If you haven’t been paying attention to the red-hot Chicago Sky this season, view now is the time to start tuning in and supporting these incredibly talented women. For the first time in franchise history, Chicago’s very own WNBA team is heading to the playoffs.
The eight year-old franchise, one of twelve that make up the WNBA, made their first playoff appearance a reality with a win over the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden this past weekend. Eight regular season games remain before the playoffs begin on September 19.
Despite the WNBA’s struggle to produce a yearly profit, the league is one of the most recognized professional leagues for women’s sports. Even more impressive, this group of women went undefeated, taking home a gold medal at the London Olympics last summer.
Not only is the Chicago Sky making history by competing in the playoffs this season, but the organization placed #2 draft pick, rookie Elena Delle Donne and three point shooting queen Epiphany Princein the starting lineup for this year’s All Star game.
Elena Delle Donne is slowly becoming a household name in Chicago, and for good reason. The stunning 6′ 5″ rookie guard has been a tour de force for the previously struggling Sky, leading the team to first place in the Eastern Conference and locking a playoff spot for the first time in team history. Donne is also a front runner for the League MVP as a rookie!
In addition to Donne’s elite status and incredible talent, the Sky hosts two other gold medal Olympians, center Sylvia Fowels the veteran with the longest tenure on the team at six years and WNBA star, forward Swin Cash the 3x WNBA Champion and 2x All-Star MVP who came over from Seattle last season and has brought her star power and skill with her to Chicago. Cash recently shed it all for the coveted ESPN the Body issue.
Chicago still has a month left to build on their best winning record in the team’s eight years. You can head to the All State Arena until mid-September for a regular season game but if the momentum continues in their favor you could catch them in Rosemont until mid-October in a playoff run. More information on tickets and prices HERE.
Despite the Sky’s stellar season and their upcoming trip to the playoffs, the WNBA continues to stimulate conversation about their lack of funding and stagnant attendance.
I sat down with Chicago Sky’s Head Coach Pokey Chatman to breakdown her strategy for making history this year and to discuss what makes this season different from the past.
“This is the year where we kind of turned the corner, we added some pieces…we are on the right track in turning this thing around,” said Coach Chatman. After beating the Minnesota Lynx, the leading team in the league in OT two weeks ago, Chatman says there is still a lot left to accomplish to keep the team competitive in the post season.
“We talk about maintaining a sense of urgency and consistency on the defensive end of the floor and I say that because I test this team in terms of their ability to score the basketball. There are some nice pieces there… They are sharing the ball really well, they play ball together really well. But I think we need to push the group now to work on the defensive end of the floor in order to maintain that high level of play,” said Chatman.
Despite the team’s rollercoaster to stay consistent at the beginning of the season, Chicago’s newest superstar is capturing the nation’s attention with the help of quite a few heavyweights on her side.
Chatman says when Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles feed off of each other on the court there is very little room for error.
“The unique things about Elena, is that she is 6’5 but she’s 6’5 and can play on the perimeter and make some baskets, so that right there gives you some versatility. Sylvia Fowles is phenomenal. She physical, she’s powerful , she’s quick, she’s strong…. She’s one of the best in the world.”
But despite recognizing that there are world-class champions in the WNBA the question still remains. Why doesn’t the league get the same attention, support and coverage as other professional sports?
Coach Chatman believes that the problem goes much further past each team’s performance on the court, but at the end of the day, the solution starts with producing competitive and engaging basketball. Chatman believes there are three core pieces that mold the unique nature of the WNBA.
“The basketball, the role model and the fight that [the league] still has to put up.” She says, “For us the biggest thing is just to steal the momentum and establish a true identity, and not so much for the rest of the world but for ourselves.”
Critics are often harsh when commenting on the WNBA and there has yet to be a tremendous amount of growth since the start of the league. The constant struggle to fill seats and find funding is a topic of discussion that cannot be ignored but Chicago is optimistic.
“Even though we are a professional organization we are still in the grasping stages. I think it’s two-fold… we are a young league, and in this day and age we want things to happen yesterday. But I think if you keep it out there and you’re staying relevant the hard part comes during the off season,” said Coach Chatman.
So where do we go from here as fans, as players as an organization? What kind of conversation does the topic stir? The truth remains that the league has yet to truly surge, and players continue to travel overseas to compete in the off-season to make a living. Despite the roughly $35,000 average salary the players make compared to their million dollar salary counterparts in the NBA, these ladies continue to play for the love of the game.
“I want the conversation to be about the high level of basketball that they are seeing number one. I think that’s the draw. Number two, I want them to experience that environment and experience our players because I think they are some of the best role models that are out there and I think that that goes a long way after the buzzer sounds,” Chatman says.
As for the Chicago Sky, the weeks continue to count down and their numbers are on the rise. With their highest winning record to date, Chicago wants to place their stamp on the sports world and make even more noise beyond.
“I want [the team] to understand that there is enough talent in the room not to just make history by getting in the playoffs but doing something special when we get there … and times are not friendly. We are focusing on what’s next.”
What’s next? We can only hope a long and exciting playoff run is ahead for the Sky and their fans as the momentum around the team continues to build in Chicago and beyond.
Visit the Chicago Sky’s official website for game day tickets and more information.