When Sky guard Kahleah Copper saw the Wintrust Arena crowd full of pink, she couldn’t help but smile.
Pink-out games like the Sky’s 88-83 loss to the Wings on Thursday mean a lot to Copper. Breast cancer awareness is a cause close to her heart.
Copper’s mother, grandmother and great grandmother have all had breast cancer. She paid tribute to all of them Thursday with vibrant pink sneakers that had their names inked on them.
“To be able to play this game for all the breast cancer survivors but especially for mine, it’s an amazing experience,” Copper said before the game.
Copper and her mother, Leticia, are close. So when she learned of her mother’s diagnosis when she was 16, Copper was devastated.
The news came at a time when Copper was trying to figure out where she wanted to play college basketball. She had her sights set on DePaul among other schools, but the Philadelphia native decided to attend Rutgers and remain close to home.
That choice ultimately became one of the best decisions of her life.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is a breast cancer survivor, helped Copper maneuver life on and off the court.
“It was a no brainer to go there,” Copper said. “[Stringer] was there for my family. . . . [She] is the coach who I can relate with as a person, and I think she’s made me the player I am today and shaped me into the woman I am.”
Throughout her battle, Copper was inspired by her mother’s ability to remain positive.
“My mom has made sacrifices for me my entire life,” said Copper, whom the Sky acquired along with center Stefanie Dolson from the Mystics in 2017 for Elena Delle Donne. “And throughout what she was going through, she made sure to get me what I needed in order to be successful.”
Copper said she gets her strength and resiliency from her mother, who was declared cancer-free in 2015.
“I think for sure I get it from my mom and just to be tough and be able to get through different situations no mater what the circumstances,” Copper said she learned from her mother.
That tenaciousness has been evident in her play this season. She’s the Sky’s spark off the bench and is often one of the more aggressive players on the court.
Copper is averaging 6.4 points, the second-most from the Sky’s bench unit, and 1.8 rebounds. She didn’t play her best game against the Wings, finishing with just four points and a steal.
The Sky’s uniforms were auctioned for charity after the game, with proceeds going to breast cancer research.
Though the loss stings, point guard Courtney Vandersloot said she was proud to be part of Thursday’s game.
“It’s a nice thing for us,” said Vandersloot, who had 19 points, seven assists and two rebounds in the Sky’s loss. “It’s really cool that we get to play in these jerseys and play in front of survivors. It’s nice to be able to spread awareness, and it’s one of those special games in the season.”