Sky

Rosemont to Riches: Sky Brings Basketball Joy to Chicago

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“Hope,” Milwaukee Bucks radio announcer Ted Davis once observed, “is a city in Arkansas.”

Indeed, it is, but what of it? Davis has a more profound point: the foul and hope game, or hope separated from action, won’t win a team anything.

Consider the story of Chicago’s brightest, rising sports constellation.

In 2017, a modest crowd celebrated a Labor Day weekend’s season finale in a city in Illinois.

The Chicago Sky faced a Seattle Storm team with nothing to play for. Sue Bird relaxed on the bench with her team already in the playoffs, while Chicago, eliminated two days earlier, said goodbye to its fans in:

Wait, the Chicago Sky was not in Chicago?

Fast forward six years for a moment.

Wheel Of Fortune

Before another rematch with former Sky star Elena Delle Donne and her Mystics, a reporter asked Sky coach James Wade (and more on him in a moment) about fans’ sentiments about Delle Donne.

“It’s the Chicago Sky,” Wade explained. Fans love hometown heroes. As Michael Lewis described in his classic baseball book Moneyball, teams earn hearts better — and more economically — by grooming talent instead of buying notable names.

After Delle Donne’s departure, Chicago had no choice: if it were to win its first championship, it would need to climb Fortune’s wheel rung by rung with talent already on the roster. With hope, yes, but not hope alone.

Thankfully, on that hopeful September Sunday six Earth circles ago, the Sky made its first move: a physical one.

I Will Be Queen

In 2010, the Sky moved its headquarters and home games to Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont. Rosemont, minutes from O’Hare airport, proves fine for a convention center and long-term parking spot.

For a rapidly developing WNBA? Perhaps not.

Although the Sky missed the playoffs in 2017, they had already announced a vitally needed move. Starting in 2018, Chicago would play in the gorgeous and not-too-spacious Wintrust Arena. The new stadium, built expressly for basketball by DePaul University, hosted matches in a much-more aesthetically pleasing McCormick Square.

The point-guard GOAT, Courtney Vandersloot, and her sharpshooting wife Allie Quigley provided excellent play. Crowds gradually grew in size and sound volume. And when the Sky signed Wade as coach and general manager, the team returned to the playoffs in 2019.

There was one piece missing, however. After devastating single-elimination losses in Las Vegas and the Bradenton Wubble sequestered season, the Sky needed but one more star.

Like a marvelous deus ex machina (a convenient plot point) in an exciting action movie, a hero rode in: Candace Parker.

I Am Queen

Parker, twice an NCAA champion at Tennessee and WNBA titlist in Los Angeles, needed a new home. She became displeased under the leadership of new LA coach Derek Fisher and desired a return closer to her roots in Naperville.

Voilà! Welcome to Chicago, Candace!

Like any pleasing movie, though, not every moment offered the thrill of victory. Chicago finished only 16-16 and needed to win five games to reach the penultimate, or nearly final, rung on Fortuna’s wheel.

Hey, no problem. The Sky slayed the Wings, Lynx, and top-seed Sun with just one intervening loss.

Like a final boss, who else would be waiting but the legend Diana Taurasi and her Mercury?

As Ryan Rucco noted in the WNBA’s hype video below (and by the way, great work by the W to improve its YouTube portfolio), the 2021 showdown was a rematch of the 2014 Finals.

Hopefully, though, with a different result. Delle Donne’s back injury robbed Chicago of a chance at its first championship.

As fate turned half-circle, it was Stefanie Dolson, part of a seemingly meager return in the Delle Donne trade, who made the legacy-saving play for Chicago.

After an unlucky foul handed Taurasi three free throws, Taurasi hit the first two. If she swished the third, it would take a doubtful Sky three to regain a two-possession lead.

In a bonk of well-deserved luck, the third shot missed, and Dolson emphatically secured the board.

After a ridiculous step-back by Vandersloot restored the advantage to four, Chicago had traveled south from Rosemont to a newfound palace in the Elysian Plain. The Sky were WNBA champions.

And while life, unlike a movie, continues after the best moment, Chicago’s riches continue to rain on the Midwest’s proudest women’s sports franchise.

I Was Queen

Wade didn’t ride off into an impossible sunset, but so much the better for the passionate mentor. After falling short of the Finals in 2022, Chicago lost Vandersloot, Quigley and Parker in free agency.

Understandably, the transitioning franchise experienced several unsettling losses in the 2023 summer. However, the team had achieved more than enough to warrant a successful 10% capital sale. WNBA Lead asked coach Wade about the investment.

“It was great,” Wade explained simply, “because we feel that these women deserve the best.”

Not just deserving of the best, but, as the new owners insist, having the opportunity to succeed too.

“The fact that we have women that are investing in it, it gives the players that we have something to look forward to after their playing carer,” Wade continued.

“To see, I want to own a club, or I want to own this. It’s not only a great story, but it’s great for the WNBA and what the future could hold and what it could bring to basketball, to women’s basketball as a whole. Especially when you have powerful women supporting other powerful women.”

As June soon turns to July, the Sky again faces a bewildering, twisting tunnel of unknown possible futures.

Now, though, there will always be a chance.

Queens Again

After an upsetting loss to Indiana, Wade could hardly maintain his frustration about oft-criticized officiating (and that’s not just from the Sky!) Counterintuitively, though, it was his response to a one-sided loss to Delle Donne and Washington that correctly expressed the team’s newfound pride.

After a reporter asked what more the Sky can do to improve chemistry, Wade candidly relayed stories of Kumbaya and Harvey’s beer by Lake Michigan.

(Goodness forbid anyone gets locked in an escape room!)

It was his lucky-seven word conclusion, though, that paralleled an upcoming beautiful autumn of contention.

“Alright, thanks, guys. We’re gonna be fine.”

Illinois women’s basketball: soon to be queen in Rosemont.

Queens with Parker in Chicago.

An interbellum as previous heroes move on.

And now? The Sky rules a beautiful city that embraces basketball with the most intimate warmth.

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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