaline is a crazy drug. It can mask a lot of things and in Game 2 and definitely in Game 3 it definitely was able to do that.
Q: So, going back to Game 1, not going back in with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter and the Storm down 10, that still had nothing to do with the hip?
Bird: It did. I was struggling.
Q: Then why did you deny it when I asked straight up if you were injured? Storm coach Brian Agler even said you brushed off his request to put you back in the game.
Bird: I didn’t deny it, I said ‘It’s the playoffs.’ What am I supposed to say? ‘Yes, I’m injured. Feel bad for me.’ I wanted to go back in because it’s the playoffs. Listen, I got taken out and at that point we were down (10) so now you’re in a moment where who knows? Maybe they (Minnesota) go on a little spurt and now it’s an 18-point game. Then it’s kinda game over a little bit. But we go on a spurt and I felt that that group was doing very well and I did not feel as if I could physically do what I’m normally capable of doing, which could potentially help. I felt they were doing great things, so why not let it ride? That was my honest take on that.
Q: So you were worried about hurting yourself more?
Bird: The way this hip-thing goes, it’s a weight-barring joint. When you have pain, you tend to compensate in other ways and it can affect other things in your body. I was having very bad knee pain. Two days before Game 1 in practice, my back locked up. I was getting massages non-stop. All of that plays a role and you have to deal with it. In Game 1, I just physically, health-wise did not feel good. Like I said, I don’t know if it’s adrenaline or not, but Game 2 came around and I was still not feeling great. But getting through that game, I don’t know, I just felt much better than Game 1 and the same can be said for Game 3.
Q: OK, well the future, what do you think this team needs to get over the hurdle of losing in the first-round?
Bird: You know, I said this in the press conference the other day, what we had this year, we had the right pieces. There have been years where it’s been like, ‘We need to go back to the drawing board.’ We need to get this or get that. This year I felt like we had the right pieces, we just got hit hard with the injury bug. And Lauren (Jackson) coming in halfway is almost and injury in a way because you don’t have this player. You have to figure out a way to play without them and you get them back and have to figure out a way to get them back into the flow. We were doing that with three, four people at a time in and out. That’s just hard. A lot of success in the WNBA comes of a certain chemistry teams have. You develop that by playing with each other for extended periods of time and going through tough games, tough losses, tough comebacks and great wins. Going through all that stuff helps you in the long run. We just kind of ran out of time. That’s how I feel about this team. We finally had the group together and even in three games, you saw a huge difference compared to three weeks ago.
Q: What about Spanish point guard Silvia Dominguez, could she make a difference?
Bird: She’s on my Russian team. Yeah, she’s relatively young, I’ve played against her a bunch of times. It is a different game in the WNBA. I think there would be a time, maybe in training camp, where you’d see an adjustment of whether she could make it and what not. But in terms of talent, experience and the caliber of player she is, yeah, 100 percent think it would be worth it to have her here and give her a chance.
Q: Will playing with her and Ewelina Kobryn in Russia help build any kind of chemistry that can benefit the Storm?
Bird: As players, you don’t really think about it that much when you’re in those situations. I’m not like, ‘Hmm, what would she be like?’ Someone would have to be a total (expletive) wipe for me to be like, ‘You don’t want them there!’ You know what I mean? No one is really that bad. To me, it’s always worth bringing someone over regardless.
Q: With Camille Little, how have you seen her develop?
Bird: I’m a big fan of Milli’s game. I really enjoy playing with her. You’ve just seen her kind of mature through the years and become more consistent. The best part about Camille is she does X,Y, and Z really well. And she will just kill you doing X, Y, and Z no matter what. She just kind of stays within herself and her game. And teams know it. They know her spin move, it doesn’t matter, she still gets them on it. She’s always been that one player, her and Tanisha (Wright), that when they play well, our team’s going to do well regardless. They are kind of that unsung hero, slash X-factor. Camille had a great year and a lot was asked of her.
Q: Do you think Game 3 was Camille’s best?
Bird: She came out ready to go. It’s funny, because I know if you were to ask her, I know she wouldn’t say it was her best. I think she just feels that way because we lost. We had a couple of missed opportunities for her. But I thought she played great that game and she really got us going. It was so important for us to get off to a good start and she was really the player that came out and threw that first punch. We really needed that.
Q: And with all the lineup changes, injuries, how important was it to have at least one person always be there?
Bird: Yeah. And for that person to be her — Katie (Smith) as well — they seemed to just be there the whole time. You come to rely on certain things. For myself, I came to rely on Milli for that consistency. She obviously stayed healthy and was able to give us everything she had every single game and we knew we were going to get that no matter what.
Q: What about her parents cooking for y’all at Alysha Clark’s apartment. How did that help team bonding?
Bird: My mom was in town, so I couldn’t go. I missed the rapping (competition) because I know they would have lost. They’re happy. Deep down they’re glad I didn’t go. I missed the fatback, too, her parents only bring it for me. I am sad I missed it. Stuff like that, it’s important. And it’s good because it all happens so naturally. It wasn’t forced. We’re not all sitting around in a circle going, ‘OK, let’s have team bonding.’
*PHOTO CREDIT: Sue Bird gets set for defense by US Presswire