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"I just never felt that calling, if that's the right word.

I was living my life, just not necessarily leading the charge.

"Where the league is now is appropriate, I think, in terms of support." But the WNBA, Bird says, faces many other challenges. women's soccer team's earlier-than-expected exit at the 2016 Olympics, Rapinoe had time to see other events, including women's basketball.

"Homophobia hurts our league; racism hurts it; sexism hurts it," she says. For us, it's racial and gender." Rapinoe is five years younger than Bird, and despite playing professional soccer in Seattle since about 2012, she had met Bird only briefly before last year. At some point, she and Bird began a conversation -- about pretty much everything -- that is still going on. She's just so level-headed." Rapinoe drew attention last year for kneeling during the national anthem in support of then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of racial inequality.

The Long Island girl has grown into a woman who has traveled the globe and has elevated her consciousness.

"She just has this way of expressing her opinion: She doesn't shut anybody off when she speaks. These aren't secrets to people who know me," Bird says. I think people have this assumption that if you're not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it's this secret.

"Of course, I have a whole journey -- everybody does in life. I don't like to be, not necessarily 'gossiped' about but the topic of conversations." Bird knows people might assume that her relationship with Rapinoe, who has long been involved in LGBTQ activism, is what prompted her to speak out now. "This actually has nothing to do with Megan, in terms of how free I feel to talk about it," Bird says. I chickened out." She later overheard a reporter talking to one of her Olympic teammates, Elena Delle Donne, about having recently come out. And Bird is pleased that the WNBA has in recent years embraced LGBTQ pride as an initiative and reached out to LGBTQ fans -- something the league didn't do in Bird's early years as a pro.

Bird might be in the fourth quarter of her basketball career -- at 36, she is the oldest player in the WNBA and is in her 15th season with the Seattle Storm -- but she is expertly managing the clock.

Once Bird figured it out, she says it was a "nonissue" for her and those closest to her.

And if someone had castigated her, "I would have been like, 'Fine, goodbye.' I never was tormented within myself. "There's another moment it was right there, but I didn't say anything." Yet she knew she would eventually.

Brad and Sue were born 13 days apart in October 1980, and their older sisters were sports teammates. (Barnett concedes that Bird won when she sent a singing telegram to his house.) As teens, they once had a game of one-on-one that got so heated that it came to a 20-minute standstill when both refused to get the basketball after it rolled to the other end of the gym.

The "adventures of Brad and Sue" soon commenced -- except for a brief hurdle when they were 4 or 5 years old: Barnett was so startled to see his usually jeans-clad, short-haired buddy wearing a dress for the first time that he burst into tears. Bird finally retrieved it with a flourish of profanity on her way out the door. ' And he says, 'Suzy, you looked like you were going to bite her.' "He said then she was going to be something special.

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