Sue Bird's Seattle goodbye: Young fan gifts retiring GOAT flower during inbound play and more heartwarming moments

Seattle showed up for its four-time WNBA champion potentially one last time.

A record 18,100 fans came out to Climate Pledge Arena, many arriving hours before tipoff, to watch Sue Bird play her final regular-season game in Seattle on Sunday. It is a franchise record and a record for a sporting event at the arena, which also hosts the NHL's Seattle Kraken and the Seattle University men's basketball team.

Bird, 41, has spent her entire career in Seattle since the franchise drafted her No. 1 overall in 2002. The UConn star has been a part of the franchise for all but two of its 23 seasons. The arena was full of Bird merchandise, and the line for more Bird merch was long. She won four WNBA championships, in three different decades, and announced last month she would retire.

Last playoffs the crowd's "one more year" chant helped prompt Bird to return. This time they bellowed "Thank you, Sue," as Bird finished her ESPN postgame interview with sideline reporter Holly Rowe.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell officially declared it "Sue Bird Day" in Seattle ahead of the game. The league's all-time leader in assists was honored with a pregame ceremony and gifted a special GOAT ring while her teammates wore honorary GOAT T-shirts celebrating their leader.

One of the sweetest moments of the day came when a young fan gave her a flower while Bird was preparing to inbound the ball in the first quarter. It quickly made the rounds on social media.

"Can you hold it for me?" Bird, who was mic'd up by ESPN, asked while giving it back.

Everything was heightened in Seattle from the team's walk to the court to what could be the final time Bird runs out to her name being announced in front of the home crowd.

The top four teams host the opening two games of the best-of-three first-round series. If the Storm fall below the fourth seed and can't force a Game 3, they won't return home in the postseason.

There's a chance if the Storm don't play at Climate Pledge again until 2023, it will look a lot different. Breanna Stewart is an unrestricted free agent after she signed a one-year deal last offseason. Only Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell, who has not played this year due to injury, are signed to deals.

On Sunday, Bird didn't waste time getting into the scoresheet. She hit a 14-foot pull-up jumper at the elbow less than three minutes into the contest on an assist by Breanna Stewart. Each made shot and assist was met by roars from the packed house.

Bird finished with nine points (4 of 9), six assists, four rebounds and one steal in the 89-81 loss. The Storm did not drop out of the No. 4 seed, which hosts the first two games in the best-of-three first-round series, because the No. 5 Mystics lost at the same time. The Mystics are now one-half game behind Seattle.

Bird didn't plan a speech and wasn't going to talk long, according to the ESPN broadcast. But in the end, she gave an endearing and lengthy thank you to the home fans, who have watched her for two decades.

She exited by tossing out shoes to fans. And she reminded them she'd see everyone in the playoffs.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - AUGUST 07: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm speaks to fans after her last regular season home game of her career against the Las Vegas Aces at Climate Pledge Arena on August 07, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)