Sky’s James Wade doesn’t need to be famous. As long as the winning continues, he’s golden
He could look up at Wintrust Arena and see a beautiful banner anytime, but that’s not going to help him raise the next one.
Google “James Wade,” and the first person who comes up is an English professional darts player known as “the Machine.” Machine? The bloke plays a bar game for a living. Steel tips and frothy sips. You’ve got to be kidding.
So much for coaching the best women’s basketball team on the planet, right? Even here in Chicago, our James Wade — already a champion and with an even stronger Sky team in 2022 — exists somewhat as an afterthought. We’re too busy shredding Tony La Russa, an active Hall of Famer, for his managerial foibles. We’re too preoccupied with newcomer Matt Eberflus, who probably won’t make it through September before a bunch of us decide he’s just another Marc Trestman, John Fox or Matt Nagy. Wade, meanwhile, moves about with very little fanfare.
It’s messed up, when you think about it. What must it be like for Wade, pushing all the right buttons with the rip-roaringly good Sky, to achieve so much yet know he could go most anywhere in this city and be met by empty glances? Does he feel overlooked? Unappreciated? Unseen?
No doubt, I was projecting (Where have I been? Why haven’t I bent his ear more often?) as I got him on the phone heading into All-Star Weekend at Wintrust Arena.
“I don’t really care,” he said. “I have been in places in Chicago where I have been recognized. If I’m not, that’s fine, too. I just want to get to a point where the players are recognized. That’s my biggest thing. That’s my biggest goal. Once we’re in a place where they’re just as recognized as everyone else — all the male basketball players — I’ll feel good.
“But sometimes I’m recognized as the guy that coaches Candace Parker, which is great.”
Wade, 46, also the Sky’s general manager, clearly is as responsible for the team’s success as anyone. It took him only three seasons to win a ring. In season four, his team has the best record in the league — 16-6 — at the break. With the All-Star Game right here, Wade should be peacocking around with his chest puffed out, his ego on parade and his 2021 ring blinging.
Only one problem with all that: He claims he doesn’t even know where the ring is. In a box? In a drawer? In the garage? It must be somewhere in Wade’s home in Wilmette, but it’s definitely not on one of his fingers.
“I just want the next one,” he said. “I’m so focused on the next one, I probably haven’t appreciated the first one enough.”
It’s just not, one quickly learns, how Wade ticks. He was an undersized guard from Kennesaw State in Atlanta who had to fight like hell just to keep sticking around as a player in France, Russia, Spain and the Czech Republic. He was an aspiring coach who started as an intern with a WNBA team, joined a French women’s club as an assistant and got back to the WNBA when Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve offered him a spot on her staff. None of this has come easily.
Wade estimates that he’s “maybe the 12th-best” coach in the WNBA, which is laying the humility on a little thick. Still, it tells you a lot about how he thinks and operates. He could look up at Wintrust and see a beautiful banner anytime, but how’s that going to help him raise the next one?
And one banner definitely isn’t going to be enough.
“I always need to win,” he said. “It’s just who I am. Another championship would just mean I’m closer to the next one.
“It’s like you find one gold piece while you’re digging for gold, and you know there are more gold pieces down there. You’re not going to stop and just appreciate that gold piece. You’re going to keep digging. I’m just in the hole, and I’m still digging, trying to find more gold.”
This Sky team, with its four All-Stars — Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman — and plenty of high-quality talent surrounding them, has a higher ceiling than last year’s squad had even at its confetti-dropping zenith. The 2021 Sky won it all, but they were a .500 team in the regular season. The records don’t lie, right?
Wade would just as soon pump the brakes on this kind of talk, but he doesn’t disagree.
“I mean, I think that’s true,” he said. “But you can’t really say for sure until it’s done. . . . I know what the record says, but it’s really not an indication of where we want to be. We want to be a good regular-season team that turns into a great playoff team. That’s all.”
That’s all? That’s everything. James Wade with the bull’s-eye.