The Sky started the 2021 season with two wins, then they lost seven consecutive games. Then they won a franchise-best seven straight.
They showed up inconsistently but when they did the Sky exhausted teams with their offensive weapons and togetherness on defense making people wonder, could they? Could the Sky really fulfill the expectations set when Candace Parker signed with the team in February?
On Thursday night they did, and to truly understand this moment in Sky history, the Sky’s history has to be understood.
This WNBA Finals trip is undoubtedly a full-circle moment for Parker and the one veterans Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and coach/general manager James Wade envisioned when they convinced her to leave Los Angeles for Chicago.
But it didn’t happen overnight, or with one free-agent signature, it has been years in the making — seven to be exact.
“We’ve had rocky seasons,” Vandersloot said. “We’ve had people want to be out of Chicago, a bad reputation, hard to get free agents. I’m out there texting everybody trying to get people to come here at some point.
“It’s been a lot.”
The year after the Sky were swept in the 2014 WNBA Finals by the Phoenix Mercury, Sylvia Fowles demanded a trade.
By the end of July, Fowles was moved to Minnesota in a three-team trade that brought All-Star center Erika de Souza to the Sky. Fowles would go on to accomplish greatness, becoming an MVP (2017) a two-time champion (2015, 2017) and a Finals MVP (2015, 2017). She is a three-time All-Star with the Sky but a four-time All-Star with the Lynx.
Despite the turmoil of that trade, the Sky still managed to make it to the playoffs. Their 21-13 regular-season record was the second-best in franchise history. They were ousted from the playoffs by the Indiana Fever who would go on to lose to Fowles and the Lynx in the Finals.
Two years later, the Sky would once again say goodbye to a No. 2 draft pick who would go on to win a championship in a different jersey. This time it was Elena Delle Donne, whom the Sky traded to the Washington Mystics in 2017. Delle Donne would win her second WNBA MVP title and first WNBA championship in 2019.
For Vandersloot, it was frustrating to see players leave and win titles elsewhere.
The first page of the 2021 team’s Finals story was written when Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson arrived in Chicago in exchange for Delle Donne. Diamond DeShields was drafted third overall the following year in the 2018 WNBA Draft, bringing the picture further into focus.
By 2019, the championship image was visible. Under the direction of Wade, the Sky carried a 20-14 record into the postseason. The team was riding momentum they felt would take them back to the Finals, but the infamous Dearica Hamby heave left the Sky with a familiar early playoff exit.
After their second-round, single-elimination game loss to the Aces, Wade held on to the disappointment he felt.
Now, as the Sky return to the WNBA Finals on the back of Parker who carried them through an at times “scary” season, it’s more clear than ever how special they are.
It took seven years and the biggest free-agent signing in Sky history for this team to see their greatness realized.
“Our team knows who they are and that makes us dangerous,” Wade said.