Of all of the reasons that Candace Parker decided to return home to Chicago for what could be the last chapter of her professional basketball career, first and foremost, she came for THIS.
This team. This championship. This history. This unforgettable moment in front of a delirious sellout crowd at Wintrust Arena.
With 10 seconds left, Parker, the Naperville, Illinois native, was already welling up as her oft-mentioned dream materialized into a reality.
When she pulled down the final defensive rebound, and the seconds ticked to zero, Parker grabbed the ball and ran straight into the arms of her family on the sideline.
When she returned to her elated team at center court, she embraced Allie Quigley, her fellow local legend from Joliet, Illinois, who matched Parker for game-changing relevance in Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals presented by YouTube TV, the two players with the biggest impact on the return from a 14-point deficit to defeat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 and claim the Chicago Sky’s first-ever WNBA title.
Quigley finished the game with 26 points and five rebounds with five 3-pointers, including a fourth-quarter in which she scored 11 critical points (including three 3-pointers) to change the momentum and a game they trailed almost the whole way until the final two minutes.
Parker, who won her second title in five years after winning in Los Angeles in 2016, finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals, including a 3-pointer to tie the game at 72-72 with 1:57 to go. She scored nine straight points in a critical stretch of the final period.
Parker said she sent a photo to Quigley early in the day on Sunday of the two of them in high school.
“I said, ‘Not bad for two suburban kids to be playing in the WNBA Finals’,” Parker said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be from here, to see so many people in the stands, who have been supporting you since you started.”
Back in 2014, when the Sky last played for a title, losing in a three-game sweep to none other than Phoenix, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles both departed for other teams to win their titles, while Quigley and Vandersloot – now married – chose to stick around and see how things would turn out.
It was an act of faith, with an ending that was as Vandersloot said after the game was “written in the stars.”
Not unlike the one that pulled Parker home.
For the Sky, this whole season almost ran off the rails at a couple of points, a 2-7 start to the season with Parker injured on the bench, a 2-4 finish to the regular season that put them squarely at .500 (16-16) and could have left them doubting whether they were truly championship material.
Quigley said the team reached a “breaking point” about a month ago, right before the start of the postseason.
“We asked each other ‘who are we going to play for?’,” Quigley said. “Candace said she wanted to play for me, that she wanted me to win a championship so badly. Everybody went around and said who we were playing for and in the end, it was all for each other.”
And the switch was flipped to an unprecedented postseason run in the history of the WNBA. Two single-elimination wins, a semifinal series win over a top-seeded Connecticut Sun team that looked destined to compete for a title. And then this Final series victory as a No. 6 seed.
Chicago found a star in guard Kahleah Copper, watched Vandersloot re-write the league record book for a point guard (she finished Sunday’s game with 10 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds), and buckled down defensively against some of the league’s most dominant players, including Brittney Griner in the Finals matchup.
“Everything this team went through this entire season prepared us for this,” Parker said. “We just got to stay with it and that’s what we’ve done all season. I’m so proud of this group.”
Head coach James Wade, who sat with Vandersloot in a Chicago cafe three-and-a-half years ago and guaranteed her that they would win a title when he didn’t know himself how exactly that was going to happen, said he was just trying to get her to “believe.”
“There’s no choice, you’ve got to have faith or you die,” Wade said. “Faith is something you can’t see, you’ve just got to believe. I think I sounded just crazy enough that they believed it.
“We did it because we believe and I think we have done something no other team has done. We had to change who we were because we decided to change and here we are.”
Wade and Parker both described this game as a “microcosm” of an up and down season with all of its low points and comebacks. One that turned out the way it did because of faith and belief and an attachment to home.
Vandersloot, who finally wins a title with the team that drafted her 10 years ago, said that it all came together the way it was supposed to.
“We didn’t want to go seeking this feeling, we wanted to do it here (in Chicago),” Vandersloot said. “We knew we had what it takes, we just needed a few more pieces and for people to believe and that’s exactly what we got.”