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Fans, team celebrate Sky’s WNBA title: ‘I think it’s going to make the city a little happier’

Fans gathered in Millennium Park and along the Michigan Avenue parade route to celebrate the team’s first title.

The Chicago Sky celebrates its WNBA Championship title at Pritzker Pavilion.
The Chicago Sky celebrates its WNBA Championship title at Pritzker Pavilion.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Hey, Chicago Sky — don’t stop now.

That was the message from some fans gathered for Tuesday’s championship celebration.

A city hungry for something to be happy about won’t be happy with just one WNBA title. They think the Sky are poised for another.

Or three.

Larry Jones, 68, was along the Michigan Avenue parade route and said he’s confident the Sky can pull off “the ultimate three-peat” and made his own sign to make that clear.

“I think it’s going to make the city a little happier,” he said.

Coach James Wade fed into that belief when he addressed the boisterous crowd of thousands Tuesday afternoon at the Sky’s championship rally at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

“Remember the seat that you’re sitting in right now because you’re going to be sitting in it next year,” Wade said, resulting in ear-splitting cheers from fans.

Larry Jones, 68, predicted more Sky titles with his sign. The North Sider was along the Michigan Avenue parade route Tuesday morning.
Larry Jones, 68, predicted more Sky titles with his sign. The North Sider was along the Michigan Avenue parade route Tuesday morning.
Jason Beeferman/Sun-Times

People from all over the Chicago area came in droves to celebrate the Sky’s 80-74 come-from-way-behind win against the Phoenix Mercury, which gave the franchise its first title and the city its first major-league championship in five years.

The day began with a parade, which left Wintrust Arena about 11:25 a.m. — a little later than the scheduled 11 a.m. start time. The motorcade headed to Michigan Avenue, then north toward Millennium Park for the noon rally.

Sky fans wearing jerseys and other team gear lined the curb of Michigan Avenue cheering as the reigning WNBA champions drove past Roosevelt Road in double-deck buses.

Players and fans start the celebration at the Pritzker Pavilion.
Players and fans start the celebration at the Pritzker Pavilion.
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times

Point guard Courtney Vandersloot looked out at fans waving, took a deep breath and said, “I truly can’t believe this.”

With a glass raised in the air and a fat cigar in her mouth, center Stefanie Dolson cheered on fans from the double-decker bus.

She drew tokes from the cigar, and then triumphantly blew the smoke toward the crowd.

Raising both arms, she cheered along with the crowd. “Yeah!” she hooted as she went by.

Among those out on the parade route were Ashley Flattery and Paul Bulow, who attended every home playoff game they could and were inside Wintrust Arena for the series clincher on Sunday.

The mood was electrifying — so much so they wore earplugs to soften the sound of cheers.

“We took off work to show support and we wanted to be close to the start of the parade,” Flattery said, as she and Bulow stood along Michigan Avenue Tuesday. “This is exciting and it’s great to be here today.”

The pair said they have been Chicago Sky fans since 2014 and have fallen in love with the WNBA. Bulow hopes this is the beginning of many championship parades.

“I know we have some free agents coming up next season but I hope we can keep everyone together,” Bulow said. “This team was so fun to watch all year long.”

The celebration begins at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where fans gathered in honor of the Chicago Sky’s first WNBA title.
The celebration begins at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where fans gathered in honor of the Chicago Sky’s first WNBA title.
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times

Vickie Williams, a South Side native, eagerly stood on Michigan Ave waiting for the team to roll by.

“We need this in Chicago,” said Williams, 39, a Chicago police officer. “Crime is a little high, the COVID thing and everything, we need some positivity.”

Williams said she has a feeling she’ll be back next year.

“We’re gonna win again, back to back,” she said. “We have a great team, great fans, going into the next season it’s going to be good.”

As the parade came to an end, hundreds more fans flocked to the Pritzker Pavilion, where thousands had already gathered in anticipation for the rally. Some fans arrived as early as 8:30 a.m. for the noon ceremony to reserve a coveted spot near the stage.

Ken Justus was among the Chicago Sky fans showing up early on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 for the rally at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park celebrating the team’s WNBA title.
Ken Justus was among the Chicago Sky fans showing up earlyTuesday for the rally at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park celebrating the team’s WNBA title.
Jason Beeferman/Sun-Times

Ken Justus, with his handmade “Sky-Town” sign, was among those who showed up early.

“This is all about happiness,” said Justus, 65, who lives near Mayfair Park. “I had a good feeling about it the whole year, even when they were at the bottom. I thought they were gonna turn it around and they did. They did!”

People started to line up on the ledge overlooking the outdoor theater as red seats filled up. Rallygoers danced and clapped along to the beat of the music. Some waved Sky flags and pumped their fists in the air.

The Whitney Young girls’ varsity basketball team was sitting just left of the stage.

“I’m just happy to see women representing our city and representing basketball and bringing a championship to the city,” junior guard Olivia Vick said. “It’s just great to see that one day all of us can be in their shoes and they’re big role models.”

Diamond DeShields leans over the railing of her bus to greet fans as she and other Chicago Sky players enjoy the ride up Michigan Avenue to the Millennium Park rally.
Diamond DeShields leans over the railing of her bus to greet fans as she and other Chicago Sky players enjoy the ride up Michigan Avenue to the Millennium Park rally.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Several local and state officials took turns congratulating the Sky and praising them for their perseverance this season, even enduring an early seven-game losing skid as the team battled injuries.

“You fought hard and rose to the top of the league and you brought your city to new heights. That’s what leadership looks like,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker before giving Sky owner Michael Alter a proclamation renaming Chicago “Sky Town” for the day.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a longtime season-ticket holder, gave a shout out to fans who have been there since the Sky was founded in 2006. She also welcomed new supporters to the team’s growing fanbase.

“All of you who most recently jumped on the bandwagon, that’s alright. But just make sure you sign up for season tickets next season.”

Chance the Rapper, with a drink in tow, got the crowd even rowdier, yelling: “Chicago make some f------ noise! ... These are the world champion Chicago Sky here.”

Fans were quick to notice a broken door on stage. Wade confirmed that was the locker room door that Mercury star Diana Taurasi reportedly smashed because she was so upset by the loss.

Candace Parker, who fulfilled her promise of bringing a championship to Chicago after joining the Sky after last season, got a lot of love from the crowd when she took the podium. She reminisced on watching the Chicago Bulls parades and rallies on television in the 90s and dreaming of bringing a title to her hometown.

“I know I was drafted out West but I think I’ve stayed consistent with those midwestern values, and those midwestern values are that grit, that drive, that blue collar and I think that [our] team demonstrated that this year,” Parker said.

Perhaps the loudest cheers of the day came for All-Star guard Kahleah Copper.

When she was announced, the hordes chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”

Copper, with the help of center Stefanie Dolson, started a cheer of their own: “Sky Town, all the way!” they repeatedly exclaimed.

The rally ended with blue-and-yellow confetti raining down on the stage as the crowd sang, “We are the champions.”

Some players signed autographs, took selfies with fans and tossed autograph basketballs into the crowd.

Young forward Tanila Marshall was one of the lucky ones to walk away with an autographed souvenir.

“We’re gonna need this for luck this season,” said Marshall, who said she walked away from the rally feeling “motivated” for her upcoming season.

Even after players left the stage, some fans stayed to relish the moment.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Karron Clarke, who went to DePaul with Allie Quigley. “You don’t know when it’s gonna happen again.”