For the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Sky are on top of the basketball world after beating the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game Four of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) finals. Led by hometown hero Candace Parker, who joined the team this past off-season, the Sky became the 10th team to take home WNBA hardware. With the Sky’s win, coach James Wade became the third Black coach to hoist the WNBA trophy.
This year’s final served as a rematch of the 2014 WNBA championship where the Mercury swept the Sky handedly, in large part due to the MVP performance of Diana Taurasi. In 2021, however, the Sky rewrote the narrative, holding the arguable G.O.A.T. to under 20 points in every game.
Chicago became the lowest seed (sixth) to win the title after finishing 16-16 on the season. The Sky had to win to get into the playoffs, beating the Minnesota Lynx in the first round single-elimination game, 89-76. Their postseason success after a rollercoaster season demonstrates the depth and perseverance of the team led by the two players with the longest tenures: Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
Known as the “Vanderquigs,” the married couple were both on the team when the Sky lost seven years ago and used that experience to power their team to success. Vandersloot, who has been with the franchise since 2011 when she joined the WNBA, hit the final points of the game from the free-throw line, finishing game five with 10 points and 15 assists. Vandersloot also started the rally to bring the Sky back after trailing by as much as 14-points. Quigley finished the game with 26 points, the most for any Sky player in the finals. The Vanderquigs’ leadership, sportsmanship and experience became essential to power the Sky through the season. They were also key pieces in bringing Parker to the team, with Parker sharing that they sent her local delicacies in the offseason and that their work ethic helped inspire her to come home to Chicago.
Parker returned home with one goal in mind: bring hardware to Chicago. She did just that. Parker proved to be the missing piece in the Sky offense, finishing Game Four with a double-double consisting of 16 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Starting this week, Parker will be sharing her insights on NBA TV with a recent Time profile explaining, “If a basketball is bouncing these days, Candace Parker will be there.” Alongside Parker, Stefanie Dolson has become the talk of basketball in 2021 after securing Olympic gold in the new three-on-three events and helping the Sky win with her dominant presence on the board.
With a star-studded lineup, it was unclear who would break out and take home the series MVP until Kahleah ‘KFC’ Copper turned up her level of play throughout the series. Copper proved impossible to guard as her speed and agility left the Mercury answerless. She made it clear that she had come to play in the first game, scoring 21 points and picking up 10 rebounds, and never slowed down. During the series, Copper averaged 17 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shot 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from behind the circle. Copper, who had a breakout season in the Wubble last year, credits Parker with taking her game to another level.
While the WNBA championship featured some of the game’s best on their biggest stage, the support gap between men’s and women’s basketball continues. This postseason, the 17 games averaged 367,000 viewers, which marked a 63 percent increase from the 2020 postseason, but the games still lack the support they deserve. Similarly, fans around the country were appalled by the small turnout at the celebration parade in Chicago, especially after a viral video showed the team on buses surrounded by what looks like average Chicago traffic. One Chicago-based Twitter user shared, “I feel bad for them, I only found out we had a team last week when they made it to the finals, the league needs to do better to put a spotlight on their league.” As female athletes continue to succeed and bring change on the highest stages, the parade in Chicago serves as another reminder of the work that remains in the sports world and beyond to center and support female athletes.