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Chicago Sky’s storybook WNBA championship has been years in the making

Courtney Vandersloot and her Chicago Sky teammates celebrate after winning the 2021 WNBA championship. (Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Courtney Vandersloot smiled and paused to look around the postgame press conference room, content with the secret she was about to let everybody else in on.

Vandersloot has been with the Chicago Sky since they drafted her with the third pick in 2011, riding the ups and downs that, 10 years later, led them to the mountaintop. As Vandersloot, the longest-tenured Sky player, tried to put the franchise’s historic first WNBA championship into words after the 80-74 win over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 on Sunday, she recounted a conversation that brought this team’s storybook season full circle.

Several years ago, when the Sky were going through some personnel changes, Vandersloot and Candace Parker were together in Europe, training and playing with USA Basketball. At a club in Spain one night, Parker told Vandersloot about this coach she had her eye on named James Wade.

“I told Michael [Alter], ‘Candace Parker told me we need to hire this guy,’” Vandersloot said, referring to the Sky’s owner. “Now she comes to play for him, and the first year we come here, to win a championship — I don’t think you can write it better than that.”

Parker has said she knew this team was capable of winning a title in her first year — the two-time WNBA MVP left Los Angeles after 13 seasons and a championship with the Sparks to sign in her hometown of Chicago. She knew the caliber of players the Sky had, but she also believed in their coach.

Parker said something she’s appreciated about Wade is the adjustments he makes. One of those decisions came with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter Sunday and the Sky trailing the Mercury 70-65, when Wade subbed Stefanie Dolson back in for Azurá Stevens despite her having five fouls. Dolson made the layup at the 1:22 mark that gave the Sky the lead and put in another one 36.2 seconds later that helped them ice the game.

Chicago, which had trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, rode a 15-2 run in the fourth to win the title at home and avoid a Game 5 back in Phoenix on Tuesday.

“I told Stef, ‘You’re going to be big for us in this next series, so I need you to stay ready,’ and she was ready,” Wade said. “She gave us some good, valuable minutes, and she leaned on [Brittney Griner] a lot throughout the game, so BG didn’t have the same legs in the fourth quarter as she did in the first three quarters.”

About a month ago, the Sky might not have been as resilient as they were on Sunday.

Allie Quigley — who had a team-high 26 points Sunday on 5-for-10 shooting from 3 — said they reached a “breaking point” not long before the playoffs. Frustrated with their inconsistency after following up a seven-game losing streak with a seven-game winning streak early in the season and entering the playoffs as the No. 6 seed after going 16-16, they nearly buckled under the strain of it all. “We didn’t know who we were,” Quigley explained.

At that point, they took a hard look at themselves. They leaned on their leadership and made a conscious decision to grow stronger and closer from the adversity.

“Candace, the first thing she said was she was going to play for me. It was just so inspiring that she wanted me to win a championship so bad, and I just — it just made me want to play harder,” Quigley said. “And everybody went around and said who they were playing for. In the end we all wanted to play for each other, and that’s what you saw tonight in this whole playoff experience.”

Since that team meeting, the Sky started playing their best basketball when it mattered most. They won two single-elimination games against Dallas and Minnesota. They took down the mighty Connecticut Sun in four games in the semifinals to earn a rematch with the Mercury, who swept Chicago in the 2014 Finals for Diana Taurasi’s third championship and second Finals MVP award.

When reflecting on that series during Finals week, Quigley said they were “babies” in terms of WNBA experience. Since then, Quigley and Vandersloot not only fell in love off the court and got married, but they also committed to stay with the Sky and bring a championship to Chicago.

“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 said while sitting next to Quigley, Parker and Kahleah Copper, named Finals MVP after overcoming career adversity of her own to put the league on notice this year.

“We knew if we got the right people — exhibit A and B — that we could be in this moment, and it would be special here. 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. We just needed a few more pieces and people to believe, and that’s exactly what we got.”

The story of the Chicago Sky’s 2021 season? No, you can’t write it much better than that.

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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