October 8, 2021 

Candace Parker, ‘The Look’ and Chicago’s trip to the WNBA Finals

Inside the room where it happened

CHICAGO — It’s been 23 years since a Chicago basketball team hoisted a championship trophy. That’s a generation ago. For most Chicagoans, it’s felt a lot longer, with near-misses from the Chicago Bulls and the the Sky in the aughts and early teens. The near-capacity crowd at Wintrust Arena seemed to know they were witnessing a miracle, as the Chicago Sky eliminated the Connecticut Sun 79-69 in Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinals.

They are the only the second team seeded outside of the top two, and first outside of the top three, to reach the Finals since the format changed in 2016. 

And more history was made: Head coach James Wade is the first Black head coach since 2014 to lead a team to the WNBA Finals. The last head coach to do it was Pokey Chatman, also with the Sky.

Game 4 was redemption for every coaching change and failed draft choice they’ve made. And maybe, it’ll be the dawning of a new dynasty, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in this town since, well… 1998.

From the opening tip to happy-dance victory celebration, the Chicago Sky made a full and miraculous recovery from a frustrating, injury-tainted .500 regular season and No. 6 playoff seed, all the way to the WNBA Finals, its first trip since the Chatman-led Finals. Back then, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles were the team stars. And Courtney Vandersloot, who Candace Parker called an “underrated superstar” in postgame remarks, was then in her third season.

This is “the room where it happened.”

A Synchronicity of Movement

For this observer, the lights, the music, the crowd, and the team all seemed to be moving to the same rhythm, keeping time to the pulsating music that punctuated every pass, every timeout and every movement.

Inside Wintrust Arena. (Alison Moran-Powers video)

A Who’s Who of Chicago

You know it’s a special night when Chicago’s royalty shows up, and if you were anywhere in Wintrust Arena on Wednesday night, you could see Scottie Pippen was in the house.

Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, who helped the Bulls win six NBA championships in the 1990s.

“He’s the next best thing to Ron Harper in my eyes since Ron Harper was my hero growing up,” Parker said. “Chance the Rapper, Jessie Jackson. We had people come out constantly to our games.”

Yep, Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as three-time Grammy winner Chance the Rapper.

So were current Chicago Bulls Coby White and Patrick Williams, former WNBA player Tamera Young and the 2021 Chicago Red Stars.

And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose wife, Amy Eshelman, was a member of the Sterling, Illinois girls’ champion basketball team in 1977, five years after Title IX was passed.

There would be no WNBA without Title IX. Look how far we’ve come.

Candace Parker Had ‘The Look’

‘The Look’ during the Sky’s 81-64 win over the Dallas Wings on September 23. (Screenshot by Alison Moran-Powers)

The television camera may not always pick it up, but on the court, you can see it…the intensity, those ferocious eyes, the set jaw, the determination… is unmistakable.

Heck, she lobbed a pass while kneeling on one knee in the third quarter, as the Sky fought through some tense moments.

With ‘The Look’ she…and her team… would not be denied a trip to the WNBA Finals if Parker had anything to say about it.

I first saw ‘The Look’ when Parker was at the University of Tennessee, during the 2008 NCAA Women’s Finals against Stanford. One look, and you knew the Cardinal were toast.

And it happened again last night. That look. And again, an improbable victory over a No. 1 seed.

We are so happy to have her,” Vandersloot said. “Whether we win a championship or not, she changed this franchise.”

How does it feel…?

“It feels unbelievable,” Parker said. “It’s a full circle moment. To look up in the stands and just see all the people that I started playing basketball in front of. It’s super special.”

Happy Dance! (Video by Alison Moran-Powers)

The Sky will face the winner of the other semifinals series between the Mercury and Las Vegas Aces. The decisive Game 5 will be played Friday night. The Finals begin on Sunday. Game 3 is in Chicago.

Written by Alison Moran-Powers

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