CHICAGO – The sky was glowing with sunshine on a rare warm mid-October afternoon, and yet it couldn’t compare to the glow on the faces of the Sky as they entered Millennium Park on Tuesday.
It was a perfect afternoon to complete a near-perfect playoff run that was celebrated with the greatest moment in the history of the franchise: A WNBA championship.
The work was done about two miles away on Sunday when the Sky beat the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 of the finals to clinch a league title. Enthusiastic fans that sold out the arena on that day then made their way to Michigan Avenue for a parade then the Pritzker Pavilion for a rally in their honor.
“Thank you for being here to celebrate one of the most important moments in sports history in this city,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as she began her remarks to the crowd that gathered on a beautiful day.
Indeed it’s hard to argue that the Sky’s championship is the greatest professional women’s sports moment in the history of the city. It’s one that was dreamed of by owner Michael Alter when the team was formed in 2006 and endured despite not making the playoffs in 2013, losing in the finals in 2014, then having to retool after the Elena Delle Donne trade after the 2016 season.
Yet the dream endured, James Wade was hired as the new head coach and general manager, and a new era blossomed around a few franchise veterans, some new players, and a hometown veteran that combined to bring a first to the Sky franchise.
“This is a dream come true,” said Alter when speaking to the crowd. “Absolutely from Day 1, our dream was to win a championship, but it was so much more than that. The Dream was to bring the WNBA to Chicago, to the greatest sports town in the world.
“The dream was for the city to embrace this team like it has Chicago’s much other iconic men’s sports teams.”
Making that a reality in 2021 took efforts from veterans like Courtney Vandersloot, who joined the team in 2011, and Allie Quigley, who joined in 2013. WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson arrived in the Delle Donne trade, then Wade was put in charge of the team in November of 2018.
Diamond DeShields was drafted as the team made the playoffs in 2019, then Azura Stevens and others were added for the 2020 season in which the team got the postseason in the Bradenton bubble.
To bring it all together, the team made the biggest splash of the WNBA offseason by signing Naperville native and two-time MVP Candace Parker away from the Sparks. It took some time for it all to come together, with injuries along with the ups and downs of a regular season leading to an average 16-16 record.
In the playoffs, however, the group brought it together. Two “win-or-go-home” games in the first two rounds, first against Dallas and Minnesota, were victories. The Sky cooled off a red hot Suns team in four games to reach the WNBA Finals, then bested the Mercury there.
Two wins at a sold-out Wintrust Arena, including a 14-point comeback for a victory on Sunday in Game 4, showed that Alter’s dream of the Sky becoming a champion and a part of Chicago sports culture had been realized. The same could’ve been said for Parker, who saw her childhood dream come true not too far from where she first thought of a big basketball goal.
“Watching the Chicago Bulls’ parades and the Chicago Bulls rally on television, and just dreaming of being in that moment. Dreaming of bringing a title to your home town,” said Parker, who was in her own rally just blocks away from the Petrillo Music Shell where the NBA team held six championship rallies in the 1990s. “Honestly, this group right here, to do it with this special group, in front of city that showed up.
“We turned up at Wintrust.”
They also did on Tuesday, and Wade hopes they’ll do so again in the future, already setting the team’s goal for 2022.
“Remember the seat that you’re sitting in right now, because we’re gonna make sure you’re sitting in the same one next year,” said the head coach and general manager.
But for Tuesday, there was no need to think about the future. The sun shined on the Sky at this moment that belonged to them and their fans on a most unique October afternoon.