The Chicago Sky won their first WNBA championship in franchise history on Sunday. Despite the team being ranked sixth in the league during the 2021 season, they battled from the first round of the playoffs to knock out the top seeded Connecticut Sun in the semifinals.
They then battled the tenacious Phoenix Mercury, who also fought from the first round to reach the WNBA Finals.
Among their many weapons is basketball icon Candace Parker who averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game during the season. Sky head coach James Wade noted how Parker has taken the role of a player-coach during her first season with the Sky.
“You have so much success early, you kind of figure out who you are earlier on … As a coach, you can’t help but trust that when she says something, you have to listen,” he said. “She brings a lot with her experience.”
This marked Parker’s third Finals appearance. Her first was in 2016 when Parker helped the Los Angeles Sparks win a championship. Her 19.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the postseason won her Finals MVP honors. Sky players revered her breathe of knowledge and took heed to her insights throughout the season. Parker’s player-coach role felt natural, according to center Stefanie Dolson.
“In practice, coach (Wade) is saying some things and then on the sideline, especially in the post section, she would talk to us like a coach as well,” Dolson said. “She’s very smart when it comes to the analytics of basketball, so it came naturally for us to just listen and take her in as a player but also as a coach.”
Parker knew she wanted to compete in her hometown in front of her lifelong supporters, but she also saw potential in the Sky squad.
“It’s a full circle moment to look up in the stands and see all the people that I playing basketball in front of,” Parker said. “This is a special group. I think the way you face adversity; it’s built character and it’s revealed it.”
The 2021 WNBA Finals has shown the growth of the WNBA, with Game 3 of the Finals being sold out along with NBA and NFL players sitting courtside at games. After winning the championship, Parker acknowledged how NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna has helped the league grow.
“The advice I got from Vanessa (Bryant) before the game was play Gigi’s way and I think we’ve done that all playoffs,” Parker said. “If Gigi could play, she would play as hard as she could, so I think that’s huge for our team.”
In Game 4, Parker scored 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists; she had possession during the final seconds of the game. Realizing that she won her second WNBA title reminded her of her prep years.
“I had flashbacks from high school when I first realized we won the state championship and it was kind of similar,” Parker said. “It was amazing to hug my dad and my mom and my family … I think it’s a moment where you just have to take it in.”