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Sports Saturday

Despite early playoff exit, Sky players hope to continue advocating for social justice

Despite the disappointing ending, the year was always bigger than basketball. Sky players raised more than $100,000 for Chicago organizations as part of their social-justice initiative, “Sky Take Action.”

Sky players wore warmup shirts that said “Breonna Taylor” on the front and “Say her name” on the back for the team’s season opener against the Aces. 
Chicago Sky

Wednesday was a difficult day for the Sky. Many still had to pack their bags after their first-round loss to the seventh-seeded Sun. They weren’t expecting to leave the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, so soon.

Less than 24 hours after being eliminated from the playoffs, the players started saying their goodbyes and going their separate ways. Most won’t see each other again until training camp next spring.

“This is bittersweet,” Kahleah Copper said. “I wish this ended differently. But I was just happy that we got to be here and used our platform to just speak out on social injustices and play basketball.”

The 94-81 loss Tuesday was just as heartbreaking as the finish to last season, when the Aces hit a nearly half-court shot in the final seconds of a second-round game.

“We really wanted to win that game,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “We didn’t do enough ... and that’s a tough pill to swallow for us.”

What’s even tougher is that the Sky had a real chance to make a run for the title before injuries got the best of them down the stretch.

The Sky began the season with a 10-4 record — their best start since 2013 — and found themselves among the league’s best teams.

Vandersloot became an MVP candidate for her consistent playmaking and unprecedented ability to dish out assists. She had a record-setting 18 in a game last month and finished the season averaging a record-shattering 10 per game.

Diamond DeShields wasn’t able to build off her 2019 All-Star season. A knee injury kept her out of the starting lineup, and she left the team midseason for “personal reasons.”

Nevertheless, other players stepped up in DeShields’ place.

Copper made a case for Most Improved Player of the Year. Azura Stevens and Cheyenne Parker also had breakout seasons. And Gabby Williams was noticeably more confident in her game.

The Sky (12-10) crawled into the playoffs, losing six of their last eight games and looking bone-tired at times.

“It was a difficult season,” Vandersloot said. “Everybody kind of would probably agree, being in a bubble was not easy. All in all, I’m really proud of this team.”

Despite the disappointing ending, the year was always bigger than basketball. After dedicating their season to social justice in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Sky players launched “Sky Take Action” and raised more than $100,000 for Chicago organizations. And Copper said she hopes the team continues its fight against social injustices.

Coach James Wade is proud of how his team banded together this season. His parting message?

“I told them thank you and how much I really appreciated them coming,” he said. “I know because of COVID, because of social-injustice issues, it was just a tough time for everybody. For them to commit to the team ... I thought it said a lot.”

Despite the painful loss, the Sky’s future remains bright. They have a young and promising core meshed with established veterans.

There are, however, a few roster questions that will have to be answered this offseason.

Parker and Sydney Colson will be free agents. Parker made a case for a decent pay raise after putting up career numbers in points (13.4), rebounds (6.4) and steals (1.3).

Wade might try to re-sign her and find an inexpensive backup point guard.

The conclusion of the 2020 season was disappointing after the Sky’s promising start, but Wade’s focus is on next season.

“We weren’t good enough,” he said. “I want them to take the loss with them and just understand [that] we have to come back better. My goal is to bring a championship to this franchise.”