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Typically, when an organization loses a superstar — Elena Delle Donne, in this case — fans never remember anything other than what they lost. Copper is ensuring that isn’t the case this time.
PHOENIX — Plenty of stars have played for the Sky during their 15-year history.
Sylvia Fowles, selected second overall in the 2008 WNBA Draft, was expected to be the face of the franchise.
In 2013, they drafted Elena Delle Donne, also with the second overall pick.
The Sky got Swin Cash in a trade in 2012 and Cappie Pondexter in 2015. Both joined the Sky after having won championships. Fowles and Delle Donne left and won theirs.
After the Delle Donne trade in 2017, it felt like Groundhog Day in Chicago because Fowles wanted out two years earlier. Fans didn’t know it then, but the Sky were establishing a new foundation built on many stars, not a lone star.
“When [Delle Donne was traded], it felt like another one,” Allie Quigley said. “From that moment, Courtney [Vandersloot] and I said, ‘We need to make this place somewhere people want to be.’ ”
At the time of the Delle Donne trade, current coach/general manager James Wade was in talks with several WNBA teams, including the Sky, about assistant coaching jobs. Wade ended up joining Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx staff. The Lynx won a championship that season, and Fowles was named Finals MVP.
When Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper, who were part of the blockbuster trade that sent Delle Donne to the Washington Mystics, arrived ahead of the 2017 season, the Sky already were on their way to becoming a desirable destination. Vandersloot recalls then-coach Amber Stocks saying how good Copper was going to be.
The next year, Stocks drafted two more young stars in Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams, further solidifying a new era of Sky basketball.
“Being drafted after that trade, I knew I was coming into a team with a new identity,” DeShields said. “When James was hired, we had to revisit that all over again.”
Wade immediately began developing a new culture built on team basketball.
The Sky’s foundation was already set with Quigley, Vandersloot, Copper, DeShields and Dolson. In Wade’s system, they thrived.
DeShields became a first-time All-Star in 2019, and Vandersloot earned her second All-Star nod. Copper, meanwhile, was on her way to becoming the Sky’s next superstar. In the team’s 2019 Game 2 single-elimination loss to the Las Vegas Aces, Copper had 16 points, three rebounds and two assists in only 19 minutes off the bench. The Sky’s season ended that night, but Copper was taking off.
“Her ability to take this opportunity, and I say take because it was not given to her, is really unique and special,” Vandersloot said.
Copper is averaging 18.6 points and shooting 53.3% from the field through the Sky’s 2021 playoff run that has them two wins away from their first WNBA title.
Typically, when an organization loses a superstar, fans never remember anything other than what they lost. Copper is ensuring that isn’t the case this time.
If the Sky are able to win their first title, it’s safe to say fans will only talk about two periods in the franchise’s history:
The Sky before the title and the Sky after.
And as far as the Delle Donne trade goes, it will be remembered as the deal that brought Copper to Chicago.
“When I got to Chicago, everything was brand new,” Copper said. “I was just trying to find my way in.”
Copper found her way in, and when she becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Sky will be tasked with keeping her.