The Talk of the (Sky) Town

The Chicago Sky wins the WNBA Championship, capping off a dramatic 2021 season.

By: Alexandra Cadet

The No. 6 Chicago Sky delivered the perfect ending to their season on Sunday, winning the 2021 WNBA Championship over No. 5 Phoenix Mercury. While the Finals originally appeared to be an even contest—the series was tied 1–1 after Game 2—the Sky quickly took control with dominant team performances in the final two matches.

A Victory for the Ages

Game 3 saw the Sky fully in their element, as they drubbed the Mercury 86–50 in what is now the biggest blowout in Finals history. As usual, Kahleah Copper ran the show with a whopping 22 points, but the Sky’s defensive effort was the true decider. The Mercury looked utterly toothless, which was a shocking departure from their performance in Game 2. “We got our butts kicked tonight,” said Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello after their defeat. “It’s disappointing. […]. We lost momentum and they grew a lot of confidence.”

The Sky Is Clear

The Mercury had probably hoped to regain some of the momentum that Brondello claimed they lost in Game 4. And for the vast majority of the match, it looked like they did. They were absolutely cruising during the first three quarters, and the holy trinity of Diggins-Smith, Taurasi, and Griner was firing on all cylinders. However, the Mercury’s fight to force a Game 5 fell apart when the Sky launched a successful comeback in the dying minutes of the game, with Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, and Stefanie Dolson notching key points. After a season with plenty of ups and downs, the Sky came back from a 14-point deficit to win their first WNBA Championship.

A Storybook Ending

One of the most striking moments of the Finals took place at the very end of Game 4. In the last few seconds of the match, Brittney Griner attempted a three-pointer while the Mercury were down 74–80, but the ball bounced off the rim and rebounded to Candace Parker. Instead of passing it to a teammate or dribbling, she immediately ran towards the courtside stands and hugged her family members, friends, and coach. It was hard not to feel a bit sentimental when seeing Parker celebrate; this season served as a homecoming of sorts for her, since she grew up and learned her trade in Chicago. 

That isn’t the only appealing narrative about the Sky’s—and Parker’s—win. A little known fact about Sky head coach James Wade is that it was Parker’s idea to bring him into the fold. As the story goes, Parker, who was then playing for the LA Sparks, and Allie Quigley were partying at a nightclub a few years back when the former told the latter that Wade would be a “good fit” for the Sky’s struggling squad. Naturally, he returned the favor; in 2021, Wade managed to convince Parker to join him in Chicago, and the rest is history.

Finally, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot’s journeys with the Sky can’t be ignored. The power couple was playing for the Sky during their crushing playoff Finals loss in 2014 versus the Mercury, but that defeat only made their loyalty to Chicago even stronger. “I think we just together made a commitment to this team and to this franchise because we did get a taste early what it felt like to be in the Finals, and we got our asses kicked, but we did get that taste,” Vandersloot shared in the Sky’s post-game press conference on Sunday. “We didn’t want to go seeking that. We didn’t want to go seeking this feeling. We wanted to do it here, and we just knew that we had what it takes.”

While it would have been understandable for either one of Quigley or Vandersloot to throw in the towel and join a more “successful” team––franchises have decades to grow and conquer leagues while players only have precious few years to win as much as possible––the fact that they stayed loyal to their coaches and teammates in Chicago must’ve made their victory all the sweeter. 

A Planet Spun out of Orbit

For every winner there is a loser, and Diana Taurasi and the Mercury have been accused of being sore ones. Many WNBA writers have already described Taurasi’s controversies (damaging a door, pushing a referee, declining to do interviews along with the rest of the Mercury squad, etc.), so it’s useless to wail about them ad nauseum. However, the fallout of Taurasi’s actions begs the question: Can women’s basketball have villains?

She may be a different person off the court, but Tarausi’s character as an athlete has always been that of a heel: she confronts referees all the time and loves to provoke fellow players with trash-talk. Despite this, many journalists and fans seemed shocked by her antics on Thursday, either castigating her for her conduct or coddling her for showing the slightest bit of post-match sportsmanship. The Sky’s reaction was arguably the most interesting: they clowned her right back, showing a healthier way to deal with Taurasi’s actions. Perhaps it’s time that fans and sportswriters alike start relishing in Taurasi’s heel status like the Sky players, rather than treating her with kids’ gloves and/or expressing “disappointment” in her. After all, almost no sport is complete without an athlete that everyone loves to hate (see Rousey, Ronda and Costa, Diego). 

What’s Next?

Now that the season is over, what can fans watch now? The NCAA D1 Women’s Basketball season kicks off in a month, which should help scratch the WNBA itch; Athletes Unlimited also announced a new basketball league (headlined by Natasha Cloud) that will kick off in 2022. After Sunday’s game, one thing is clear: if these competitions are even half as exciting as this past WNBA season, then the future of women’s basketball is looking bright.

Share this story:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *