There is one photo from these 2021 WNBA Finals that will stand out above the rest and drive conversation into the 2022 campaign.
It’s not Candace Parker embracing her family and daughter, Lailaa, in her hometown arena, though that did make one teary-eyed. And it’s not even anything from the sky-high parade.
No, it’s the photo of Kahleah Copper standing over Sophie Cunningham that lit up social media after Game 2 and made a reappearance following the Sky’s championship. It was largely overlooked as most focused on Diana Taurasi pushing a ref, but Copper herself brought it back to center stage and players chimed in in the comments.
The photo was taken by Joe Camporeale of USA Today Sports in the second quarter of a chippy Game 2. Mercury guard Cunningham was on a fast break and missed the layup. Both she and Copper went for the rebound in a chaotic sequence the officials largely let play out, as they did with most of the WNBA Finals for both teams.
Copper waited until the job was done to talk trash on Instagram. Cunningham doesn’t seem to mind.
“Shoot, any pub[licity] is good pub so put me on all the T-shirts you want. My hair looked nice,” she said, noting Copper’s arms were around her neck during the play.
Cunningham also had Game 2 beef with Diamond DeShields she addressed, as did DeShields. Cunningham crossed the Sky guard near midcourt and drilled a 3-pointer for a full-court play that went viral. On Monday, Cunningham said she didn’t mean to do it and threw in a swipe at the opponent.
“If you really look at it, it’s a simple crossover,” she said. “I honestly saw her, she’s athletic, so I was really just trying to get away from her. So I guess you just have to tape those ankles a little tighter.”
DeShields on Instagram Live during the Sky’s victory parade on Tuesday replied: “By the way, my ankles feel fine.”
Rivalries and trash talking fuel sports. Taurasi didn’t receive all that attention for solely being a great player. Now, there’s more kindling for the fire when these two teams meet next season. Throw the door on top, too.
And while that tea heats up, a look back at why this championship was so heartwarming for a Chicago team that felt destined to win its first title in franchise history.
Story time with the championship Sky
As much as the 35-year-old Parker was celebrated for coming home and bringing Chicago its first championship, it was a full team effort. Each of them have their own heartwarming stories that made this Finals run particularly special. All of these pieces had to be there at the right time with the right past circumstances for this moment to happen.
Parker isn’t the only hometown kid. Allie Quigley, “the shoota!,” grew up in nearby Joliet, Illinois, and the two played against each other in high school. The former DePaul star bounced around in her first three seasons and was out of the WNBA in 2012 before joining Chicago in 2013. Cute videos show Quigley, 35, shooting as a kid 40 miles from where she scored 26 crucial points in Game 4.
Her wife, Courtney Vandersloot, is the longest-tenured Sky player and helped recruit when big-time players left. Her record-setting Finals nearly included another triple-double in Game 4. Vandersloot, 32, had her first career triple-double in the semifinals for only the second in WNBA playoff history and 10th player overall to complete one.
Lexie Brown, 26, was surprisingly waived by the Minnesota Lynx in April and picked up by the Sky two days later. But Chicago waived her, signed her again and released her again before adding her on a rest-of-season contract.
And she grew up playing with DeShields on an AAU team near Atlanta. In a special Finals moment, DeShields’ father was able to see her play professionally in person for the first time at Game 3. Delino DeShields, former MLB star, is a coach with the Cincinnati Reds and the seasons overlap.
Astou Ndour-Fall was part of the three-team trade in February 2020 that put Skylar Diggins-Smith in Phoenix. Ndour-Fall, 27, was sent to Dallas, but returned to the Sky on a one-year deal this past offseason. Two days after that Diggins-Smith trade, the Sky acquired Azurá Stevens, 25, from Dallas, too.
Stefanie Dolson, 29, had to step back from her starting role with Parker in town and played off the bench. Dolson, a noted foodie, told reporters after the Olympics she gave up a lot to contribute to an inaugural 3×3 gold medal — and now a WNBA trophy.
Dana Evans, after losing a heartbreaking ACC championship game her senior year, slid in the 2021 WNBA draft, but a trade landed her in the right spot of Chicago. The All-Rookie selection tweeted, “God don’t make mistakes. I promise you that.”
Ruthy Hebard, the 2020 No. 8 pick, became the first Oregon Duck to win a title. Satou Sabally and Sabrina Ionescu, arguably the more talked-about Oregon stars, will certainly have chances in the coming years to make it three.
Break out the good stuff for a toast, because there will be choices to make this offseason for the Sky. Parker, Stevens, Hebard and Evans are the only players on contract for 2022. Vandersloot, Quigley, Dolson, Copper and Ndour-Fall are all unrestricted free agents. Brown and DeShields are restricted free agents.