Sporting leadership, in its most potent form, can fall anywhere along a sweeping spectrum. Both simmering focus and demonstrative fury can be captivating and inspiring to the highest degree, for teammates and bystanders alike. The fact that the pair of methods lack mutual exclusivity makes for, in certain moments, a textured concerto of captaincy.
It was with three minutes left in Game 5’s deciding brawl between the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm that Sue Bird lost her mind and led with a fervent power the likes of which I haven’t seen in some time.
The first half had not been generous to Seattle’s admiral and, in spite of her apparent frustration, the shots kept coming and composure was maintained. A broken nose, sustained just days before, was proving more detrimental than expected, despite the opportunity to rep the most menacing facemask possible.
After burying 8 points worth of jumpers in the previous two minutes of the tensest contest imaginable, a double team from Phoenix caused a scrum at the top of the arc, resulting in a jump ball. Bird felt as though one of the mercurial combatants had taken a cheap shot and attempted to remove her mask. Brooding calm immediately exploded into pure outrage. The magnitude of both the moment and Bird’s fortitude were tangible.
Literally all of us:
Diana Taurasi is incredibly terrifying. Her mere presence exudes aplomb the likes of which we have never seen. Every step she takes has a purpose and every smirk acquaints you with the inevitable notion of her superiority.
Taurasi leads within a different archetype than Bird. While Sue can break character at times, she is largely the stoic director of Seattle’s thundering tempest. Taurasi exists to assassinate her opponents in the biggest situations conceivable and scream victorious profanities (tastefully of course) into the ether.
The divergence of style between Bird’s smoldering unflappability and Taurasi’s open flame is clear to someone who hasn’t watched all that much of their play. What unites the duo of methods is an unwavering intensity and palpable confidence.
Once Tuesday’s hypothetical assault on Bird’s fragmented nose had been quelled, the pair were united as one superior being, while each existed within their own inferno.
The ensuing jump ball was won by a hustling Alicia Clark, but the ball’s final destination was predetermined. After a quick detour through the hands of Sami Whitcomb, Sue Bird assumed possession four feet behind the three-point line.
As Bird pulled up and the leathery orb left her fingertips, a trillion middle fingers rained down upon every soul lucky enough to observe the phenomenon transpiring within the confines of Key Arena. The endgame was clear and never in doubt. Bird held her arm up in the iconic ‘shooters shoot’ moment of 2018 as the ball swished through the net, pushed the Storm’s lead to 8, and reminded everybody that this was, is, and will continue to be, her house.
A barrage of baskets by Taurasi, which is normally enough to withstand even the most devastating of blows, couldn’t dream of it on this particular evening. I’m not sure when the trial is, but I am exceptionally surprised that Sue Bird wasn’t immediately arrested for arson after burning down Key Arena in such merciless fashion.
The clock hit zero and the camera immediately panned to Taurasi, sitting on the bench and, finally, appearing defeated. Her perma-confidence may seem to be second nature, but it has to be a truly exhausting task being the constantly-burning leader on a championship-caliber squad.
The two friends met at midcourt and briefly embraced before heading their separate ways. Bird and Taurasi share a connection much larger and more impactful than the game of basketball, but the fatigue of a five-round slugfest takes its toll, no matter what route one takes to the state of vehemence.
Bird understands that she is far from finished, after leading her team yet again to the WNBA Finals. The masquerade between equilibrium and insanity is neverending, but necessary. Especially in the postseason.
The Storm head into Game Two of their title bout on this day.
And no matter which technique Bird employs to pilot the team towards victory today or later this week, the Washington Mystics should be scared shitless.