Oct 4, 2020; Bradenton, Florida, USA; Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird (10) laughs during game two of the 2020 WNBA Finals at IMG Academy. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

When sports have been an integral part of your life, and you’ve played it at such a high level, what does it feel like to know the end is coming? At the beginning of Sue Bird: In The Clutch, she reckons with that on the cusp of the final season of her illustrious 22-year WNBA career in 2022. Bird calls the game of basketball a gift and attributes it to being in the flow state — something that she’ll miss. If there are parallel storylines within director Sarah Dowland’s documentary, it’s one of celebration of career and personal achievements, then the acceptance of a career coming to an end. If you’ve followed Bird’s career from her championship days at UConn to her five Olympic gold medals and four WNBA titles with the Seattle Storm, In The Clutch will be a walk down memory lane. Conversely, people can understand what type of player Bird was from herself, former teammates, coaches, and family members.

It’s a documentary that paints with broad strokes. Still, it sometimes meets with broader implications considering Bird’s multi-faceted nature of activism, court general, fiancee, friend, and mentor of women’s basketball. Bird herself has always been a competitor down to playing board games growing up in Long Island. As Bird notes in interviews, her father was brutally honest about her play, and she carried that ethos throughout her career. Dowland illustrates Bird’s rise as a tough competitor and winner at every game stage. The 2002 UConn team is arguably one of the greatest teams ever, winning 39-0 and the national title. Former college teammate Diana Taurasi and coach Geno Auriemma attest to Bird’s leadership as a point guard as being the anchor to that team. 

That natural ability to lead went with Bird as the first overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft to the Seattle Storm, where she would play her entire career. In The Clutch also touches on much of the inequality between the major basketball leagues during this time (and beyond). Bird herself states she didn’t have women’s basketball players to look up to (simply because there wasn’t a WNBA in existence). Thus, it’s a beautiful full-circle moment to see Bird slide into that role for others as her playing career winded down. The documentary chronicles the difficulties as well. For a player who had winning come so naturally to her, the spaces between title wins for the Storm were spacious and challenging. There were injuries as well. Bird explains that before her last year, she felt her body betray her — a reverse eureka moment all athletes arrive at. The Storm fans chanting “one more year” at in the 2021 WNBA semifinals helped her decide to return. Then, there were the funding shortfalls of the WNBA and her Bird, along with Taurasi having to go to Russia to play professional basketball for better wages. A particular story is told within the documentary, highlighting a potentially dangerous situation Bird and other players were in. It emphasizes that wage disparities remain a sticking point with the WNBA today. 

In the early days of the WNBA, there was this expectation that female athletes had to look a certain way and keep a particular sexual orientation expectation alive. In 2003, Bird notes she officially came out to those closest to her, but at the behest of her fiancee, soccer great Megan Rapinoe, because of how important it could be, she officially came out to the world in 2017. By the end of In The Clutch, you have fully realized how great an athlete and person Sue Bird is. It has its usual documentary beats and throughlines to follow, yet it is still an informative and delightful watch for a subject worthy of praise.