There will never be another player like Courtney Vandersloot

In 12 seasons with the Sky, Vandersloot averaged 10.2 points, 6.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds. In 2021, she helped bring the city its first WNBA title.

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Courtney Vandersloot was drafted by the Sky in 2011 with the third overall pick. Thursday she announced her plans to sign with the New York Liberty.

Courtney Vandersloot was drafted by the Sky in 2011 with the third overall pick. Thursday she announced her plans to sign with the New York Liberty.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With less than a minute left in Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals, Courtney Vandersloot went to work.

‘‘Let’s go, Sky!’’

The unified chants and faint sound of an official blowing a whistle were all that was audible as Allie Quigley inbounded the ball to her wife. Vandersloot paused at the top of the key, assessed where all the pieces stood on the court, like a chessboard, and used two screens from Stefanie Dolson before driving to the basket.

She then declared ‘‘checkmate’’ in the form of a fadeaway.

Vandersloot accounted for the last four points of the game against the Phoenix Mercury, securing the Sky’s first WNBA championship.

It was fitting for the Sky’s longest-tenured player to lock up the first title for the franchise to which she had dedicated her career — up until now, that is.

The Sky followed up their championship season by tying the Aces for the best regular-season record in the league in 2022. But a loss in the semifinals to the Connecticut Sun proved to be the prelude to the dismantling of the Sky’s championship roster and the exit of the player the team lovingly has referred to as its engine.

On Tuesday, Vandersloot announced she wouldn’t re-sign with the Sky. On Thursday, she broke the news she was signing with the New York Liberty.

The Sky know what it means to fight. They’ve fought for relevance and respect in a saturated sports market since being established in 2005 as the second independently owned WNBA franchise and the first in a market with an NBA presence.

In their first five seasons, there was little consistency in the coaching staff, the roster or even where they played. But in the Sky’s sixth season, coach Pokey Chatman made a move that altered the course of the franchise by selecting Vandersloot with the third overall pick of the 2011 draft.

‘‘Chicago was still building at that time,’’ Chatman said in a previous interview with the Sun-Times. ‘‘At that time, they hadn’t been to the playoffs. [Drafting Vandersloot] was about the organization’s bookends and pillars. Sylvia [Fowles] was there, but we needed that point guard. It was about the position of the franchise and the talent of [Vandersloot] to carry [the Sky] for a long time.’’

Vandersloot didn’t just carry the Sky. As the years progressed, she grew to define the franchise. She remained through the departures of marquee players such as Fowles and Elena Delle Donne — both of whom requested trades — and multiple coaching changes.

With each exit, Vandersloot’s identity as the heart of the Sky came further into focus.

Her legacy in Chicago includes love. Two years after drafting Vandersloot, Chatman signed Quigley, a WNBA journeywoman who had played in 34 games for four teams in her first four seasons. When Quigley returned to Chicago, where she had played four years for DePaul, she found the place where she could develop into one of the best three-point shooters the game has seen. Off the court, she and Vandersloot developed a lifelong commitment.

The two were married in 2018 and quickly were coined the ‘‘Vanderquigs’’ by fans across the league.

‘‘My wife, my point guard, my best friend there will never be enough words to say how much you’ve meant to Chicago,’’ Quigley shared on social media after Vandersloot’s announcement that she would sign with the Liberty. ‘‘Whatever she touches turns to gold. This city is yours forever.’’

In 12 seasons with the Sky, Vandersloot set records and then broke them. She leads the franchise in assists, with more than triple the next player in line: Quigley. She’s the Sky’s second-leading scorer (behind Quigley) and is first in minutes played.

She notched the second playoff triple-double in WNBA history in the 2021 semifinals and averaged a double-double in the Finals. She’s the first player to average 10 assists in a season and ranks third on the WNBA’s all-time assists list.

Vandersloot’s statistics speak volumes, but they don’t adequately capture all she meant to Chicago. The real testament to what she meant to the fan base was communicated every time she was announced with the starting lineup. Her name was met with a collective roar of ‘‘SLOOOOOOT!’’ from the fans.

Some had been there from the beginning, when the Sky played in the then-UIC Pavilion and then Allstate Arena. Others were newcomers, flocking to see a new era of Sky basketball at Wintrust Arena, led by “The General.”

Vandersloot’s years of loyalty were rewarded in 2021, when Candace Parker signed a two-year deal with the Sky. By her own admission, Parker made her decision because of Vandersloot. The two-time league MVP wanted to team up with Vandersloot and Quigley in pursuit of a title.

Without Vandersloot, Parker wouldn’t have signed with the Sky. Without her, there would be no banner hanging in the rafters at Wintrust Arena.

When Vandersloot signed a one-year contract with the Sky last year, there was a sense the final chapter was being written, no matter how badly fans wanted to believe otherwise. Vandersloot had considered not re-signing with the team in 2022, but the possibility of winning back-to-back titles was too enticing to pass up.

In an alternate reality in which the Sky don’t blow an 11-point lead to the Sun in Game 5 of the semifinals and proceed to take down the Las Vegas Aces in the Finals to become the first WNBA team to win consecutive championships in 20 years, maybe Vandersloot re-signs to go for a third. But this isn’t a video game, and fans can’t get a rematch.

On Sept. 8, after what would be her final game in a Sky uniform, Vandersloot paused as she made her way to the tunnel. She looked into the stands and brought her hands together in an expression of gratitude for the fans, new and old.

As it turns out, it also would be one of the ways she said goodbye.

‘‘The thing I’m most proud of is that we built something people wanted to come see, people enjoyed,’’ Vandersloot said during exit interviews in September. ‘‘The amount of support that the city has given us the last few years and this year, especially. We crumbled in the fourth quarter, and our fans were up showing us nothing but absolute love. It hasn’t always been like that. I’ve been here a long, long time, and we had to earn it.

‘‘That’s why we stayed here. That’s why me and Allie committed to being here — because we wanted to build something as special as that.’’

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