One Month Free Trial | Join Now

Get Started

Podcast No. 42: Sue Bird, Basketball Legend

October 1, 2019

My guest today is Sue Bird, one of the most accomplished basketball players to ever step on the court.

By Will Ahmed

Listen, review, subscribe.

Dating back to her high school state championship, Sue has won at every single level. She’s a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, a 4-time FIBA World Cup champion, a 3-time WNBA champion, a 5-time EuroLeague champion and a 2-time NCAA title-winner at UConn. Sue is also a WHOOP member who’s been an avid user of the product for nearly 3 years.

We discuss how she’s embraced new technology and adapted her mindset to allow her to continue competing as the oldest player in the WNBA, as well as the winning attitude she’s had since childhood. Sue and I also talk about the recovery methods she likes that have enabled her to bounce back from multiple knee injuries, and why she’d like to see the US women’s national team play against celebrities at the NBA All-Star Game.

Sue was an amazing guest and a real pleasure to talk to, I think you’ll find this conversation to be quite entertaining and insightful.

Show Notes:

4:37 – So Much Success for So Long. “It’s a testament to being willing to change, which is not easy for athletes. You have to have an open mind.”

5:17 – Open Minded About Nutrition. “As an athlete, you’re just constantly fueling for the workout, and then refueling afterwards. It’s a cycle, not just what you eat, but more so when and why. I had to learn a lot about that.”

6:20 – Focus on Recovery. “For me, it’s very much predicated on my sleep. … On game day I’m like clock work. My body just knows I need more.”

7:49 – Winning Mindset. “It’s always been programmed in. Growing up there’s stories in my family of me cheating at Candy Land. I was a sore loser. It was just kind of in me from Day 1.” Sue also tries to be the best teammate she can be. “When I’m out there, my goal is to make it easy for everyone else.”

11:29 – The Process. “I make a lot of lists. … I get my confidence from knowing I’ve checked off the boxes that I need to check off to play well. At this point, I don’t even need to be on the basketball court that much, I just need to make sure my body is ready to go. My Achilles heel is my left knee.”

14:59 – Rest Instead of Practice. “Some days I’ll raise my hand and say ‘I can’t go today.’ That took awhile [to get to that point]. There has to be trust there with you and your coach, and your teammates.” That trust has to be earned.

17:37 – Making Lists. “My workouts, that stuff, I need to have my ducks in a row, or I’m going to feel stressed about it.”

19:07 – Meditation. “I use Headspace. In season, I try to do it every day. … I think it’s just clearing my mind. I fall asleep 85% of the time.”

20:52 – Morning Routine. “I will set my alarm early to have some chill morning time. I like to catch up on my ESPN.”

21:24 – Seeing Herself on SportsCenter. “I don’t mind it. It means I did something right.”

22:01 – Additional Strain from Morning Shootaround on Game Day. “I once played for coach who didn’t have shootaround, and her whole premise was to sleep more. … I found that I felt amazing that whole year.” They also didn’t have any early morning flights.

25:25 – NBA Front Office Role with Denver Nuggets. “It’s a puzzle, it’s a lot of moving parts.”

26:51 – Coffee Naps. “I’ll nap every game day. Coffee naps are good because you can squeeze them in. It usually takes 20-30 minutes for the caffeine to kick in.”

29:59 – Caffeine. “I always have coffee before games,” usually about 2-3 hours prior to playing.

31:04 – Pre-Game Routine. “I use a supplement called Vitargo, a fast-acting carb. … I have it at halftime also.”

33:09 – Getting Her Knee Ready. “Needs to be warm. … If I keep my quad strong, that’s going to take the brunt.”

33:51 – Blood Flow Restriction. “It’s amazing, especially for someone like me where pounding is going to have an impact.” Sue uses cuffs that have helped her build muscle in her weak knee without having to put as much weight on it. “It literally looks like something to take your blood pressure.”

37:05 – Game-Time Adrenaline. “I’ve found that I’ve had to create different motivational tools, I kind of tell myself stories,” in order to get herself amped up for less meaningful mid-season games. It’s something Michael Jordan used to do. “Like ‘Oh, what if my nieces were here watching,’ or ‘What if the national team scouts were here?’ … Sometimes for me as an older player I have to fake it a little bit at the start.”

39:53 – Post-Game Recovery. “I try to eat as soon as possible. I usually go to dinner with my teammates.”

40:56 – Bedtime. “I can fall asleep in seconds.” Her girlfriend Megan Rapinoe has a WHOOP as well. “She’s not nearly as disciplined, so it’s kind of funny to see the difference in our usage. … I fall asleep faster, she gets more.”

41:42 – Being a World-Class Athlete Couple. “It’s great, you can talk about things that each person has a true understanding of. … We’ve both kind of experienced all of it.” Sue and Megan also work out together.

42:45 – 2019 Women’s World Cup. “I actually got to go to the Final, that was the one silver lining to being hurt this summer.”

43:16 – Thrill of Winning. “I’ve not found other things that can make you feel the way that feels. … But the sad part is it really only lasts that night. Nothing is ever quite like the night you win.”

45:07 – Nerves. “I don’t feel nervous when I play,” but she was watching Megan in the World Cup, “because you have no control.”

46:44 – Effect of Cell Phones. “I’m definitely addicted to my phone. … Being at dinner with a group of 23-25 year olds, you see the lost art of conversation. They keep their phones at dinner, constantly out. They’ll just FaceTime to be like ‘What’s up?’” During the playoffs, Sue put all her social media apps in a folder on the back page of her phone. She also hates notifications.

50:56 – Recovery Methods she likes and doesn’t like. “I do not ice. … The minute I think that something’s not working, I’m out.”

53:25 – Supplements. “I use this product called Resync. It’s essentially a recovery powder. I find that my sleep numbers are way better when I’m using it.”

54:11 – Alcohol’s Effect on WHOOP Data. “Alcohol. Holy moly. Ho-ly, mo-ly. You probably know what’s bad and what’s good, and alcohol is the best example of this, but to see numbers validates that. Now I’m more thoughtful around the times I ‘let loose’ and have some drinks.”

55:34 – Mental Stress vs. Cardio Strain. “If I’m doing a shooting drill and I have to make 8 out of 10 and I can’t get it, it’s going to stress me out, and that’s when my strain can also increase.”

58:41 – Athletes Who Don’t Embrace Data are Idiots. “If you’re an athlete who’s getting older in your field, if you’re not open to all the knowledge available now, what are you doing?”

1:00:05 – Who Does She Emulate? “Obviously if I had $1 million to blow, I’d be doing exactly what LeBron is doing. Same with Tom Brady. … The money just makes it a little bit easier to be disciplined [with training and recovery].”

1:01:31 – What’s Next? “I’ve been saying for the last 4-5 years that I’m on these one-year plans, ‘Ask me in a year.’ Right now the one-year plan consists of getting healthy, get ready for next year’s WNBA season, get ready for the Olympics, hopefully.”

1:02:19 – Recovering from Knee Surgery. “This rehab was interesting, it was about getting all these things to wake up again.”

1:04:57 – Women’s National Team vs. Celebrities? “My biggest thing, what I really want, is to play against the celebrities at NBA All-Star Weekend. I think that’s what needs to happen.” Sue coached in the celebrity game last year. Will says, “I think you’re going to kill a bunch of celebrities.” Sue replies, “I think that’s why it’d be fun. … I think it’d be fun, I think it’ll be entertaining, right away, off the bat, weren’t you like ‘Oh, I’d watch that?’”

1:06:33 – WNBA vs. NBA. “I’m not sitting here saying that we would beat Ray Allen, he’s a former NBA player. A lot of people think women’s basketball players, when we talk about money and equal pay, that we’re saying we’re better than the NBA, better than or equal to the men. No, we’re not the same as them, but we should be treated equally. … NBA players aren’t the ones that are in the streets talking trash about us, it’s kind of your average everyday Joe [who is]. Dudes like to size people up, it’s just part of their nature, so they see a women’s basketball player and they’re like ‘Huh, I could take her,’” which is why she’d like to play against celebrities. “NBA players can appreciate good basketball and they’re not threatened by us.”

1:07:39 – The WNBA Ball. “Oatmeal and orange,” Sue calls it. But, you can see it spin better.

1:10:15 – Winning the Olympics vs. Other Championships. “What makes the Olympics different is what it means to represent your country. Every American was cheering for us, that was mind-blowing.”

1:13:01 – Travel Tips. “I find that the minute you land, it’s really beneficial to work out.”

1:15:09 – Most Relaxing Vacation. “I’m such a beach person, that relaxes me.”

1:15:44 – Lowest WHOOP Recovery. “Like 2%, I was drinking all night. … That alcohol man, It’s bad. It’s BAD.”

Share on and

Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.