Chicago Sky hold ring ceremony, raise banner for WNBA title

James Wade is usually focused on the day-to-day, but Tuesday night was an exception for the Chicago Sky coach and general manager.

Wade woke up at 5:30 a.m., excited to celebrate his team’s first WNBA championship. His elation evaporated when he found out while heading into Wintrust Arena that at least 19 children and two adults had been killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Wade said during a brief pregame news conference that all he could do was be strong for his team.

“It’s a tough situation,” he said after the Sky’s 95-90 win against the Indiana Fever. “There is a lot of stuff that is bigger than basketball. They were two days away from going on summer vacation and there were parents who were planning trips. It’s tough. It’s just tough.”

After a moment of silence 30 minutes before tipoff, the Sky’s ring ceremony began with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert introducing the team’s front office. She handed each of them a championship ring at center court before principal owner Michael Alter gave a speech to the 7,741 fans in attendance.

The players were then introduced one by one, emerging from the tunnel to an electric crowd before receiving their rings.

Candace Parker — who finished the game with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists — walked onto the court with her 3-month-old son, Airr Petrakov Parker, in one arm and holding her daughter Lailaa Williams’ hand in the other. The biggest fan reaction came when 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper was introduced after Parker.

It was the first time the Sky players had seen the design of the rings.

“I love them,” said Allie Quigley, who scored 12 points in 29 minutes. “I think they are perfect. I want to wear them all the time, but I trust myself to just keep it somewhere safe.”

Wade had input into the design, which features the words “WNBA CHAMPIONS” across the top and bottom with the Willis Tower displayed prominently in between. Along the side of each ring are images of the John Hancock Center, the Bean and the Water Tower.

Encapsulating the spirit of Chicago was important to Wade after the team asked for his input.

“I was pretty involved,” he said. “I knew what the ring looked like before the players and wanted to put the Bean and other landmarks. It was really cool to be a part of it and I think it turned out OK.”

The celebration concluded with the players gathering to watch the Sky’s first banner raised.

It was a long road for the Sky to get to this point. After months of playing overseas and waiting for the full team to convene, they were glad the celebration finally could commence.

“I’m really proud of that,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “That’s one of the reasons why I stayed here for so long because we were building something I believed in and wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to help build it. To see us at the pinnacle of last year after all the ups and downs, it speaks volumes about this franchise.”

Vandersloot and Quigley, her wife, are the longest-tenured players on the Sky. They knew better than anyone not to take this moment for granted after seeing the franchise at its lowest points.

“So many memories come back when thinking (about her time with the Sky),” Quigley said during the shootaround. “I’ve been going through that a lot this past year, from winning to the offseason, about the last 10 years. It’s going to be good to see that banner raised and know that it is always going to be there.”

The Sky overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to improve to 4-2. Parker became the fourth player in league history to finish a game with at least 15 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks. In the previous game versus the Washington Mystics, Parker posted her second career triple-double.

After hinting at retirement before the season opener, Parker’s game has been in top form early in the season.

Asked earlier in the day if there’s anything else she’s looking to accomplish before retiring, Parker said: “100%. When I wake up and there isn’t that desire to keep going, that’s when I know I will be done.”

Another celebration will take place in Chicago when the Sky host the WNBA All-Star Game on July 10. It’s the first time the team will host the midseason festivities, and Engelbert was ecstatic before the game about another big market getting its turn in the spotlight.

“Think about Chicago in July,” she said. “This city last year after this championship totally adopted this team. Not only for our All-Stars but all of Chicago will show up. We already have received enormous support from the city and everybody is excited to hold it here.”

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