HARTFORD, Conn. — They may be separated by nearly 5,000 miles, but Friday afternoon was just like old times for former teammates and longtime friends Sue Bird and Svetlana Abrosimova, when the two chatted about their playing experiences and more on Abrosimova's Instagram page.
Abrosimova and Bird were teammates for three years in Storrs, where they led UConn to a national championship in 2000. They later joined forces again on the Seattle Storm and won a WNBA title in 2010. During the WNBA offseason, they spent many years competing with and against each other in Russia.
"You were two of the nicest Americans I've ever met," Abrosimova said of Bird and Diana Taurasi, another former UConn teammate. "You were sweethearts, always."
As host, Abrosimova, who just completed a stint as the general manager for the Russian national team and lives in Moscow, did most of the interviewing. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
— What it's like playing on U.S., Russia national teams
Abrosimova and Bird each dedicated much of their careers to representing their countries in international competition, but their experiences playing on national teams aren't that similar.
"It's definitely different from other countries' national teams," Bird said of playing with the U.S. "When we get on our national team, it's 'easier' just because there's so many good players and it's not about one person. … No one person feels that stress, that pressure, so that's nice, especially as a point guard."
But at the same time, because the national team doesn't get ample practice time together, it's difficult to establish chemistry and feel like they're gelling on the court. All the while, the U.S. hasn't lost in the Olympics since 1992 and hasn't dropped a tournament contest since 2006 (coincidentally, to Russia), meaning the pressure is greater.
"We don't really get that feeling (of gelling), we're kind of just trying to make it work," Bird said. "Simultaneously, we have to win."
Expectations and rewards are different in Russia, which Abrosimova explained by describing how lavishly their Olympic medalists — not just those who win gold — are treated ("Everybody gives you presents!" Abrosimova said). Much to the initial shock of Bird, Russian medalists earn prize money, are awarded cars and sometimes even apartments, and are given $5,000 per month for the rest of their lives.
— Staying in shape
Bird said that in addition to training smart and eating right, for the last four or five years she spends a good amount of practice on the bike, only participating in drills where she can get a good bang for her buck. Even though Bird's place on the 2021 U.S. Olympic roster is not guaranteed given her age (she would be 40 if the Tokyo Olympics are held in 2021) and health, the four-time Olympian said she would have no problem with coming off the bench.
"If they want me to be the spark off the bench, cool," Bird said. "I don't know how much spark I have left in me but I'll try."
Abrosimova, 39, is staying fit in her own right as a retired athlete. She recently ran a marathon, which Bird said was not a shock to any of their former UConn teammates.
"You used to murder us in the running (at UConn)," Bird told Abrosimova. "You would smash us in that."
— An eye to the future
Bird made it clear that she wants to continue to give back to women's basketball once her playing days are behind her, but she also left open the possibility of exploring options to get more involved with the NBA, where she's served as a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets.
Not that she's expecting any of that to be given to her.
"These are competitive jobs," Bird said. "If you don't perform, you lose your job. A lot of people think (women are) just getting these jobs because they're women. They don't just give these jobs out just 'cus."
— TBD: Sue and Geno
Abrosimova tries to come back to the United States for as many UConn reunions (typically at Final Fours) as possible, but asked Bird how UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been doing. She'll be able to see for herself as Bird and Auriemma have a joint Instagram Live appearance in the works that he'll host on UConn women's basketball page sometime soon.
"We're usually arguing, that's become our relationship," Bird joked. "More like friendly disagreements."
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