On Tuesday night, after the Seattle Storm swept the Las Vegas Aces to win the 2020 WNBA title, Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg helped settle a recent Twitter debate: is Sue Bird Seattle’s most successful athlete?
“Oh yeah,” Kloppenburg replied quickly before calling out some of the sports journalists who have previously overlooked Bird. “The women’s game hasn’t gotten the respect, and partly because of the white guys that are writing those type of columns. Y’all white guys, wake up out there, man. You’ve got a whole tremendous gender that can flat-out play basketball.”
With that debate settled (thanks, Coach Klopp), we can now move onto a different superlative question: who is the most dominant couple in sports?
Materials & Methods
In answering questions like these, there must be criteria. For this not-entirely-scientific study, I have outlined the following specifications:
- Both members of the couple must be athletes (my apologies to Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian)
- At least one member of the couple must still be playing (this isn’t the contest for you, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf)
Once I identified couples who met the above criteria, I created a mathematical formula in an attempt to level the playing field between sports like soccer (where the World Cup is contested just once every four years) and tennis (which offers four majors every year).
1(‘Athlete 1’ Major Wins*) + 0.5(‘Athlete 1’ Minor Wins^) + 1(‘Athlete 2’ Major Wins*) + 0.5(‘Athlete 2’ Minor Wins^) = Definitive Couple Success Rating
*Major wins, limited to a max of one per year, include each sport’s most important competition (events like the Olympics, World Cup, or the Super Bowl).
^Minor wins, also limited to one per year, include competitions like the world championships and pro team championships.
I started crunching numbers – and then quickly abandoned them – as it became clear that, no matter the formula, no current sporting couple that outscores Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.
Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe met in November 2015 at a joint media summit hosted by NBC and the USOPC. At the time, both athletes were playing for pro teams in Seattle, but their paths wouldn’t cross again until the 2016 Rio Olympics. At those Games, Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s soccer team were upset in the quarterfinals, while Bird helped the U.S. women’s basketball team win a sixth straight gold medal.
In a head-to-head comparison of the couple, Bird has a statistical edge over Rapinoe thanks to her four Olympic gold medals, four world championship titles, and four WNBA titles (the most recent of which was earned earlier this week). The 39-year-old also owns the WNBA records for most career assists and games played.
Rapinoe, 35, owns one Olympic gold medal (2012) and two World Cup titles (2015, 2019). She also won both the Golden Boot (most goals scored) and Golden Ball (best player) awards at the 2019 World Cup. As a member of Seattle Reign FC, Rapinoe has twice finished as runner-up for the NWSL season title (2014, 2015). (It also should be noted that the NWSL was founded in 2013, while Bird made her pro debut with the WNBA in 2002, so part of Bird’s edge can partially be attributed to her age and competitive opportunities.)
Data & Discussion
Below is a list of the other couples identified as potential challengers to Bird and Rapinoe, along with their relevant accolades.
Julie and Zach Ertz
- U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, have both had success on the biggest stages. Julie has won two World Cup titles for the U.S., while Zach was a member of the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl in 2018. With continued success, maybe the Ertz’s can knock off Bird and Rapinoe in a decade (or two).
Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban
- Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn owns three Olympic medals, plus the women’s record for most World Cup wins. That said, the fact that her fiance, NHL player P.K. Subban, has just one Olympic medal (and a single Stanley Cup Final appearance) mathematically ruled them out of this conversation (at least for the time being).
Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps
- Being longtime rivals didn’t help Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps in this mathematical comparison. Competing for Canada, Apps won Olympic gold in 2006, 2010, and 2014, with the latter two victories coming at the expense of Duggan and her American teammates. Following Apps’ retirement in 2015, Duggan and the U.S. went on to win gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor
- Until Tuesday, Diana Taurasi and Bird were tied when it came to Olympic gold medals (4) and WNBA titles (3). While Bird has since passed Taurasi with a fourth WNBA title, Taurasi still owns the league record for most career points (8,931). Taurasi’s wife, retired Australian basketball player Penny Taylor, also owns three WNBA titles. Like Duggan, however, Taylor’s Olympic record was impacted by her now wife. She twice lost to Taurasi in the gold medal game at the Olympics (2004, 2008).
Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger
- U.S. soccer teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger also presented a mathematical challenge. Given that they won two World Cups as members of the same team, should their victories count twice? In the grand scheme of love and math, it ends up being a moot point given that neither Harris nor Krieger has yet won an NWSL title. While the numbers don’t work work in their favor, there’s no arguing with their chemistry.
Kealia and J.J. Watt
- Soccer player Kealia (Ohai) Watt (Chicago Red Stars) and NFL defensive end J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) could break through to the top of the list in years to come. Earlier today, Kealia was named to the U.S. national team training camp later this month. Her husband J.J., a five-time All-Pro selection, is still aiming to bring a Super Bowl title home to Houston.
Amanda Nunes and Nina Ansaroff
- UFC two-division champion Amanda Nunes is currently in the midst of the longest winning streak in women’s UFC history (11 bouts). Her partner and fellow UFC fighter, Nina Ansaroff, was approaching a title shot in the strawweight category before a close loss to Tatiana Suarez in June 2019. Ansaroff is currently taking a break from the sport after giving birth to the couple’s first child last month.
Given their longevity and combined success, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird are currently the most dominant sporting couple, at least according to this not-entirely-scientific study. Any other current couples you think can match them? Let us know by tweeting @onherturf.