Chicago Sky fans packed the Pritzker Pavillion in Millenium Park on Tuesday after the WNBA team blasted into a forceful fourth quarter comeback over the weekend to win the first championship in the franchise’s 16-year history.
The city celebrated its first major league championship in five years with a parade and rally at the downtown park that featured politicians and Chance the Rapper.
“It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be down here at the Pritzker Pavilion,” said Lily Lowndes, a senior at DePaul University, where Sky player Allie Quigley played college ball. “Chicago Sky is such a good team. Who would want to miss this?”
Sky player Candace Parker told the fans gathered at the rally that the championship celebration was a dream-come-true. The sky championship win on Sunday night was her second WNBA pennant after her 2016 win with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“I remember watching Bulls parades and just dreaming of that moment,” said Parker, who grew up in Naperville and spent 13 years with the Sparks before joining the Sky this season. “We stayed consistent with those Midwestern values. Everybody counted us out, but it is the little things that got us here.”
The Sky beat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to clinch the championship. After entering the playoffs as the No. 6 seed with a 16-16 regular season record, the players hit their stride. They won two single elimination games to make it to the semi-finals, where they beat the No. 1 seed Connecticut Suns.
“The way we played this year is represented by who we are as people,” said James Wade, who has been the Sky’s head coach and general manager since 2018. “You get knocked down seven you just have to get up at eight. Remember the seat you’re sitting in right now, because you’re going to sit in the same seat next year!”
Both Parker and Quigley have Chicago connections, which Chance the Rapper noted when he joined them on stage for the celebration wearing a white championship T-shirt on his head. “They got a team right here,” he said. “The chemistry is real.”
Quigley played high school basketball at Joliet Catholic High School and has played nine pro seasons. She led the championship game scoring 26 points.
Parker, Sky forward-center was part of the 2003 Class AA Illinois state championship winning Naperville Central High School and went on to play for powerhouse University of Tennessee.
“I had been a Sky fan since 2008, seeing all the bad times and finally getting to the top of the mountains embracing the city,” said Amani Jackson, 28, who wore a Chicago Sky jersey to the rally. “When I saw them, I knew it was going to be momentous.”
MVP Kahleah Copper, who played college basketball for Rutgers University, came onstage at the post-parade rally to roars of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” from the crowd. Copper, a forward/guard who came to Chicago in 2017 from the Washington Mystics, gave a shoutout to Chicago for taking her in as their own. “We did it ya’ll,” she said. “Thank you.”
Kendall Stein, a 34-year-old fan from Chicago, watched the rally from the top of the steps at the pavilion. “I am happy to have Parker,” she said of the team’s star player, but added that “we only made this far because we are a team.”
Guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has been with the team since 2011, is the longest tenured player on the team. She scored the final point, handing the team the 2021 WNBA championship. Vandersloot and wife Quigley are the only holdovers from the 2014 season, where the Sky last faced the Mercury for a championship.
Chicago native President Barack Obama congratulated the team on Twitter saying, “… our new WNBA champs, @ChicagoSky! I couldn’t be prouder of this team. They worked hard for this moment and have made our city proud.”
Although her team did not come out on top, Phoenix, Arizona resident Michelle Hird, 40, celebrated Chicago’s win anyway. “You can’t not be proud of this team,” Hird said. “Even though my team lost… 25 years and now they’re the champions. It’s just amazing overall.”
John Roberts, 29, from the South suburbs, didn’t make it down to the rally. He said he has never watched the WNBA. “To be honest, compared to the NBA, I would be much more interested if the Bulls won than the Sky to be blatantly honest.”
Roberts grew up watching men’s basketball “I guess I’m just biased towards the sport, “ he said.
But he said the win would nonetheless be good for young players. “It’s gonna make an impact on young female basketball players.”
Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton noted the significance of the women winning a championship for Chicago. “Young people like my four daughters know that it’s ok to be strong and confident and to take your rightful seat at the table,” she said.
Chicago native Dennis Luxion, 69, said he wished the crowd had been bigger. He came out to support Sky but more importantly, women’s sports. “I was disappointed that the turnout wasn’t more,” Luxion said. “If this had been the Bears or the Bulls, there’d be a much bigger turnout. Obviously, these are talented, hard-working players, and they deserve the support of the community.”
Caitlin Mathews and her daughter, Evelyn Mathews, were both excited to see the Chicago Sky win their very first championship. “I’ve been watching since I was a kid,” Matthews said. “So, in 2014 when they got swept by Phoenix it hurt a little bit. But, in the summer when we acquired Candace Parker, I knew good things were going to come. Not this soon, but man it was awesome.”
Melanie Bonifacio, 32, from Chicago, said sports have been a big part of her life. “For women sports in general, it’s a big thing especially for the city of Chicago,” she said.
Sky fan Emily Garcia, 17, stopped for a picture in front of the stage area. “There are a lot of opinions out there that women can’t be successful in the sports industry,” she said. “I think that is completely false.”
Aileen Carranza, Alina Pawl-Castanon, Candice Crisp, Camryn Cutinello, Olivia Cohen, Catherine Pineda, Kimberly Vazquez, Leah Love, Nell Ambrose, Samaher Aburabah, Braden Bates, Tyra Ingram, Cierra Lemott, Alexis Norris, Jordan Perkins and Caitlin Tylka contributed to this report.