Skytown: Chicago, Chicago … My Kind of (WNBA) Town

Photo Credit: Matt Marton/AP

One never truly knows what to expect when the WNBA announces it will give a new market a try. But our guess is there were plenty of W pundits between 1997 and 2005 that were wondering why the third largest city in the country was, for that time being, left out of the party that is the WNBA.

When the WNBA first debuted in 1997, it launched in eight markets. In three cases, the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury, those teams are still around and just celebrated their 25th anniversaries.

It would only make sense for a league that opened with teams in the two biggest cities in the country to eventually give the third largest city a try.

Enter the Chicago Sky.

Because of Chicago’s rich (and relatively recent) basketball history, it only made sense that the WNBA tried to tap into that market in the mid-2000s. Before moving into its current home at Wintrust Arena, the Sky previously played at the UIC Pavilion as well as Allstate Arena in the suburb of Rosemont.

Another reason why Chicago made sense for the W? Look at the laundry list of talent that has come of the Chicago area. Of course, the spotlight is on Naperville’s very own Candace Parker as she and the entire Sky organization bask in the glow of its first WNBA championship, but Cappie Pondexter and Jewell Loyd have also been among those that were made by the Chi.

WNBA-wise, Chicago also has the added allure of being a self-made WNBA story. This was highlighted at one point during the celebration rally at Millennium Park. Unlike the Liberty, Sparks (until recently) and the very Mercury that the Sky vanquished en route to its first championship, the Sky are not under the umbrella of an NBA team. The Sky have not shared an NBA arena with a big NBA brother the way the Liberty, Sparks and Mercury have throughout their respective histories.

The reasons why the WNBA thought the Windy City would be a market that would embrace W basketball were many. Diverse city, rich basketball history, passionate sports fans, lots of potential corporate support (which meant it made good business sense for the W as well). All of that thinking paid off when the Sky held its parade and rally through downtown Chicago earlier this week.

That old saying certainly rings true … there truly is nothing like your first time.

The Sky’s first time as WNBA champions was especially sweet because this is an organization that has been building up to this point since the days of Elena Delle Donne and Pokey Chatman. Chicago had been in the Finals once before – in 2014 against the very same Mercury that they bested this time, but got the better of the Sky seven seasons ago.

Since then, the Sky went through a transitional period where it began to assemble talent. There were a few recent Chicago seasons (around the time that the organization was transitioning from Allstate Arena to Wintrust) that the team had the talent (Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Diamond DeShields, Kahleah Copper, etc.)

A Cheryl Reeve coaching tree hire (James Wade) and the biggest free agent splash of the past offseason (Parker) later and the rest is history.

The win was also sweeter because of what the Sky had to endure to arrive at the top of the WNBA’s mountain. With Parker injured, the Sky began the season at 2-7. And following a disappointing exit from the 2020 playoffs in the wubble, plenty of Sky faithful began asking questions on if Wade was the long-term answer as coach.

Chicago made the playoffs with a 16-16 record, but was nowhere near as favored come playoff time as they were at the beginning of the season since the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces established themselves as teams to beat. The Sky hosted the Dallas Wings for its first-round single-elimination playoff game then took the short trip up to the Minnesota Lynx for the second round.

Then came the contest with the Sun – a fully healthy Sun that had Alyssa Thomas back.

Sky in 4.

Then came the contest with a veteran-laden Phoenix Mercury squad that included Brittney Griner, a hungry Diana Taurasi in search of her first championship since that 2014 triumph and a Skylar Diggins-Smith who has yet to check off “win a WNBA championship” on her career wishlist.

Sky in 4.

One cannot wait to see the NBC Sports Chicago documentary on the 2021 Sky season. One cannot wait to see who will play Parker in the movie about her life and her illustrious career (especially if she puts away her jersey and kicks) because this is more than worthy of the Hollywood treatment.

Plus, Parker has Hollywood connections from her Sparks days.

And one cannot wait to see how packed Wintrust Arena will be for future Sky games. How Chicago rallied around the Sky these playoffs and filled that cathedral on the South Loop will likely be the norm as passionate as that city is about basketball.

Skytown proved that it truly has No Ceiling.

P.S. – speaking of those Sparks … if its fans were in their feels about Derek Fisher being their coach and general manager already, seeing Parker leave Tinseltown for Skytown and deliver a championship to her hometown in her first season will surely up the calls to Sparks ownership for his job.