Sue Bird on WNBA Anniversary Jerseys and Returning to Seattle Following Fourth Championship
"Even though we are defending champs, it really is like a new team for us," the Seattle Storm captain, 40, tells PEOPLE
Coming off of her fourth WNBA championship win, Sue Bird is headed back to the Seattle Storm for another season — this time, with a whole new look.
For its 25th year, the WNBA partnered with Nike to create custom anniversary uniforms for each of the league's 12 teams. Now, with three unique game uniforms for each franchise that represent their cities and their players, the women are able to tell a story with the jerseys they wear.
"I'm just really excited that we were going to have a uniform unique to us," Bird, 40, tells PEOPLE during a recent interview about the WNBA's anniversary uniforms. "So to have something that is ours, I think is really special and really important."
For the past 24 seasons, all 12 WNBA teams have had a template uniform — the design stayed the same, changing only with each team's color and logo. Bird, as well as players from the Chicago Sky and the Indiana Fever, met with Nike to help change that.
After spending their entire careers having to tuck their shirt sleeves into their bra straps and roll up the waistbands of their shorts, the players were able to give feedback on how their uniforms should actually fit.
"We really felt like you know these are world-class athletes, they shouldn't be hacking their way into their uniforms. They deserved better," Tania Flynn, Nike's vice president and creative director of women's apparel, tells PEOPLE. "Once she puts it on, she doesn't think about it anymore because it fits her perfectly — she's not nipping and tucking. She can play her best game."
Bird, who will be leading her team as captain once again, says the revamped uniforms are the perfect way to signify the upcoming season as the Storm starts fresh after losing several players due to COVID concerns.
"Even though we are defending champs, it really is like a new team for us," she says. "We have a lot of new faces. So, it's a different challenge."
Nike's partnership with the WNBA also represents something that Bird has continued to call for over years in her fight for equity between men's and women's sports: investment.
The Olympic gold medalist says that, while the conversation surrounding equal pay in sports is rightfully mounting — thanks in part to her fiancée, U.S. Women's National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe — corporate sponsorships are a must for women's sports to ultimately be recognized and respected.
RELATED VIDEO: U.S. Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe on Quest for Equal Pay: 'We're as Close as We've Ever Been'
"The only way to succeed is with investment. You need it," she explains. "I think people do get it a little twisted with the equal pay talk — I understand that the WNBA is a business and a business has to have revenue. The thing is, like, how do you get that revenue? Women generally are held back in a lot of ways and marginalized in those areas like investment and media coverage. You know the whole analogy starting on first base, second base, third base? We're in the parking lot, and it's really hard to succeed in that way."
She added, "That's actually unique to what the WNBA deals with. U.S. Soccer is this one umbrella so to treat men and women differently on one umbrella, that's an equal pay [issue], which is a little different from what the WNBA is doing."
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There is no shortage of women in sports who have influenced Bird in her fight for equity in sports. As she put it: "I'm very lucky to have one in my house."
"I've had a front-row seat to what Megan and her teammates have had to do," she says of her fiancée, whose fight continued last month when she visited the White House on Equal Pay Day.
"But not only that, you want to educate yourself and want to be knowledgeable," Bird continues. "So, of course, we all know stories like Billie Jean King, right? In order to do what Megan is doing now and in order to do what I've been able to do with the WNBA — it's always on the shoulders of someone else."
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