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HARTFORD, Conn. _ It was easy enough to appreciate the moment Tuesday night, seeing Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird clinch and celebrate a WNBA championship.

They dominated the Finals, these former UConn stars, making what's difficult look easy. Bird passing the ball and Stewart finishing is poetry in motion. Their play and presence are among the very best things basketball has going for it right now.

This party was about more than the present, though.

It was about the past, with both players having fought through injuries that cost them the 2019 season and overcoming fear and doubt. And it was about the future, wondering what's next in Stewart's ascension as the most complete player in the world and when Bird will actually apply the finishing touch to her own remarkable run.

It was about what has been accomplished and, more important, what can be. It was about coming back _ all the way _ and individual perseverance to match that of a league that operated in a bubble over the past three months in Bradenton, Fla.

"This season wasn't easy," said Stewart, wearing goggles and sipping champagne after the Seattle Storm finished a sweep of the Las Vegas Aces Tuesday night. "And it wasn't easy in a whole bunch of different areas."

There was a pandemic. There was the isolation needed for a season. There were social injustice issues for players to wrap their minds around and act on.

And there were personal hurdles.

Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP and Finals MVP, ruptured an Achilles' tendon in April 2019 and sat out last season. She lost out on another regular-season MVP award to the Aces' A'ja Wilson, but she dominated in the Finals, named MVP after averaging 28.3 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 61.5%. Stewart made 11 of 16 3-pointers and owned the defining stretches of games that made this series a laugher.

"Stewie is just one of those players, a generational player that comes through once in a while that can face adversity and even get stronger because of it," Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg said.

There is no better player in the world.

"I've seen all the worse (of Achilles' injuries) and I wasn't sure I was ever going to be back to where I was," Stewart said. "But to be here, to see myself playing like this, and having so much potential going forward, it's exciting but at the same time (I'm) also really appreciating what we were able to do this year, (and) being able to play with Sue."

Bird-to-Stewart is the way it often goes on the court.

It was Stewart-to-Bird that helped rejuvenate this franchise and its point guard.

After struggling for a couple years at the outset of the post-Lauren Jackson era, the Storm selected Stewart with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, a year after taking Jewell Loyd with the top pick. Two championships in five years followed, this most recent one showcasing the ability of Stewart and Bird to embrace sacrifice and overcome the cruel hand sometimes dealt by the sport's grueling around-the-globe and year-round nature.

"This one is different than 2018, but it was harder," said Stewart, 26. "Harder, and it means more."

Bird, in her 19th professional year, has won four titles under four different coaches in the past 16 seasons _ Anne Donovan in 2004, Brian Agler in 2010, Dan Hughes in 2018 and now Kloppenburg.

"That I've been able to do it in different decades with the same franchise, not many people can say that," said Bird, who missed last season after knee surgery, then was limited to 11 of 22 regular-season games with a bone bruise. "I've been here for 19 seasons, 17 that I've played, and to be able to recreate that magic with different groups _ to stay at a high level over time is something I'm proud of because it hasn't been easy."

There are few more accomplished athletes in the world.

Bird is also a two-time NCAA champion, a five-time champion in Russia, a four-time FIBA World Cup winner and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. She is the WNBA's all-time leader in games played and assists.

Two-plus years ago, in July 2018, Bird said something that made me think differently about age, retirement, joy in the workplace, capabilities of a human body, even how to speak to athletes about longevity.

In Connecticut for a game against the Sun, Bird, 37 at the time, was asked whether she might retire. She said, "When I turned 30, the first question I got was, 'How much longer do you want to play?' And I don't see why that (conversation) can't be when you turn 40. I really don't."

Bird turns 40 next week.

Maybe that conversation should start at age 45, if ever, though she was asked Tuesday if she plans to play in 2021.

"I'm on those one-year plans and I just take it as it comes," said Bird, who set a playoff record with 16 assists Friday in Game 1. "It's never a (specific) day of decision. I just start working out and see how I feel. ... The way I feel right now, if I can go through my offseason and continue to build on that in a good way, I don't see why I won't be playing next summer."

In the WNBA. And in the Olympics, seeking Gold No. 5.

Will that be easy? No. It never has been.

"I'm not going to sugar coat it," Bird said. "It's been hard. There have been ups and downs. The hardest part of being an older player is when there's that down, physically, you start to question whether you can do it anymore. You start to question why you're doing it. You start to question if it's worth it, because it can be hard."

Which only makes the champagne taste sweeter at the end of the road back to the top.

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