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WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper trusted the grind, and it paid off

(Courtesy of adidas)

Kahleah Copper believes in the process.

After winning a WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky and being named Finals MVP, Copper is on top of the world. And yet, the 27-year-old star still finds joy in the grind. As the party fades and the enormity of the last year begins to sink in, Copper is just starting to reflect on how exactly she got here.

“The most rewarding aspect of it is just me looking back on my process, from being traded from D.C. to coming to Chicago,” Copper tells Just Women’s Sports.

“Even throughout our season, we hit adversity early … we won seven, we lost seven, but for us to really come together and really lock in and heighten our sense of urgency once the playoffs hit and to win a championship, it’s like you look back on your process and you’re like, ‘I wouldn’t change anything, because things wouldn’t be the same.’”

Drafted seventh overall by the Washington Mystics in 2016, Copper started in just three games for the team before being traded to Chicago in 2017. Copper struggled to find playing time in her first few seasons with the Sky, as well, starting 10 games in her first season and just two in her second before exclusively coming off the bench in 2019.

The 2020 bubble season changed everything for the guard, as she started every game alongside veterans Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, averaging a career-high 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

While it’s hard to view Copper now as anything but unstoppable following her dominant playoffs performance, her rise through the ranks was never promised or prophesied. But that didn’t stop Copper from believing it would happen.

“I trusted myself and I trusted the grind and trusted I would be rewarded,” she says. “I think that that was really what it was for me, is just constantly, constantly putting my head down and keep putting the work in so that when I was given the opportunity, I would never look back.”

(Courtesy of adidas)

The stay-the-course mentality that helped Copper earn a spot on the Sky’s starting five is also what propelled her to a WNBA trophy, an achievement she attributes to the team’s collective focus and work ethic.

“I think those single-elimination games were so important for us. Like, so important,” she says.

The Sky, coming into the playoffs as the sixth seed, had to dispatch both the Dallas Wings and the Minnesota Lynx in first- and second-round single-elimination games before their semifinal series against Connecticut.

“I have not seen our sense of urgency hit that new height all season,” she says. “Once we got to the semifinals, we treated those games like single-elimination games. We were so locked in. That’s why I appreciate the single-elimination games — the sixth seed didn’t matter to us.”

Copper says after losing Game 2 of the semifinals to the Sun, the Sky promised themselves they would not go back to Connecticut. She says that clinching the “very tough, very physical” series against the No. 1 seed prepared the team for the Finals.

Standing between Chicago and the WNBA trophy was another tough opponent in the Phoenix Mercury. In a contentious series that spurred rumblings of a new WNBA rivalry, Copper sparred with Phoenix’s Sophie Cunningham in a now-infamous moment that inspired many memes on social media. Though Copper calls the tussle “nothing serious,” she says this type of competitiveness is ultimately good for the WNBA.

“I appreciate the league wanting to create rivalries, because I think that it’s important for women to be able to be passionate and to be feisty and for that be OK,” Copper says. “We are very competitive, we are the best at what we do, so those moments — they happen. The fans love it. They love us to be passionate about it. And those things happen within the game, and I think it’s good for women’s basketball.”

After clinching the Finals trophy, Copper immortalized the photo, selling merch emblazoned with the iconic staredown. “Everything is not always pretty,” she says. “We are gonna be feisty out there, and those things happen, so I think that it’s important for the league to continue to let us be us and to allow us to be passionate.”

Copper’s first round of T-shirts and sweatshirts quickly sold out, speaking to the rising star’s popularity among the Chicago fan base. The love is mutual, with Copper crediting the raucous crowd at Wintrust Arena as a critical factor in the Sky’s championship run.

“The fans, they really showed out,” she says. “I think that having Game 3 and Game 4 sold out was huge. I think they really came out to support us.”

The Sky have been the toast of the town ever since, with fans flocking to downtown Chicago for the team’s championship parade, something Copper doesn’t take lightly.

“I think we got so much love from the city. Riding through the city, you saw little kids coming out of school, little babies come out of daycare, older people were out there, there were people out there with walkers. Like, the city really came out,” recalls Copper. “And it was a Tuesday. People had work. So for the city to really come out and show love like that, it’s like wow. Thank you, Chicago.”

Ruthy Hebard, Candace Parker and Kahleah Copper (Courtesy of adidas)

While the city has embraced her, Copper’s future with the Sky isn’t set in stone as she enters the first unrestricted free agency of her career. The guard can’t definitively say if she plans to be back in the Windy City next year, but she does admit she’s approaching free agency with an open mind and is interested in seeing what’s out there.

“I love Chicago, so I’m just gonna enjoy it for that matter, just enjoy the free agency and just make good decisions,” she says.

No matter where she ends up, Copper’s role on the court is likely to evolve. Just as Candace Parker filled a leadership role that was previously missing in Chicago — bringing something Copper calls “that been there, done that” mentality — the 27-year-old has also now been there and done that, climbing to the top of the WNBA as Finals MVP.

“I was just a sponge, and [Parker] was just giving me everything she had every single day, just pouring into me. I think it’s my due diligence to do the same for whoever next year — me giving it to the next player in order for us to be successful,” Copper says.

(Courtesy of adidas)

The Philadelphia native isn’t just interested in leading on the court; she’s also committed to giving back to the game of basketball in the offseason. Through her partnership with adidas, Copper has fully outfitted her free annual basketball camp in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.

“This year, adidas really stepped up. They really took care of me,” she says. “They were able to provide basketballs, they were able to provide sneakers, water bottles, gift bags, T-shirts, socks — I was able to provide these kids with a lot of things.”

Copper’s hope is that, through her partnership with adidas, she can continue to support young, aspiring athletes coming out of her hometown.

“I think it’s just important for me to never forget where I came from, and to be able to inspire the little girls that are here so that when they grow up and they make it, they’ll want to do the same thing for the next little girl,” she says.

A lot has changed for Copper in the last year — making the All-Star team, winning a league championship and taking home the Finals MVP. One thing that remains constant is her next-up mentality, whether on the court or in her hometown of Philadelphia. While she already has her sights set on earning a Defensive Player of the Year nod, Copper is also focusing on enjoying the moment and appreciating where the easily-praised, often-difficult “process” has gotten her.

“It’s just finally starting to sink in now,” she says. “Like, wow, we won a WNBA championship. Wow, I was Finals MVP.”

Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @clare_brennan2.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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