Chicago!!! The Champs Are Here

Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports

I’m still waiting for this all to feel real. I mean, I know we just won a WNBA championship — but it still hasn’t fully set in for me yet. Hasn’t set in yet that we THE CHAMPS. The champs. It’s crazy. We HERE.   

And I won’t lie.… it’s been a long road for me to get to this point.

It all starts in North Philly. Like, if you ever want to know why I play with so much intensity, well I got two words for ya: North Philly. Right on 32nd and Berks. Both of my grandmas lived close by, and since we didn’t have a court, it was only one thing we could do — create one. At first, we played with a crate as the basket. But eventually somebody (I don’t even remember who, but somebody) stole a rim from the park and we used that instead. 

North Philly is different. It’s a place I love, the place where I learned how to play tough. Being on that makeshift court, the boys would let me play — but that means I had to play. They weren’t going to take it easy on me. And I didn’t want them to. 

Early on, I wasn’t really thinking about the WNBA. It just wasn’t on my mind in a serious way until I got to Rutgers. That’s when I realized that Coach Stringer’s program breeds pros. I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. My goal became to get my picture on the wall of the locker room where the pros were — because that means you MADE IT. 

But I knew I had to work my way up — I knew I had to start living in the gym. I would get up at 5 a.m. with my teammate Tyler Scaife, and we’d be getting that work in. After that workout we would eat, relax, and then 12 o’clock would hit and we’d go play pickup with guys at Werblin. Then we’d head back to the gym that night. We were grindin’, man. 

And the grind paid off. 

I got drafted by the Mystics — and I enjoyed playing with them, and for Coach T. I was coming off the bench, but I think I played pretty well. Then one day I’m overseas…. and I get a call from Coach T. 

Damn. I’m traded. Now I have to pack up and move to Chicago.

Kahleah Copper | Chicago Sky | The Players’ Tribune
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

I was completely starting over.

And yet the minute I arrived, it felt like home. Philly is the city forreal — so when I got to Chicago, just seeing the skyscrapers and the neighborhoods and how it reminded me of Philly, I was so grateful for that. I embraced the city, and it embraced me back, which made the transition so much easier. 

Those first few seasons though with the Sky I was super quiet haha. I was still just trying to figure it all out, and I wasn’t playing. I was getting humbled..... and truthfully, I’d already been humbled so many times. It was hard.

But I understood my role. And the biggest question I had to ask myself was, If you’re not coming off the bench….. then what are you bringing to the team? 

I figured out that one of the best things for me was to bring some life to the team. At that point it was kind of a dead energy — like they just weren’t having the vibes yet. Nobody was dancing or doing that cool stuff that makes a team’s personality show. So, that’s when I became kind of the organizer of Sky handshakes. I started coming up with all types of secret handshakes with everybody, and just bringing some excitement to the team. It wasn’t the biggest role, but taking it on was big for me, because I knew it helped in some way. And eventually the minutes followed.

Then comes 2019, and I’m a free agent….. so I’m wondering what’s next. 

If you’re not coming off the bench….. then what are you bringing to the team? 

Kahleah Copper

Coach Wade and I go to a cafe downtown to talk about the upcoming season. He starts by saying that he wants me to come back, and to get ready to play a bigger role on the team. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear — because I was READY. Like, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t complain about not playing more minutes. But Coach Wade knew I wanted more for myself. And so did he.

Then COVID hits, and puts a pause on everything.

And by the time the bubble season got started….. that was tough. A lot of heavy feelings. A lot of mixed emotions. But I knew it was my opportunity to show the league what I could do. I went out there and had what some people would probably call a “breakout season.”

But I still wasn’t satisfied. Offseason comes, and I’m already thinking of things to improve on. Finishing at the rim, passing better, defending better — anything to help this team get to the next level. 

Then Candace comes….. and everything changed after that. 

I mean, EVERYTHING. She immediately started challenging me in practice. Run harder, cut harder, get a stop on D. Everything you could think of, she was challenging me to do it. 

And I accepted the challenge — because, let’s be real: Who’s trying to disappoint Candace? 


It’s so funny, because she said how she saw something special in me — and that she hated playing against me. I was like what??? Candace Parker is saying she hated playing against me??? I HATED PLAYING AGAINST HER haha.

I was always a fan of Candace’s on the court, but I didn’t know her much personally. The more I got to know her off the court, though, the more I got to know how amazing she is. She’s one of the most selfless people you could meet, and a real leader. The way she took me under her wing this season….. that meant a lot.

Kahleah Copper | Chicago Sky | The Players’ Tribune
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The regular season was tough for us. We started off 2–7, and it’s like we just couldn’t find that consistency. 

It was frustrating…. and at the Olympic break we hit our breaking point. We were fed UP. And Coach must have been fed up, too — because he was WORKING us. Had us doing full-court one-on-ones, drills, everything. It was crazyyy. We wanted to kill each other…. hell we wanted to kill James haha. But that break made us know who we were. And it made us know the kind of team we could become.

Going into the playoffs, everyone was underestimating us. We knew it. 

But we didn’t care. 

All we cared about was that everyone was 0–0 now. Clean slate. So we wiped our minds clean, and got to work. 

Those single-elimination games against Dallas and Minnesota, they were the best things that could’ve happened to us. I saw us lock in and have a sense of urgency I’d never seen in us before. Everyone was embracing their role on offense….. we were running new schemes on defense….. I'm telling you, we were a different team

I didn’t feel any jitters in the semis against Connecticut. It was a big moment, obviously — but I think we were just ready to compete. I don’t know how else to say it. It was like, to get to the finals, we have to beat them. So we beat them. Sometimes it’s hard but it’s simple.

And then in the finals….. O.K., that’s when I started to feel some jitters. Game 1, I was fine. But then Game 2 came — and literally, in the middle of the game, I’m thinking what the heck are we doing??? We were all just beating ourselves.

And that game is also when the infamous Philly Kah picture was taken (big shoutout to Joe Camporeale, the photographer, because the picture is FIRE). I say that “Philly Kah” was in the photo because that’s almost like my alter ego that I can tap into when I’m on the court. Like, I’ll get fired up and then that Philly starts showing. I’m a different person — I’m ready to go. 

And people can say what they want, but that’s just finals basketball. I’m trying to get an extra possession for my team, and I’m going to do whatever it takes. Even if that means sacrificing my body. I wasn’t trying to harm anyone, and I think everyone knew that. 

But at the same time…. one thing I won’t allow is disrespect. 

And when I got up from trying to get the ball, all I was trying to say there was, Hey, we’re all competing — that’s what the game is about. But this ain't that.

Losing Game 2 like we did, it really flipped the switch for me and the team. It lit a fire, man. I’m always going to be frustrated about losing, but now I had a chip on my shoulder as well. 

I went into Game 3 with a lot of passion and emotion. I found that raw energy — we all did. We got back to playing Chicago Sky basketball.

And earned a damn W.

Kahleah Copper | Chicago Sky | The Players’ Tribune
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

The day before Game 4 is when I knew we’d be champions. 

We were at the facility for film — and the minute film is over, it’s like: everybody’s out of there. But then right as I’m heading out, I see Allie walking onto the court. So I ask Sloot, you know, “What is she doing?”

“Oh. She said she’s about to shoot since there won’t be a shootaround tomorrow.” 

Yup — that’s when I knew. Because what Allie was up to, right then, that’s just what champions do. Everyone else is at home….. and one of the greatest shooters in the league is still in the gym getting her game-time shots up. 

The crazy thing is, I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I guess Candace couldn’t sleep either — so me and her end up texting around 3 a.m., just about the game and how bad she wanted it. Seeing those texts really hit home for me, and I think gave me this energy of, O.K…. we have to do whatever it takes to win this game. I didn’t know how we would do it, and I didn’t care. All I could think about in that moment was how much Candace had sacrificed. How much she’d sacrificed to come to this team. And how much she’d sacrificed to show us how to win.

So now we had to win this for Candace and Chicago.

Everyone else is at home….. and one of the greatest shooters in the league is still in the gym.

Kahleah Copper

That day of Game 4, I’m texting everybody like, “Yo — are y’all eating??” Allie replies, “I can’t eat anything.” I’m like, great…. at least I’m not the only one. It was those kinds of nerves.

We were just ready for that game — and even though we fell behind in certain moments, we still had a calm and collected mood to us. We knew we were never out of it. Coach made a lot of boxing analogies during the playoffs, and in Game 4 we were exactly like a boxer: taking those hits, and giving ’em right back. 

Oh yeah, and remember I told you how Allie was taking her game-time shots the day before? Well she showed up BIG in Game 4. Y’all saw her. She could not miss. That’s why we call her the greatest shooter, it’s games like that. We were down and out — Allie shot us back in.

And then once that clock hit zero….. whew.

All I could think about was what we’d endured throughout the season. What we’d gone through to get to this moment of being champs. 

Being in front of that crowd and feeling that energy in the arena was CRAZY. Y’all saw Chance wearing my jersey and just going wild for us. It was a surreal feeling. It’s something that I’m still trying to process. Because our team FOUGHT for this, you know what I mean? We fought all season for it. We believed in each other when nobody else believed in us. 

It was Chicago against the world.

Kahleah Copper | Chicago Sky | The Players’ Tribune
Shaina Benhiyoun/Sipa USA via AP Images)

I said in our press conference that Coach Wade knew I’d be MVP before everybody else did — and I meant that. Coach, and everyone else on the Sky, they believed in me from the very beginning. They put all their confidence in me to do what I do on the court. So to get named the MVP of the WNBA finals.…. that’s a rewarding feeling. 

And I hope that my success helps show that everyone’s success can be different. That you gotta celebrate other people — and sometimes you even gotta stay down until it’s your turn. But the work pays off. I worked hard for this moment. I deserved to raise those trophies. 

I wouldn’t trade the road I took to get here for anything.

And now it’s a few days later, and I’m trying to think of how to put this all in words….. and I guess the way I look at it is: This team and this city, we showed up and showed out for each other. And we’re going to keep on doing that. We aren’t even close to finished.

So on that note, Chicago — y’all ready for another run at this thing??

We the CHAMPS, man. The champs.

Tell ’em to move that sh*t out the way!!!

Kahleah Copper | Chicago Sky | The Players’ Tribune