Amid all the playoff jostling, travel frustrations, and award arguments, one truth rings louder than the rest…
The Chicago Sky are the best team in basketball.
This much is indisputable (unless you’re a Las Vegas Aces fan). The Sky are tied for the best record in the WNBA, boast the most complete roster, and are the defending champions. Chicago is the team to beat entering the 2022 Playoffs, the prohibitive title favorite in a season featuring five legitimate contenders.
But that’s not why I called this meeting.
Candace Parker may retire from playing in less than two months—it feels like a distinct possibility no one wishes to discuss. Of course, there’s also a chance Parker looks in the mirror this offseason and sees an MVP candidate staring back at her. It’s not normal for professional athletes to be this good at age 36.
I’m not interested in the speculative angle here. Debate culture has sunk its tentacles into nearly every crevice of sports journalism, and the decibel levels have reached a nauseating crux. At the risk of sounding washed: why must every utterance assume the form of a take?
I’m interested in the magical basketball Chicago is producing, and in enjoying every minute of Parker’s career from here on out.
There’s joy in watching the greats adjust their games to account for diminished athleticism, joy topped with a light melancholic sprinkling. Sure, it’s a little sad knowing we’ll never see that version of Candace Parker hoop ever again. But what about this version, the one who knows exactly how to manipulate opponents, extract the best from her abilities, and expertly lead her teammates all at once?
About those teammates… can you fathom a more complete squad given salary cap constraints than the one Chicago head coach and general manager, James Wade, constructed this year? It borders on absurdity.
Courtney Vandersloot is a walking point guard clinic. When I reminisce about Chicago’s victory over Phoenix in the 2021 WNBA Finals, the play that looms largest in my memory is Vandersloot’s Game 4 dagger. She’d played a part in almost every crunch time bucket the Sky scored that afternoon, whipping a crosscourt pass to Parker for three and slipping dimes to Stefanie Dolson on the roll. But Vandersloot has an uncanny ability of knowing when to call her own number. With less than 30 seconds remaining and Chicago up two, she curled around a Dolson screen, sent Shey Peddy airborne with a pump fake, then spun the other way and canned a fadeaway jumper from the middle of the paint. Ballgame. Finals victory secured.
Kahleah Copper was the MVP of those Finals and continues to blossom as one of the best all-around wings in the world. What can’t she do at this point? Copper is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and free throws made, despite playing slightly fewer minutes than she did in 2020 and 2021. And all this after winning Euroleague MVP, Spanish league MVP, and the Spanish league title without getting to enjoy an offseason! Copper’s motor never sputters.
Allie Quigley, along with Parker, revived Chicago in the aforementioned title-clinching win over the Mercury. Parker was the steadying force; Quigley was the dynamo. The Sky clawed their way back as Quigley drained three after three, her demeanor unaltered no matter the gravity of the shot. One of the greatest shooters in league history, Quigley changes the geometry of the court with her shooting prowess. Chicago runs a slew of different set plays, many with the end goal of prying open a sliver of space for Quigley to launch.
Emma Meesseman was the 2019 Finals MVP and Chicago’s crowning offseason addition. It boggles the mind that Wade was able to add a player of Messeman’s caliber to a core of champions. She’s been superb in 2022, one of the 10 to 15 best players in the league all season long. Her passing makes the Sky completely unguardable.
Then, there’s the bench. Azurá Stevens may be the most overqualified backup in the league. Rebekah Gardner is a contender for the All-Defensive teams, and has closed many games for Chicago this season in place of Quigley. Gardner’s speed makes her a nightmare to score on and a pain to guard when driving to the basket. Dana Evans and Julie Allemand turned one of Chicago’s glaring weaknesses—backup point guard—into an overwhelming strength. Ruthy Hebard barely receives meaningful minutes, yet would play a sizable role on just about every other team in the league.
Chicago has that ineffable quality of all great teams: the players are so comfortable with one another that they can summon something extra in the biggest moments. The Sky aren’t just tops in the league; they’re the best crunch time team by a definitive margin. What was evident in the Finals last year has carried over to 2022—the most pressurized situations beget Chicago’s best, and most beautiful, basketball.
It’s the beautiful basketball that brings us full circle. Success is one thing, but winning truly mesmerizes when it’s achieved as a unit and not a roster of exceptional individuals. The Sky are second in the WNBA in assist percentage, and first in true shooting percentage, per WNBA Stats. Wade’s elite coaching allows everyone to play with comfort, poise, and unselfishness, to never panic. Help is always a pass away.
All of this makes Parker the perfect superstar for Chicago. Forget the hometown narrative, which is cinematic in its own right. Parker’s game is so appealing it makes one want to wax poetic, to posit basketball as art instead of sport. Even at 36, she’ll snatch a rebound from someone in their prime, take the ball up like a point guard, and fire a no-look dart to a teammate. Her fadeaway jumpers get silkier with age. Her bottomless bag of tricks never expires.
The rest of the Sky operate in a similar fashion. Everyone has their own distinct style of play, their own unique capabilities, but they all revel in making basketball eminently watchable.
When Copper finishes an impossible layup, sliding around defenders who anyone else would ram into, you feel as if MoMA would be a more fitting home for the footage than SportsCenter. When Sloot finds Quigs in a cranny of the court no one else saw, you wonder how in the world Sloot put the pass directly in Quigs’ shooting pocket despite looking in the opposite direction. When all five members of the Sky touch the rock on a single possession, and Evans closes the deal with a three from the logo, you emit a jubilant giggle.
I know I do.
It’s not just Parker whose WNBA future is in question. Vandersloot is just 33 and has signed with Sopron Basket for the 2022-2023 European season, but with stricter prioritization clauses kicking in over the next few WNBA seasons, will Vandersloot feel she has anything left to prove stateside? Same goes for Quigley, who is 36 and agreed to a significant discount this offseason that allowed Chicago to fit Meesseman’s contract under the salary cap. Parker, Vandersloot, and Quigley will all be unrestricted free agents at year’s end.
Rather than guessing what 2023 will hold, let’s bask in the glow of the 2022 Chicago Sky. This is a team that exudes delight, and does it with flair.
No matter how Chicago’s season ends, I know I’ll be watching with a smile.