WNBA

Sky unveil ‘Sky Takes Action’ social justice initiative for WNBA season

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Sky unveil ‘Sky Takes Action’ social justice initiative for WNBA season

On the topic of the WNBA’s season dedicated to social justice, Sky forward Gabby Williams was clear in her media day presser: Awareness matters, but must be followed by action.

“I think it’s great to have ‘Black Lives Matter’ written on the court, Breonna Taylor’s name, and all these things need to be shown. But they need to go beyond just awareness. It needs to go beyond performatives,” Williams said. “And us as a team, we all wanted to do something that felt personal and felt like we were taking action.”

Hours before its second game of the season, the Sky announced an initiative titled #SkyTakesAction. In partnership with former Bears linebacker and Athletes for Justice founder Sam Acho, Sky players will rally to donate funds to Chicago-based community organizations based on game performance: $10 for every point scored, $100 for every win, and $50 for every loss. Pregame warmup outfits designed to promote the initiative will raise awareness, as will custom auction items sold off by members of the team. Top donors will be spotlighted on Sky social media accounts, and receive a personal phone call from members of the team.

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Donations will be distributed to By the Hand Club for Kids, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), Firehouse Community Arts Center of Chicago, and Future Ties. For those doing the math at home, the Sky’s 88-86 season-opening win over the Las Vegas Aces raised $980.

“A lot of Zoom calls, a lot of Zoom calls,” Williams said with a laugh on how the initiative came together, adding that the deliberation process was collaborative and “organic.” The team focused on grassroots, minority-led and Black-led organizations that often want for funding, and align with the Sky’s values surrounding community empowerment. By the Hand, Future Ties and Firehouse provide after-school programming for under-resourced communities. BYP100 (which focuses on Black queer and trans representation) and M4BL seek to mobilize, educate and achieve justice for Black people through activism. Those interested and able can chip in here.

“We can't physically be there for these organizations but we want to teach Chicago fans, Chicago residents and hopefully inspire other professional sports teams to match our donations and educate ourselves on these organizations,” Williams said. “We want this to have longevity and to gain traction. We don't want this to be just a transactional thing where we send money and that's it.”

While bubbled at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the Sky, like all WNBA teams, will also play with Breonna Taylor’s name across the backs of their jerseys. Games will be played after 26-second moments of silence honoring Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police in March, and other victims of police brutality and racial violence. “Black Lives Matter” appears on both courts that will host games in the Feld Entertainment Center, and players have been intentional directing media attention back to calling for justice for Taylor and others. It’s in line for a league that has been on the forefront of athlete advocacy for years.

 

And, amid a global pandemic that had shuttered live sports for months on end, the reception has been massive. Monday, the W announced that Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury was the most-watched opening day matchup since 2012 (averaged 540,000 viewers, up 20 percent from 2019). In turn, ESPN expanded an already historic WNBA television schedule for 2020 by 13 games, bringing the season-long total to 37 contests scheduled for broadcast on the network.

Williams acknowledged that it was a difficult decision to lace up for the season in a time when health risks abound and “as Black women in the world, we didn't feel heard, we didn't feel seen, we didn't feel visible and our hearts were heavy.” But the potential for exposure was front of mind, as well.

“Our decision to come to the bubble really was, if we're going to go, fighting for social justice is going to be at the forefront of our season,” Williams said. On the ratings spike: “It just kind of proves that all we need is visibility, and the league will do great… So for us now to have all these eyes on us and to see a court that says 'Black Lives Matter,' to see a shirt that says 'Say Her Name' to see the 26-second moment of silence. That's going to go hand-in-hand with the WNBA. So you can't watch a WNBA game without thinking about what we're doing.

“It's hopefully going to change the minds of all the fans watching who think that we're only athletes. Because when we step off the court we're Black women, we are Black women first and that's why this is so important to us, and I hope that we're teaching our young fans to kind of normalize this way of thinking.”

The Sky’s season marches on, and it’s one with high hopes, especially after avenging a heart-breaking 2019 playoff defeat to the Aces in the opener on Sunday.

But for the team, the place of primary focus will remain on affecting change. Especially at home — even while far away.

“We all want to see this city (Chicago) flourish, we all want to see this city do better and us as athletes, we have some of the biggest platforms,” Williams said. “So we want to make sure this goes hand-in-hand with our athletics, with our sport.”

RELATED: Allie Quigley, Sky steal season-opener from rival Aces — and with it, revenge

Kyrie Irving starts $1.5 million fund for WNBA players opting out of season

Kyrie Irving starts $1.5 million fund for WNBA players opting out of season

Kyrie Irving is stepping up for WNBA players who chose to opt out of the league's shortened, "bubbled" 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday morning, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Irving "has started a $1.5 million fund for WNBA players who choose to sit out the 2020 WNBA season due to personal, professional, health, and/or safety-related reasons."


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The Associated Press reported that players will be allowed to apply for support through the KAI Empowerment Initiative website through Aug. 11 and be notified of their status by Aug. 24.

“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” Irving said in a statement obtained by the AP.

In the run-up to the NBA's restart, Irving was a leader in discussions around the ethics of sports returning during a time of great social unrest and health risk, both physical and mental. Since George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, protests have exploded around the country and world. The WNBA postponed its season, which typically kicks off in May, months ago due to the pandemic.

The W returned on Saturday for a season housed in a "Wubbe" at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. to carry out a campaign "dedicated to social justice." Players suited up with Breonna Taylor's name on the back of their jerseys, "Black Lives Matter" emblazoned on the court and public demonstrations a theme (all three will continue throughout the season).

But some of the league's top stars have already opted out of the campaign. As of July 18, NBC Sports Washington reported that at least 14 players have opted out for reasons ranging from health, to advocacy, to personal. The W made headlines last week when it denied a medical waiver submitted by reigning MVP Elena Delle-Donne of the Washington Mystics, who suffers from chronic Lyme disease, meaning Delle-Donne would have to forego her salary for skipping the season.

Hopefully, Irving's initiative is a way for players in similar predicaments to get by.

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Allie Quigley, Sky steal season-opener from rival Aces — and with it, revenge

Allie Quigley, Sky steal season-opener from rival Aces — and with it, revenge

When the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces laced up for their 2020 season opener Sunday afternoon, it came on the heels of a roughly two-month delay spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic — and on the Feld Entertainment Center floor inside the “Wubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Aces stars Liz Cambage, who opted out of the season, and Kelsey Plum, sidelined due to injury, didn’t grace the floor. Neither did Jantel Lavender or Sydney Colson for Chicago, and Diamond DeShields played just 15 minutes off the bench with nagging knee troubles. A bit of sloppiness might have been expected, given the long layoff and adverse circumstances coloring the tip-off.

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But no such stumbling occurred. The Sky and Aces — not-so-sneakily one of the most gripping rivalries in sports right now — combined to produce the most exciting contest of the young season, playing free and fast basketball throughout. It was a game of runs through which the Aces mostly clung to the advantage, but the Sky got the last laugh when Allie Quigley sank a side-step 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds left to give them an 88-86 lead that held through the finish.

Forget the Hamby Heave. Forget Quigley’s 4-for-12 shooting line for the day. This, which capped a 11-0 Sky sprint in the final three-and-a-half minutes, is ice:

 

(Plus, shoutout to both Stefanie Dolson for that screen, which put Jackie Young completely off balance, and James Wade for the play design. High-level basketball from start to finish, by both sides.)

With the shot, a heart-wrenching, sense-defying 93-92 2019 playoff defeat at the hands of the Aces is avenged. And in rather poetic fashion, at that. 

“Definitely thought about it,” Quigley told Holly Rowe when asked how front-of-mind that loss was during the opener. “I knew we wanted this revenge, and to get them back at the last second, too. So it was a sweet way to end it.”

With DeShields’ playing time limited, spark-plug reserve Kahleah Copper got the start, slashed her way to a team-high 18 points and seemed to be in the middle of every big play for Chicago — including a contested defensive rebound that granted the Sky the possession that ended with Quigley’s shot. In her Sky debut — and first WNBA action since last June — Azurá Stevens also started, and showed out early. Ten of her 12 points, and both of her two 3-pointers, came in the first quarter, as she flashed some of the “unicorn” potential coach James Wade has lauded as a fastbreak ball handler, passer and shooter.

Gabby Williams (14) and Quigley (10) also finished in double-figures, and Courtney Vandersloot typically tossed 11 assists. The Sky shot just 9-for-27 from 3 (the Aces took just five, missing all of them), were outrebounded 42-33 and were outscored sizably in the paint, but came up clutch when it mattered. That they pulled this one out largely without DeShields is encouraging in a vacuum, but her health remains vital to a team with unapologetic championship aspirations.

 

A’ja Wilson and Angel McCoughtry starred for Vegas, combining for a whopping 47 points and 19 rebounds. It was McCoughtry’s first game action since Aug. 7, 2018 — she missed all of 2019 rehabbing a torn ACL — but the 33-year-old clearly has a ton left in the tank.

And more important than the game action itself: In a show of solidarity and tribute, both teams stood together to honor Breonna Taylor’s life before the game, and emblazoned Taylor’s name across the backs of their jerseys.

 

Fresh off a riveting opener, the Sky’s schedule doesn’t let up. Next up are the Los Angeles Sparks, who dismantled a loaded Phoenix Mercury squad 99-76 on Saturday, this Tuesday.