In the almost 20 years that Sue Bird has been on basketball's national stage, her signature -- and best remembered -- play is a jump shot. Her 15-footer at the buzzer on March 6, 2001, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs gave the University of Connecticut a two-point win over Notre Dame and the Big East tournament championship.
But history will record that she was best at setting up her teammates for baskets.
The 36-year-old guard had a season high 13 assists Friday night to become the WNBA's all-time leader in that category in the visiting Seattle Storm's 110-106 overtime loss to the Washington Mystics 110-106 at Capital One Arena.
"She is the embodiment of what a point guard is in the women's game, the type of person everyone wants to play with," 2017 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. "She gets everyone involved but can still step up and make the big shot. She has fun with an effusive personality. When you think of a quintessential point guard, it is Sue Bird. Whether it's college of the WNBA, that's the case."
Bird entered Friday night's action needing three assists and it came with just 6:25 gone when her dish to a cutting Carolyn Swords ended with a layup. The assist was No. 2,600 for her career and it moved her past Ticha Penicheiro in the record book. Swords, out of Boston College, also netted the basket that tied the assist mark 26 seconds earlier.
The game was stopped after the record breaker and Bird was presented the game ball while receiving a warm ovation from the crowd.
"That's what she does best. She finds people in the best situations on the court," Phoenix Mercury guard and Bird's former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi said. "Everyone who gets to play with her understands what kind of level of passer she's at. No one else is even close."
It took Bird 33 more games and 2,572 more minutes of playing time to pass Penicheiro, a star at Old Dominion who spent most of her WNBA career with the Sacramento Monarchs before finishing in 2012 with the Chicago Sky. But Bird also ranks ninth in WNBA history in scoring and has more than doubled Penicheiro's career point total (5,821-2,747).
Bird had 19 points in Friday night's loss.
"When it comes to a milestone like that you're talking about a full career," Bird said earlier this summer. "It speaks to longevity. It speaks to consistency. For assists, it speaks to my teammates who put the ball in the basket when I get it to them. In 10 years, 20 years when I look back, it will be something that I'll be proud of."
Just minutes after seeing her record broken, Penicheiro sent her congratulations to Bird via a post on her Instagram account.
"Congratulations on becoming the all-time assist record holder," Penicheiro wrote. "Records are meant to be broken and if somebody is going to take your 'crown,' you want it to be somebody like you. You do it with class, charisma, passion, humility, efficiency, professionalism and creativity, always leading your team and your teammates! You have done so much for the game, not just here with the WNBA, in the U.S., but all over the world! Continue to be an example of how to play the game the right way and continue to inspire people around the world to play basketball. I will continue to cheer every dime you throw because I am -- and will always be -- a fan!!!"
Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx is third on the all-time assist with 2,249, followed by the retired Becky Hammon (1,708) and Taurasi (1,656). Taurasi became the WNBA's all-time leading scorer on June 17.
Lauren Jackson has been the recipient of the most Bird assists (624). Her former UConn teammate Swin Cash is fourth on that list (131) while her fellow UConn graduate and current Storm teammate Breanna Stewart is sixth (116).
In her 16th WNBA season, she is averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 assists while showing no signs of slowing down.
"I can only speak for myself and it's been documented so I'm not saying anything new," Bird said. "A couple of years ago I looked in the mirror and had a moment of. 'What do I want my final years to be? Do I want to have a negative experience on the way out or do I want to see what I can do and control what I can control and see if I can make it positive?' I changed my diet. I changed my workout regimen. I changed it all. Now here I am feeling healthy and I'm going to stay on that train until it pushes me off."
The Syosset, New York, native came to UConn in 1998 out of Christ the King High in Queens as part of the Huskies' "TASSK Force" recruiting class.
Though she missed the final 26 games of her freshman season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, Bird would finish her career with 1,378 points and 585 assists. Her average assists (5.0 per game) rank second to Jill Brumbaugh in UConn history while her assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.11 is second to Moriah Jefferson. She was the consensus 2002 national Player of the Year as she led the Huskies to a 39-0 record and the program's second national championship in three seasons.
The Storm selected her with the first pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft and she's been a 10-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion in Seattle.
With USA Basketball, she's won a record-tying four Olympic gold medals and a record four FIBA world championships medals (three gold, one bronze). She is one of 10 players to win a NCAA crown, a WNBA title, and Olympic and world championships gold medals.
"When you look back, did I know when we were recruiting Sue Bird that we were getting the greatest point guard ever? No," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When we were recruiting Diana, I knew we were getting something special. I knew we were getting something that had never come around before. But when we were recruiting Sue, she was much more under the radar, she was much more of a good player who was a lot better than people thought. We always knew she was going to be really, really good."
"She reminded me that if this (assist record) were to happen, we would have from the same school the leading scorer in the history of the league and the leading assist person in the history of the league. I mean, maybe it's not unusual for a school to have one. Maybe it's not unusual for a school to have both. But it's pretty amazing to have them both in the same backcourt at the same time."
Bird's record-breaking performance was the lone bright spot of Friday night's game for Seattle (14-19), which will close out the regular season Sunday at Chicago. But the Storm did get good news afterwards game as losses by the Sky and the Atlanta Dream gave them the final playoff berth. Seattle will be the No. 8 seed and goes on the road to face the No. 5 seed -- either Phoenix or Washington -- in a single-elimination first-round game either Wednesday or Thursday.