Copper Polishes MVP Form for Battling Sky


Imagine, for a moment, every youth ballplayer’s dream: on the mound, in game seven of the World Series, needing one out to win.

What a thrill it must have been, then, seven years ago, when the Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr. faced the Indians’ Rajai Davis, needing just that final out. When…

Davis hit a solid line drive single to center field???

We know by now, of course, that the long night had a happy ending for Chicago. Edwards, though, proves that not every dream awakens into a pleasant morning.

For the Sky’s Kahleah Copper, thankfully, her greatest moment remains untarnished by last-second bad luck. Copper’s outstanding play in the 2021 Finals brought the then-underappreciated hooper, two years later, to the same major league mound so many children will only see from afar.

To understand how Copper became the leader of the battling Sky, one must take a step back to a hostile Phoenix gym.

When Copper’s destiny as Chicago’s most beloved hooper was still undecided.

Game One: Sky Poison Mercury

The 2021 Sky and Phoenix Mercury again demonstrated that history never works out as expected.

Entering their semifinal series against the Connecticut Sun, Copper’s Sky entered with tiredness. Not physically, but a mental disappointment of always being defined by stars who had only formerly played in Chicago.

The Sun, meanwhile, won 14 straight games leading into the series, the WNBA record to conclude a regular season.

The result? Just the way scribes didn’t expect, of course.

Chicago gentlewomanly allowed the Sun to win one game.

The Sky proceeded to face the Las Vegas—

Scratch that. Reverse it.

The Phoenix Mercury, led by GOAT Diana Taurasi and the hardwood menace Brittney Griner, beat the menacing Aces dealers.

With Phoenix sporting the better overall record, the Mercury hosted the first two games of the Finals.

Sound like an advantage? Funny fact, though, about good and bad in life. Like how the yin and yang flow together, sometimes what we think is a happy fact turns out rather sad. Just like that October World Series night, when Indians fans ended up even more disappointed after Davis tied the game in the eighth.

All the Mercury’s hard work to earn home court “advantage” would work in Chicago’s favor with but one visitor triumph.

After 16 years of struggle, Chicago had experienced enough yang disappointment, thank you.

The Sky burst to a quick 46-35 lead at halftime. Copper then made a vital play. When the referee blew the hotly-anticipated ready-to-play whistle, she dashed for a three-foot layup. After an offensive foul by Griner, Copper’s determined teammate Azurá Stevens hit another shot.

Timeout, Mercury. But too late.

It’s a trite cliché, and often inaccurate, that the team that wants it more will win. Yet, on that fateful Sunday afternoon, it proved true. Copper dazzled with a team-leading 21 points and a game score of +17, second only to slick point guard teammate Courtney Vandersloot.

Still, as beautifully described in the epic Letters from Iwo Jima, everything happens in threes. The Sky needed two more wins to claim the championship.

Game Three: Racing Into Submission

Phoenix responded to win game two to even the series. Taurasi raised tension’s thermometer by pushing a referee near the game’s conclusion, with Copper in the midst of a scrum.

The WNBA rulebook states that intentional contact with an official must lead to a one-game suspension. For a reason that fans will never know (short of one of those happy email leaks), Taurasi was, instead, only fined.

So much the better. Instead of watching the ensuing rout from a comfy hotel suite, Taurasi had the honor of playing in a massive Sky win in Chicago.

Copper recorded the first stop of the game with a theft off Taurasi. Although she missed her first shot, Copper was in a merciless mood.

The former Rutgers star recorded seven points in just the first quarter. Notably, four of those tallies arrived from free throws, equalling Chicago’s attempts from the entirety of game two.

After cruelly yet effectively racing Phoenix into submission, the Sky stood at the final horn as 86-50 victors. Copper again led the team with 22 points and was second with a game score of +24. (Again, behind just the suburb Vandersloot.)

Although no one can know the future, even one game ahead, it probably was a safe assumption that the last game in Chicago would be closer.

Perhaps somewhere in the Book of Life, the outcome had already been written.

Thankfully for us non-sages? In the spirit of Dr. Strange’s observation in Avengers End Game: if someone had told Copper about the future? Of the glory that awaited in the season’s fateful final Sunday afternoon?

Perhaps it wouldn’t have happened.

Game Four: Down to Their Last Rebound

The final play to secure a championship always seems the most challenging. And it always seems to take just a dash of good luck.

In Michael Jordan‘s historic last championship, in 1998, he clearly didn’t push off a Jazz defender and hit a go-ahead shot. (And remember that play for later.)

However, if John Stockton‘s final heave went in, despite excellent Bulls defense, Jordan’s legacy may have been marred by Finals imperfection.

Time, again, circled forward to a tense championship moment.

Copper wasn’t quite as efficient in game four. She shot five of thirteen on field goals for ten points. Fittingly, though, her game score was +6, which proved the final margin.

In the yo-yo of a woman’s memory, perhaps each Sky player recalled the many, many times Chicago faced injustice with an unfair official’s ruling. Copper’s stylish teammate Stefanie Dolson was, to this scribe’s eyes, the foremost victim of a seemingly unending cacophony of biased whistles.

On this fateful October afternoon, Copper was on the wrong side of bogus call 1,000,001 (or so it seemed to Chicago fans). With Chicago up four and 45 seconds to play, she lunged at Taurasi without making contact.

Tweet! Taurasi thankfully missed the shot but drew a foul call.

The sellout crowd (and truthfully sold out, without the old Rosemont white-out accounting,) screamed and screamed, begging Taurasi to miss any of her three free throws.

Swish one. Swish two.

The Third Shot

Copper stood helplessly, surely too far away to be a factor in the final, decisive throw.

For Jordan and his Bulls, Stockton’s last miss concluded their victory. The Sky, many a moon in the future, needed both a critical miss and a winning board.

If Chicago was too busy celebrating after a possible Taurasi miss, Phoenix could get a put-back two to tie the game.

Remember: Copper was in the rectangle closer to Taurasi. Barring a wild brick, she couldn’t be a factor near the rim.

An unenviable situation for the team’s best playoff star!

Fittingly, though, it was Dolson to the rescue. She didn’t give up despite years of ear-splitting, mind-numbing official’s exhales into the sport’s most annoying invention.

While Copper and Dolson double-teamed Griner in the lane, Taurasi boinked her last shot. Griner, too well-defended to chase the ball, had no choice but to turn away as Dolson emphatically secured the basketball.

After the last 41.7 seconds agonizingly ticked off the clock all too slowly, with Vandersloot scoring the game’s last four points, Chicago secured its first WNBA championship.

Copper earned a well-deserved Finals MVP. Although Dolson and Vandersloot left Chicago for new adventures, Copper remains a proud member of Chicago’s newly-beloved basketball jewel.

As the Book of Life turns through 2023, what will the next chapter read?

Above The Rest

As a sweltering American summer mercifully falls, soon, into a refreshing autumn, Copper and a reimagined Sky roster battle Los Angeles for the eighth and final playoff berth.

Does the Sky need postseason experience to fight for a championship some other time?

All we got is right now! – Copper would surely counter. As the WNBA learned while moving the 2020 season to a somber Bradenton bubble, tomorrow isn’t promised for even the most virtuous woman.

A pandemic, EMP, alien invasion; the list of what could prevent another Sky championship exceeds any writer’s imagination.

But a passionless moment from Copper? Not on the books, even in pencil.

From furiously preventing Griner to Chicago’s most critical loose ball to pitching on the Wrigley mound, triumphant.

To saving Chicago’s playoff chance by swatting away anyone who stands in Chicago’s way. (With 25 years of Jordan’s joy providing the providence of a no-call.)

Copper, through every moment, stands amongst Chicago’s greatest legends. And maybe, as the WNBA continues its ascendence, an inch or three above the rest.

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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