May 26, 2022 

Sights and sounds from the Sky’s ring ceremony

Cathy Engelbert speaks with media before game

On a day when basketball wasn’t the primary focus around the country, the Chicago Sky closed its final chapter on the 2021 WNBA season on May 24 during its pregame ring ceremony.

Seven thousand seven hundred twenty-one screaming Sky fans cheered on the organization after it had waited for its players to return home to celebrate winning the title last year. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert first handed the team’s championship rings out to the coaching staff and the Sky’s principal owner, Michael Alter. Then, the crowd at Wintrust Arena lit up when each player that was on last year’s team was introduced one by one.

The rings themselves had local flare. Each one has 87 full cut diamonds and weighs 2.25 carats. The top of the ring has “WNBA Champions” across it along with images of the John Hancock Tower, Chicago’s prized sculpture “the Bean” and the Willis Tower. An engraving of the team’s record in each playoff round is also a tribute to their miraculous run as a six-seed last year.

The team seemed impressed with how they turned out after not seeing them before the ceremony. Allie Quigley described them as “perfect” after the game and Kahleah Copper had an exaggerated reaction when she opened up the case to her ring before the game. James Wade, who had input on the design, said he wanted to show his players the rings, but they all wanted to have it be a surprise.

“We really had no idea what we were to expect when we opened that box,” said Courtney Vandersloot. “To see all the little details and things that are unique to us and our run [last season], it was just really special for us to open it up and enjoy it.”

The celebration ended with the Sky gathering around the perimeter of the home team’s basket so they could watch the banner be raised. Vandersloot and Quigley had waited a long time to see this organization get to this point as the longest-tenured Sky players.

“So many memories come back,” said Allie Quigley during the team’s shootaround on May 24. “I’ve been going through the last year in my head and how much hard work went into the last 10 years. It’s going to feel good to see that banner and know that it’s always going to be there with our names on it.”

Before the Sky took on the Indiana Fever, there was a moment of silence for the 21 people who were killed in Uvalde, Texas, earlier in the day. James Wade was emotional speaking with the media before the game, where Chicago beat Indiana 95-90.

Cathy Engelbert speaks with the media

Engelbert spoke to the media for 17 minutes before tipoff. Here are some of the highlights from the commissioner’s brief appearance on May 24.

When it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, did the players speak with you about wanting to open things up more or have things be more restricted given the current circumstances?

Engelbert: I think it depends just like anybody in your family who you talk to. Some are more conservative than others. Some players are very conservative living life very protected, like wearing masks. Others are not. They are out in their community, so I think it depends on who you talk to.

Obviously, we talked to them and the Players Association in advance of the tip of the season to determine the right protocols for the season and what they wanted and what we thought was right and balance it all with what’s happening in broader society.

What’s the latest on Brittney Griner? From the WNBA’s perspective, what’s the latest update the league has?

There’s not a day that goes by that in some way we’re not working on figuring out this very complex geopolitical situation. The legal options aren’t vast and the diplomatic options are essentially zero since the invasion of Ukraine. Now, we’re working on other things now that she’s been designated as “wrongfully detained.” That was extremely helpful in what we and the state department can now do because of that wrongful detention designation.

We’re now working with a Special Presidential Envoy for hostage affairs and that’s been helpful because now 100% of their focus is on people like Brittney. There’s others as well, as we saw with Trevor Reed, who came home. Now we want Brittney home. We are talking to a variety of different experts and I think you’ll see some other things in the next week or so with players starting to speak out a little more. But we needed that wrongful detention designation to open that up for the players to talk.

In the first three weeks and in training camp, the players have been vocal about a lot of things. One of them being a desire for expansion and there has been some discontent expressed. Directly from your perspective, how would you describe the relationship between the league and its players at this point?

It’s excellent. I think this is a great conversation to be having with the players because three, four years ago, we were trying to figure out whether we were going to survive. Now we are talking about expansion and putting more players on a roster, expanding in additional cities, investment and the players know we’re 100% behind them.

Every year, I think this happens when people get cut out of training camp. One of the interesting things this year is, because so many players were already back from Russia and Ukraine, we had 16 or 17 more players in training camp that we usually don’t have because they’re usually still playing. There were less spots and usually, what happens is people get waived a couple of weeks into the season when (those players) come back from overseas. Nobody really pays attention because now the stars are back from overseas.

There was more discussion of (roster expansion) this year and I totally appreciate the players, but they know what they signed in the collective bargaining agreement about roster sizes. This was not on their list. Getting paid more was on their list. We were saying triple coming out of the collective bargaining, but now that we’ve paid a half a million-dollar prize pool in the Commissioner’s Cup and other things, they can actually make six times what they were making before. The players know what is important to them. They’re always going to mention all these other things. But they knew that the number one thing they wanted was more pay and better benefits and we delivered a very progressive CBA back then.

How excited are you to have another big market host an event like the all-star game?

I’m really excited. Think about Chicago in July. July is a tough month because a lot of people travel and vacations come up on July 4th weekend. But I’m so excited because this city, last year after the championship, totally adopted this team. I think not only for our all-stars but all of Chicago will show up. I know we’ve already gotten enormous support from the city and government agencies.

Everybody is really excited to hold it here, where across the street, Nike Nationals will be happening with young elite basketball players. That’ll be fun to have that element here, too, but I’m just really proud [this team won its first championship] and now will host the all-star game.

Written by James Kay

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