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Published on September 5th, 2018 | by Landon Buford

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Sue Bird Discusses Tina Thompson and Katie Smith Leadership Styles

Three decades after Senda Abbott and Bertha Teague became the first women inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame two Seattle Storm champions will follow in their footsteps. On September 8, 2018, four-time WNBA title holder Tina Thompson and two-time WNBA champion Katie Smith take their place alongside Michael Jordan and the world’s greatest hoop heroes to be immortalized in bronze. Inarguably, Thompson and Smith are in a well-deserved rarefied company which future Hall of Famer, Sue Bird can attest. She knows her former legendary teammates well and can provide an inside view of their legendary hoop game.  I recently had the opportunity speak to the 2-time WNBA champ about Tina and Katie’s leadership style in the Storm locker room during the 2012 WNBA season, which ended in a loss in the Conference Semifinals to the Minnesota Lynx.

“They are both different people with different personalities, but there was something very similar about their leadership style: no bullshit. They give it to you straight. They don’t sugar coat anything. They keep it real all the time. As I said, they are different people, so they executed this in different ways, but at the end of the day, the result was the same: they are telling the truth.” Bird told me. 

Playing with Thompson and Smith on the same team versus playing against them were two very different experiences. The two women were hardworking, tenacious, brutal opponents. Bird explained: “Both Tina & Katie fall into the same category in my mind. It’s a category that only a few are in, and it’s probably the highest compliment you can pay: You love to play with them and HATE to play against them. At times, for the same reason. They are both fierce competitors, and whenever you played against them, you knew you were going to be in for a fight. I had the same feel as their teammate, too. Playing with Katie & Tina was so easy because you knew exactly what you were going to get every single night.”

Photo Credit – LA Times

All three hoop standouts have played in numerous battles over the years both in the WNBA and overseas. The three women also went head-to-head in practice as members of Team USA Women’s Basketball. Bird reflected on her time playing with Thompson and lessons she learned for her own game from each player.

“While playing with Tina, I saw how much confidence she had, and how that confidence never wavered. This sounds so simple, but as an athlete, it’s a quality not many have. So, I really learned what that looked like. What it felt like. And what it meant to carry yourself with confidence and play with it. Simultaneously, she was such a great teammate. Would look you in your eye and say the tough things when needed but would also be the first person to applaud you when you did something great. I think confidence plays a role in her ability to do that as well.” Bird told me. 

Katie was just so tough. Whether it was offensively, defensively, in practice, in a game – it didn’t matter. She was always coming at you with 100% effort. And even though she was one of the best players on the floor every night, she still played the game with a chip on her shoulder. And even though she had one of the smoothest shots in the game, she played with a blue-collar mentality. With Katie, you learned what it truly meant to play hard.”

Smith was one of the greatest scores in WNBA history as she is currently fifth on the all-time list. Smith is the only player to win a championship in both the WNBA and the American Basketball League. She also won three Olympic Gold Medals with Team USA.  As for Thompson, she is second on the all-time scoring list, fourth in rebounds, and won two gold medals with Team USA.

Today, both Thompson and Smith are head coaches. Thompson is at the helms of the University of Virginia women’s team, and Smith is the leader for the New York Liberty.  Some of Thompson and Smith’s 59th Hall of Fame classmates includes two-time MVP Steve “The Kid” Nash, two-time NBA champion, Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen, NBA Champion Maurice “Mo” Cheeks, Mr. “Triple Double” Jason Kidd, and point-forward Grant Hill, otherwise known as “G-Money” on the hardwood.


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About the Author

Washington State Graduate Past Interviews include Grammy Award Winner Kenny G, David Banner, WNBA President Lisa Borders, What's Trending's CEO Shira Lazar, Ice Cube, NBC's Chicago PD LaRoyce Hawkins, Family Matters Darius McCrary, En Vogues Maxine Jones, Team USA Track & Field Member Norris Frederick, James Kyson, WNBA Great Lauren Jackson, and more.


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