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Sue Chicken’s subsequent 25 years

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The 19-year-old who had simply scored 19 factors to guide her crew to the nationwide championship recreation sat within the locker room showing neither nervous nor overconfident. She simply regarded prepared.

Sue Bird wasn’t new to the highlight: She had performed for highschool powerhouse Christ The King in New York Metropolis and was a sophomore for the UConn Huskies, though she had misplaced most of her freshman season to a knee harm. However the 2000 ladies’s Ultimate 4 was her greatest stage but: in Huskies coach Geno Auriemma’s Philadelphia hometown with a title-game matchup between UConn and the Tennessee Lady Vols when their rivalry was at a zenith.

As a media throng enveloped Chicken to ask her to place all of it in perspective after UConn’s semifinal win, she did simply that. So nicely, actually, {that a} reporter summed up the sentiments of others strolling away: “No matter ‘it’ is, that child has acquired it.”

She nonetheless does. If that was “the way it began,” that is “the way it’s going”: Chicken is in her nineteenth and remaining WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, a future Corridor of Famer looking for a fifth league title to match her 5 Olympic gold medals. She is the league’s all-time chief in assists (3,202) and video games performed (575, not counting 54 within the playoffs). This week, she’s going to play her remaining two regular-season video games in Seattle, on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV) and Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

However Chicken will not disappear. If something, she may turn out to be an excellent bigger presence within the sports activities world after her enjoying profession. She will not be a ride-off-into-the-sunset kind. Whereas she’s going to take a while to relaxation, loosen up and mirror, there are various issues she will be able to and can pursue. That may be crew administration and possession, or in teaching, broadcasting and media. Trend and product endorsement? Social activism? Probably, it might be a mixture of all the above, and likewise issues she hasn’t found but.

“There aren’t any limits,” Auriemma stated. “There aren’t any boundaries which are going to stop Sue from being profitable in no matter endeavor she chooses — whether or not that is inside sports activities or outdoors the sports activities world.

“There is a great push now that I feel she’s on the forefront of, amongst others, in bringing much more consideration, recognition, assist and appreciation for ladies generally, and ladies in sports activities particularly.”

As Chicken’s profession winds down, it is a celebration for that more and more uncommon athlete who’s linked to at least one franchise: Her total WNBA profession has been with Seattle, the place she is on town’s legendary sports activities “Rushmore.” Tears will probably be shed and the applause will crescendo as she finishes her remaining moments in a Storm jersey, each time that’s.

After which? Chicken will probably be “younger” once more, beginning in a world past that of an expert athlete.

“I’ve 100% internalized being ‘previous’ for the final a number of years,” stated Chicken, who turns 42 in October. “I have been the oldest participant within the league since 2017, continually requested about it. You may’t ignore it. I do know being in my 40s will not be a spring hen by any means. However within the grand scheme of issues, I’ve a complete life to stay and a lot to do.”

“I need to do issues in a manner that grows the pie for everyone. I really feel actually enthusiastic about that, given my expertise as a feminine athlete preventing for scraps. I do not need that to be the case for the subsequent technology.”

Sue Chicken

When Chicken stopped enjoying in Russia after the 2014 abroad season, she began spending her WNBA offseasons pursuing different issues. She was an analyst for ladies’s faculty basketball video games, labored within the Denver Nuggets entrance workplace, did public talking and helped launch a multimedia and commerce firm, TOGETHXR, with fellow athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim and Simone Manuel.

“I began out simply dipping my toe in some waters,” Chicken stated. “I did not need to be the 42-year-old intern who did not know something. I wished to be taught earlier than I retired from enjoying. Staying concerned in basketball and sports activities is admittedly essential to me. That would imply a whole lot of various things.”

Here is a take a look at what may lie forward for Chicken after she performs her remaining WNBA recreation.

A future in administration, possession

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Natasha Cloud cannot get the 3-pointer to fall because the Storm seize the win and clinch a playoff spot.

Chicken was on court docket as KeyArena swelled with a cacophony of joyful yells and thunderstix because the Storm gained its first of 4 WNBA titles in 2004. She was there in 2008 when Seattle misplaced the Sonics. She is there now after a $1 billion-plus renovation reworked the constructing into state-of-the-art Local weather Pledge Area, which can be dwelling to the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

The WNBA was at its peak of 16 groups in Chicken’s 2002 rookie season. She has seen six franchises fold, three relocate (two of them doing so twice) and two growth groups be part of the league. She has been a part of 4 collective bargaining agreements between the WNBA and the gamers union, the WNBPA.

Chicken has noticed how franchises and leagues work and the way they do not. She acknowledges the complexities of infrastructure, and that negotiation means give-and-take. She is aware of that development and loss are a part of enterprise, {and professional} sports activities are at their core simply that: enterprise. However in addition they will be a lot extra to cities, areas and nations.

Thus, involvement in crew administration and possession could also be a part of Chicken’s future. In truth, it already is: In July, Chicken joined an possession group for the Nationwide Ladies’s Soccer League’s NJ/NY Gotham FC, the place she is predicted to have a big advisory position.

Chicken’s time with the Nuggets gave her higher perception into the participant analysis and growth facet of sports activities, too. She frolicked with former Nuggets executives Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas, together with present Denver normal supervisor Calvin Sales space.

“It was the blokes on the workers who construct the roster,” Chicken stated. “I might sit in on all their conferences, whether or not it was concerning the present roster, the longer term, commerce situations. You begin stepping into the wage cap ins and outs. I might watch movie of gamers and provides my opinion.

“I realized a lot that I’ve taken with me to the WNBA, and it confirmed up in a few of the CBA conversations we had, seeing how the NBA does issues and selecting what works for us.”

Ginny Gilder, one of many Storm’s homeowners, stated Chicken’s time with CBA negotiating and being concerned in some Storm enterprise issues confirmed she understood each side of the equation between labor and administration, together with what is required to get offers performed.

“She is aware of pay attention, ask questions, negotiate,” Gilder stated. “She understands which you could’t simply push for what you need. You’ve got acquired to consider what the opposite facet desires, too, and that ‘win-win’ is the way in which to do it.”

‘Coach’ Chicken?

Nobody who has watched Chicken in even one recreation would query the purpose guard’s capacity to expertly run a crew on the ground. All the pieces else that’s required of a coach — scouting, strategizing, decision-making, communication — matches her talent set as nicely.

“I like issues to stream proper,” she stated. “It is really the best praise if somebody says that once I’m on the ground, issues simply make sense.”

However does Chicken need to coach? For now, she does not, however she will not shut that door fully.

“Simply the X’s and O’s, determining methods and schemes, beat sure groups — that to me might be how folks really feel after they create music,” Chicken stated. “There’s like a concord to it, and I adore it.

“However there are every kind of different issues in a coach’s life that basically do not curiosity me. It’s so disturbing worrying about subbing, gamers’ mentalities, getting ready for video games — all of the issues that trigger sleepless nights. And to some extent, I really feel like I’ve already lived that life as a participant.”

Auriemma coached Chicken at UConn and with the nationwide crew in two Olympics and two FIBA World Cups. He thinks the aggressive itch will be scratched in some ways past teaching.

“Extra former gamers are actually trying to enter the locations the place you’ve got probably the most affect, and that is not as a coach,” he stated. “They are going to be possession and front-office jobs.”

However Chicken stated that if she does determine sometime to teach, she would have an interest within the highest-level execs. Along with her twenty years on the nationwide crew, she might current an intriguing choice for USA Basketball. Even when she did not coach elsewhere, maybe she might be an assistant and even head coach of the U.S. ladies’s nationwide crew. The best way it’s now, faculty and professional coaches take that on as an additional job.

“That is an attention-grabbing query,” Auriemma stated. “For those who’re a former participant with sufficient credibility, you’re given slightly extra leeway in coming into teaching than another person.”

Auriemma has teased Chicken that he hopes she coaches in some unspecified time in the future, “Simply so she’s going to see how depressing it’s. She’ll really feel horrible about how unhealthy she made it for everyone who coached her as a result of she all the time thought she was smarter than us.”

In all seriousness, Chicken has been a coach on the ground for thus lengthy that this would appear a pure development.

“By no means say by no means,” Chicken stated. “However I simply do not know if I will ever get into it.”

A path forward in media, endorsements and activism

Chicken acknowledges she hasn’t thought lots about her private branding. However she understands it higher within the final stage of her enjoying profession.

“The primary issues that come to thoughts are my confidence and my energy, and the way I’ve come into simply being myself,” she stated. “Authenticity and being real are actually the keys.

“We’re all continually on a journey of figuring ourselves out. I am a very good instance: I did not even come out as homosexual till I used to be 36, and I really feel like life actually started in that second as a result of I used to be residing my fact. I began to see different issues I used to be enthusiastic about, issues simply form of mendacity dormant inside me as a result of I used to be a product of society saying to simply match into sure molds.”

Chicken is engaged to U.S. ladies’s nationwide soccer crew star Megan Rapinoe, who lately gained the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her activism as an athlete. The 2 have performed tv commercials, picture shoots and appeared on panels collectively.

“Pinoe is a born change-maker,” Gilder stated. “I feel Sue has stepped into that house as nicely.”

Rapinoe and Chicken did a podcast known as “A Contact Extra” in the course of the pandemic, and Chicken and Taurasi mixed in the course of the ladies’s Ultimate 4 for an alternate broadcast that featured them chatting and interviewing folks in the course of the video games. Chicken stated the manufacturing a part of these endeavors and TOGETHXR pursuits her as a lot as being the “title” expertise concerned, as she’s intrigued by the technical elements of plan and set up exhibits. That’s the level guard in Chicken popping out.

“As any individual who’s been interviewed my complete life, I completely embrace and settle for that being the interviewer is a complete completely different factor,” Chicken stated. “And with commercials, they’ve nice writers. However it’s a must to work to get the comedic timing proper.”

Some athletes can keep and even enhance their reputation and affect lengthy after they’ve stopped enjoying.

“And take into consideration somebody like John Madden — total generations know him as a broadcaster and from the Madden online game,” Auriemma stated. “They do not keep in mind him as a coach. That is the identical manner for former gamers like Shaquille O’Neal or Charles Barkley or Rebecca Lobo, who’ve taken on completely different roles. I consider folks like Sue are exceptionally well-positioned to carve out a profession that’s going to outline them to a complete new group of followers.”

No matter Chicken does will all the time have a robust facet of social conscience. Chicken was in highschool when the WNBA launched in 1997, so she remembers when a ladies’s professional basketball league did not exist in the US. Her time with the union has proven her the contrasting challenges of defending a rising league whereas additionally pushing the needle for change. She is aware of ladies’s sports activities nonetheless battle age-old prejudices, simply as ladies themselves do.

It is why she was desirous to spend money on the NWSL crew, and why she now not avoids controversial subjects that profit from her perception.

“I need to do issues in a manner that grows the pie for everyone,” Chicken stated. “I really feel actually enthusiastic about that, given my expertise as a feminine athlete preventing for scraps. I do not need that to be the case for the subsequent technology.”

Gilder, an Olympic silver medalist in rowing, understands the transition from world-class athlete to the remainder of life. She entered the enterprise world within the Eighties after which was a part of the Drive 10 Hoops group that purchased the Storm in 2008 and stored them in Seattle when the NBA’s Sonics left for Oklahoma.

“The factor about being an athlete on a day-to-day degree, is you do not actually have to consider your goal,” Gilder stated. “You are centered on caring for your crew, ensuring you are wholesome and as sturdy as you will be. Sue’s been enjoying this sport her total life. Quickly, she will not have the security internet of all the time realizing what you should do when there’s one other recreation.

“She deserves the chance to simply take a breath and see what it is like. After which it is, ‘What does she need?’ Sue can do something. There’s extra of a roadmap for her and different athletes now. Are you keen to push for change? To place your credibility on the road as you do this?”

Chicken’s greatest focus proper now, after all, is what is correct in entrance of her with the Storm’s season. She has all the time been in a position to maintain the crew entrance and middle. However in some unspecified time in the future later this 12 months, the remainder of her life begins.

“I will miss enjoying basketball terribly,” Chicken stated. “I feel there are elements of it which are simply so onerous to copy or duplicate outdoors of sports activities, however I additionally haven’t any regrets.

“So it is gonna be — simple will not be the suitable phrase, however manageable. I really feel at peace in so some ways. And, yeah, I am very excited.”



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