NEW YORK — From the outside, last year’s WNBA free agency period appeared to come down to a month’s worth of breaking news moments. The Sky had one starter under contract, Candace Parker, making those moments all the more colossal.
Every piece of news that was delivered evoked a sigh of relief from fans.
Kahleah Copper’s core designation came first, followed by news that beloved center Stefanie Dolson had agreed to terms with the New York Liberty. Not long after, news broke that 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman would be returning to the WNBA after a year away to sign a one-year deal with the Sky.
The biggest exhale from fans came when the Sky’s longest-tenured players, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley announced together that they were going to run it back.
After securing his core, coach/GM James Wade followed it up by signing 32-year-old rookie Rebekah Gardner and trading for backup point guard Julie Allemand giving his team unprecedented depth in a league with a strict salary cap.
Those moments unfolded in quick instants, but it took years to ensure their reality. All of the work that went into the years that led to those moments is what earned Wade the WNBA’s Basketball Executive of the Year honor.
“The most important [pitch] for me was explaining to [our free agents] that we built this together,” Wade said. “We might as well see it through.”
When Wade signed with the Sky in 2018, the team had been to the playoffs four times since the franchise was founded in 2006 and said goodbye to two franchise players in Sylvia Folwes and Elena Delle Donne.
The team had a strong base of faithful fans, but the growth had stalled.
Wade’s impact was immediate. In his first year, he led the back to the playoffs for the first time in three years. The team’s 20-14 regular season record earned him coach of the year. After losing in the first round of the playoffs the following year, Wade went out and made history, signing arguably the biggest free agent in WNBA history — and certainly the Sky’s history — in Parker.
Wade is one of four coaches in the WNBA that serve in the dual role of coach and general manager. The Washington Mystics’ Mike Thibault, Minnesota Lynx’ Cheryl Reeve and Connecticut Sun’s Curt Miller all wear both hats.
To some, it might seem like a burden to pull double duty. Wade relishes it.
“If there’s anybody who is going to have my best interest in mind, it’s probably me,” Wade said. “I know exactly what I need to win.”
This year Wade led the Sky to its best finish in franchise history, tying the Las Vegas Aces with the best record (26-10) in the WNBA.
The panel of voters was comprised of one basketball executive from each team. Each executive submitted a ballot with a first-, second- and third-place vote. Wade won the award after being named on 11 ballots, followed by Atlanta Dream general manager and executive vice president of basketball operations Dan Padover (seven) and Thibault (six).
Five different executives have won the award since its inception in 2017. Miller was the inaugural winner, followed by former Dream President/GM Chris Sienko in 2018, Miller in 2019 and Padover won it back-to-back in 2020 and 2021.
When considering how he’ll celebrate this moment, Wade exhaled deeply.
“I don’t know,” Wade said. “I can only answer that at the end of the year.”
Wade said he has taken a moment to recognize the significance of winning this award, but celebrating will have to wait.
The team he constructed so well that it earned him this honor has a winner take all Game 3 they are preparing for. If all goes according to plan, Wade will have more to celebrate in September.