WNBA

Chicago Championship a Catalyst for Women’s Basketball

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When the Chicago Sky had its inaugural season in 2006, my life changed. Not in some grand, monumental way that altered the course of my life forever. But just in the sense that the Sky’s existence gave me a new dream.

My 11-year-old self had just finished playing my second season of organized basketball; the same year Chicago played its first season. I had fallen in love with the sport and wanted nothing more than to spend my life on the hardwood.

As naive as it is, I was one of those kids who grew up wanting to be a professional athlete. Before the Sky came along, I simply wanted to play in the WNBA. But suddenly I could have the dream of becoming the starting shooting guard for my home team.

That dream never became a reality, and that’s OK. It was always more so a dream than it was a goal.

But now, at 26, having just watched the team I wanted to play for growing up win its first-ever WNBA championship, I don’t find myself wishing I did more to make that dream within reach. I wish I grew up with the same kind of exposure and excitement for the Sky and women’s basketball that I’m experiencing now.

Being a Filipina American born in Chicago and raised in the suburbs, basketball was always a big deal for me.

Filipinos are known for their love of the sport — check out Rafe Bartholomew’s Pacific Rims to learn more — so I like to think that part of my affection for basketball is in my blood. Being in and around Chicago, the legacy of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls 1990s dynasty loomed over you to some extent. Regardless of your interest in basketball, you knew about the 90s Bulls. This made it easy for me to embrace being a Bulls fan.

The same cannot be said about being a Sky fan.

Limited Exposure for the WNBA 

I have been a fan of the Chicago Sky from the moment I found out about the team. I hadn’t been an active fan who was able to truly embrace the team until a couple of years ago — and I’m still working on it now.

I’ve known about the Sky. I’ve known about the WNBA. But following either was difficult as a child.

WNBA coverage was nowhere to be found when I’d read the sports section of the Chicago Tribune — my go-to source for sports growing up. No one would take me to Sky games. They weren’t aired on network television either. My family didn’t have cable TV till I was in eighth grade, so the only basketball I watched was the NBA Finals and the Sunday NBA games on ABC.

My exposure to women’s basketball growing up was playing it myself. Some came from the success of my local high school. But even that wasn’t much.

But I did know about Candace Parker.

Because I grew up in the same area as Parker, she would be featured in local news on TV and the paper. During a middle school field trip to a place near Naperville Central High School, I knew I was in the proximity of where Parker began her claim to fame. But I didn’t have the resources or access to follow her career right away. And nobody ever encouraged me to follow women’s basketball.

I understand that it’s on you to take initiative in your interests. But it’s not easy when seemingly no one around you cared about it either.

Having limited access to women’s basketball never hindered my love for the sport. But it was one of the various things that discouraged me as a young female basketball player.

A Story Worth Experiencing

As I watched the Chicago Sky’s championship run this season, I couldn’t help but think of how great it would have been to experience this while I was a young girl still playing the sport. Beyond the obvious excitement of the actual title, the Sky’s championship journey is a tremendous story.

A team finishing the regular season with a 16-16 record, competing in two elimination games for the playoffs, going on to win the championship? It’s everything that people love about underdog stories.

Then, there are the Sky players. A team that, at its championship rally, insisted it is a family, and who are just easy to root for.

With her elite sharpshooting ability, Allie Quigley is 100% the player I would have wanted to be. Given her precise passing skills, Courtney Vandersloot would have been the point guard I wish I could have been like. With her fearlessness, Kahleah Copper is the aggressive guard I would have aspired to play like.

But more so, I thought of how much I would have loved seeing two fellow southwest Chicago suburbanites — Parker and Quigley — win a championship for their home team. Because it is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s one reason why, while watching the Sky’s championship parade and rally on TV, I had several moments where I nearly started crying into the celebratory Portillo’s I got for the occasion.

Sky-Town Support and Beyond

I never got to see Chicago Sky win a championship while I still played basketball, and I had never seen such immense support for women’s basketball in my area till now.

Many young girls in the Chicagoland area have an interest in basketball. And they got to see that championship journey.

That thought is incredibly heartwarming.

They got to see the city of Chicago come together to support and embrace a world-class group of women during their quest to greatness. They got to see people gather to celebrate women achieving the ultimate success in basketball. Perhaps most importantly, they got to see how the WNBA and women’s sports are, in fact, something people care about.

It’s much easier now for young girls to have access to the WNBA than it was for me when I was still a kid. Many kids nowadays have smartphones. All it takes for them to learn about the WNBA or any of its players is a quick Internet search.

Media coverage of the WNBA is greater than ever before. It’s not perfect and still needs work, but the growth is still good.

I hope that, with the Sky’s championship, young girls in Chicagoland start to feel more encouraged and inspired to embrace their interest in basketball, unlike me in my youth. I hope that they can develop their WNBA fandom and have a favorite women’s basketball player. I hope that they know no matter the level — whether it be a recreational youth league, AAU basketball, or the WNBA — girls’/women’s basketball matters.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois graduate based in the Chicago suburbs who has nearly a decade's worth of sports writing experience. She writes about the Bulls and general NBA content for TLSM. Twitter: @wijangco12

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