CHICAGO – It was fitting that the team’s first WNBA Championship would find its hands into their most tenured player on Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena.
Courtney Vandersloot dished out assists on Candace Parker’s three-pointer that tied the game then on both Stefanie Dolson’s hoops to give the Sky a four-point lead over the Mercury in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. When Phoenix cut the lead to two, it was Vandersloot’s layup that pushed the advantage back to four points.
With ten seconds left, Vandersloot then had the privilege to put it away, knocking down two free throws to get the celebration going.
An 80-74 win over the Mercury secured the Sky’s first championship in their 16th year of play in the WNBA. It was celebrated by the die-hard fans who’ve followed the team at three different home venues and some lean years early in the franchise’s existence. It was also embraced by those who’ve gotten to know the team over the last few years or even this season when a talent group found their stride in the playoffs.
It was earned by a group that consisted of a number of players who joined the franchise before and after the arrival of James Wade as head coach and general manager in 2019. Some, like Candace Parker, arrived in 2021 to help push the group over the top.
But there’s no one quite in the same category as Vandersloot, who was drafted third overall by the team in 2011 when they’d yet to even make the playoffs. She saw the team make the WNBA Finals in 2014 then the semifinals in 2016, fall out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 before building back up against the last three seasons.
Vandersloot kept the faith the entire time, remaining in Chicago through good and bad, arriving at the moment in the final few minutes to seal a championship in front of a sold out crowd to watch them do it.
“Absolutely unmatched out there, just the energy, the adrenaline that this crowd was able to give us when we really needed it,” said Vandersloot. “It was so special to be able to do this in front of all those people, especially, a special shout-out to the ones that have been there on the ride, the ones that — I see a couple right here in front of me when we weren’t even making the Playoffs and they’re still courtside, that’s special.
“But this crowd was so important tonight, and this one is for the city for sure.”
Her teammate and wife, Allie Quigley, can certainly understand the gravity of the title in her career and for the franchise. The Joliet native joined the Sky in 2013 after spending time with four different teams the previous five years, helping in the 2014 group’s run to the WNBA Finals.
Quigley kept the faith in that time and even in 2021, when a Sky team hit by injuries and still trying to find their chemistry finished 16-16 in the regular season, getting into the playoffs as a sixth seed.
“Kind of like a breaking point probably a month ago, and I feel like we all looked at each other and we said, what are we going to play for. And Candace the first thing she said she was going to play for me,” said Quigley. “It was just so inspiring that she wanted me to win a championship so bad, and I just — it just made me want to play harder. And everybody went around and said who they were playing for.
“In the end we all wanted to play for each other, and that’s what you saw tonight in this whole playoff experience.”
Kahleah Copper, who was acquired before Wade’s arrival in 2017 as part of the Elena Delle Donne trade with Washington, helped make that experience a successful one with playoffs to remember. The WNBA Finals MVP averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in ten playoff games to help push the Sky over the hump, not bad from a player who didn’t even get her first WNBA start until last season.
“I just came in and just tried to find my way. I came in and just tried to find a road,” said Copper when asked about joining the Sky in the Delle Donne trade then being a reserve for three seasons. “I didn’t play much, so let’s do some handshakes, let’s get everybody ready for the game, let’s just try to figure it out, just play your role, and that’s what I did. I’m just grateful for my process. I wouldn’t change anything.
“I stayed confident, kept preparing myself to meet an opportunity and just to take off from there. I’m just super humble and just grateful for everything, and I’m happy.”
So is Parker, who left the Sparks after 13 seasons where she established herself as an icon for the league to try and bring a title home to Chicago. The Naperville native’s leadership was key to galvanizing the group through the regular season, with the reward coming in the playoffs.
Parker snagged the final rebound to run out the clock then ran over to family in the front row to celebrate the achievement she was brought home to make a reality.”
“It was amazing to just hug my dad and my mom and my family. It was just an amazing feeling to be from here and see so many people in the stands that have been supporting you since you started,” said Parker. “I sent Allie a picture this morning of us when we were in high school, and it was like, man, not bad for two suburban kids, right, playing in the WNBA Finals together?
“So I think it’s just a moment where you just have to really take it in, so that’s what that was.”
For so many who kept the faith in the Sky, whether that’s in months, years, or in Vandersloot’s case, a decade.
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