Three-time WNBA champion Sue Bird, introduced Friday as a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets, wasn’t looking to get into NBA management when the team’s president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, called this fall with what she called the “perfect match” for her goals.
Not long after Bird led the Seattle Storm past the Washington Mystics in the WNBA finals, Connelly reached out to her through a mutual friend — longtime NBA forward Caron Butler, a contemporary of Bird’s at the University of Connecticut who played for Connelly with the Wizards before Connelly’s move to Denver.
Bird, who plans to return for her 17th WNBA season at age 38, was quickly sold on the fit.
“It was really a perfect match, because here they are giving me this amazing opportunity but also understanding that I’m still a player,” said Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assists leader. “I still have a season, and I’m still preparing for that. It’s just, for me personally, the best of both worlds.”
Since retiring from playing overseas during the WNBA’s offseason, Bird has used the winter to check out possible post-playing careers. Most notably, she has broadcast women’s college basketball games for ESPN. However, she figured getting into coaching or a front-office role would have to wait until after her career.
“I never thought of myself in a place to really seek that out because I was still playing,” Bird said. “I shouldn’t sit here and say this was my end goal, but of course coaching has always crossed my mind, of course what it takes to build a championship team now that I’ve been part of a few, it always crosses my mind.”
Bird joins a handful of women to make the move from playing in the WNBA to working in the NBA. Rival point guard Becky Hammon is in her fifth season as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, having started in a similar role before being hired full time. Jenny Boucek, Bird’s former coach in Seattle, has been an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings and now the Dallas Mavericks. And Bird’s opposing number in this year’s Finals, Kristi Toliver, was named the Wizards’ assistant coach for player development last month.
Bird began to discuss a role with Connelly before the season began and visited Denver last month to meet with members of the front office. She joins a Nuggets team off to a strong start. At 10-5, the Nuggets entered Friday third in the Western Conference standings, with the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster when weighted by minutes played this season.
As a result, Bird sees a comparison between Denver and the young Storm team that went from a below-.500 finish in 2017 to the WNBA championship in 2018.
“I just think what they have going is really exciting to be a part of,” Bird said. “It’s somewhat reminiscent to what I’ve actually gone through first-hand in the last couple years. The Storm was rebuilding. Not that Denver was rebuilding, but all of a sudden you blink and a couple of years go by, you’ve got this great young core, talented group that’s trying to make noise. With that, you’ve got that elder player. Obviously, that was me for the Storm. For Denver, it’s Paul [Millsap].
“It’s fun to be part of something that’s on the verge of breakthrough. That’s kind of how I view the Nuggets. There’s going to be ups and downs, like every season, but that’s how I view them. It’s exciting.”