Everything you want to know about Olympic flag-bearer Sue Bird’s Jewish identity

Bird holds both Israeli and American citizenship but represents her birth country (the U.S.) in international competitions
Sue Bird enters the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo with Team USA. (Courtesy: Team USA)

Sue Bird is a four-time Olympic gold medallist, the most decorated athlete in the history of her sport, and she’s one of Team USA’s two flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. We’re kvelling!

Bird is widely recognized as one of the greatest players in the history of women’s basketball — and one of the greatest Jewish athletes ever. She is the most decorated basketball player (male or female!) in the entire history of the sport!

With her track record, it’s no surprise she was selected as one of two flag bearers, the other being MLB star Eddy Alvarez, to lead Team USA during the kick-off of the Tokyo Games. It’s a huge deal. 

Bird called it an “incredible honor” after it was announced on July 21st.

Here are some more things to know about the 40-year-old Jewish Israeli athlete who will be kicking off the Tokyo games.

She’s a New York native

Bird was born in Syosset, New York on Long Island to Herschel and Nancy Bird. Her dad is an Ashkenazi Jew with Russian Jewish ancestry. 

Bird is short for…

Sue’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from what is now Ukraine in the early 1900s.

“My dad is like 100% Russian, and I have some really cool documents,” she told the Washington Jewish Museum. “My aunt, my dad’s sister, did a great job of saving like everything. I have things like the boat ticket, the documents from Ellis Island where my father’s grandfather came over on a boat.” 

Their name was changed from “Boorda” to “Bird” at Ellis Island.

“They went through Ellis Island, like, “What’s your name? Boorda? Bird. Go through,” and that’s how ‘Bird’ came about,” she said. “That’s why my name is what it is.”

She’s a dual citizen

Bird holds both Israeli and American citizenship but represents her birth country (the U.S.) in international competitions. With one exception — she did play on three Russian basketball teams during WNBA off-seasons in the mid-2000s.

She acquired Israeli citizenship in 2006 and said the decision was very much “basketball motivated” so she could play on European teams.

“When I tell this to people outside of basketball circles, it seems a little odd. But in our world, it’s like very normal. So that’s how it all came about,” she said.

“It was cool, because what I found was in this effort to create an opportunity in my basketball career, I was able to learn a lot about a culture that I probably wouldn’t have tapped into otherwise.”

Bird “basically” lived in Israel while in the process of getting citizenship 

“There’s so much culture and I’ve made some friends that are lifelong friends,” she said. “It was an awesome experience.”

Part of her family, on her dad’s side, live in Israel, she told the Washington Jewish Museum.

“People have this kind of different image of what Israel is, and what it’s about,” she explained. “Yes, there are military people all over, but there’s so much more.”

While in Israel, spent the bulk of time in Tel Aviv but had the opportunity to tour around as well.

“Going to Jerusalem was an amazing experience. I’ve been two or three times. I went to the Dead Sea. I never got to go to Eilat, which I’m bummed about, because I’ve heard it’s beautiful down there,” she said.

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