Chicago Sky's Candice Parker, center right, and Allie Quigley, center left, celebrate after defeating the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to win the championship, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
CHICAGO (AP) — Candace Parker returned home to bring Chicago a championship. She did just that leading the Sky to the franchise’s first title.
Allie Quigley scored 26 points and Parker added 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and Chicago beat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 on Sunday in Game 4.
“We were down nine, down 11 and we stayed with it,” Parker said. “So proud of this group. Sloot doing what she does all year. Allie its amazing.”
Chicago Sky's Diamond DeShields, left, and Lexie Brown, right, celebrate with the trophy after defeating the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to become the 2021 WNBA champions, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Courtney Vandersloot added 10 points and 15 assists for the Sky, who won the series 3-1, rallying from a 72-65 deficit with 4:42 left. Chicago scored the next nine points to take a two-point lead on Stefanie Dolson’s layup. She then added another basket to make it 76-72 with 45.8 seconds left.
Diana Taurasi was fouled on the next possession shooting a 3-pointer and made the first two free throws, but missed the third.
Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi (3) argues with the referees that she was fouled by Chicago Sky's Kahleah Copper (2) during the first half of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Vandersloot then scored in the lane to seal the victory setting off the celebration. As the final buzzer sounded, Parker sprinted to the corner of the court and hugged her family with tears in her eyes.
It was a full-circle moment for Parker, who triumphantly returned home to Chicago this season after spending 13 years with Los Angeles. She has been continually called the Sky’s missing piece throughout the playoffs, a label she proved accurate many times during Chicago’s stunning run, winning the title as a six-seed.
“It feels amazing. My high school coach is here,” Parker said. “I know Pat’s (Summitt) watching. Got the whole city here. We got the whole city here. We are champions for life now.”
Brittney Griner was a focal point of Phoenix’s offense early on. The seven-time All-Star finished the game with 28 points, 18 of which came in the first half. Griner and guard Skylar Diggins-Smith helped lead a 9-0 run to finish the second quarter and give Phoenix a 44-37 edge at halftime.
Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner (42) shoots against Chicago Sky's Azura Stevens (30) during the first half of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Parker initially had trouble getting into a rhythm offensively, going one for six from the floor with just four points by the end of the first half.
Kahleah Copper, who had been a force in the first four games of the finals, earned MVP honors of the championship.
The U.S. national team, the No. 1 squad in the world per FIBA rankings, boasts 63 consecutive wins in official FIBA competitions, starting with the 2006 World Cup bronze-medal game (the game before, the U.S. fell to Russia in the semifinals). Across that 15-year span, the U.S. women have won three World Cups and another three Olympics.
What’s even more astounding is that since 1996 the U.S. national team is 112-1 in major international competitions, including Olympic, World Cup and FIBA AmeriCup and Olympic qualifying play.
The U.S. has won 49 straight Olympic games, starting with the 1992 bronze-medal game and running through the 2016 gold-medal game. Team USA can make it 50 with a victory Tuesday against Nigeria in its Olympic opener.
Put another way: U.S. women’s basketball has not lost in the Olympics in the lifetimes of half their players for Tokyo, including Ariel Atkins (24), Jewell Loyd (27), Napheesa Collier (24), Chelsea Gray (28), A’ja Wilson (24) and Breanna Stewart (26).
In all, the U.S. national team is 66-3 throughout 10 Olympic competitions. The other two losses came in 1976, when the U.S. took home silver.
The U.S. women don’t just win, they win big. During the program’s 49-game Olympic win streak, Team USA has defeated opponents by an average margin of 30.4 points. Their average margin of victory was even higher in Rio: 37.3.
Moreover, the 2016 Olympic team scored at least 100 points in six of its eight games, including the gold-medal game.
Team USA’s eight gold medals in the 11 Olympics since women’s basketball was added to the Summer Games in 1976 is impressive as it is. But starting with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the U.S. Olympic team has won six consecutive gold medals — a level of dominance rarely seen in sports.
The U.S. men’s basketball Olympic team won seven straight golds from 1936-1968, a streak the women are heavily favored to match in a couple of weeks. India’s men’s field hockey program is currently tied with the U.S. women’s basketball team with six straight golds from 1928-1956.
Basketball and UConn legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are joining an exclusive club of basketball athletes who have played in five Olympic games. That group of eight athletes in all features U.S. basketball legend Teresa Edwards, who won four Olympic golds and one bronze with Team USA.
But the duo are also within reach making history by becoming the first basketball athletes to win five Olympic golds. There are four other Olympians (in fencing and equestrian) who have taken home at least five golds in the same event or discipline.
Bird, who was named one of the Team USA’s flag bearers Wednesday, is already the most decorated FIBA athlete in the world with a combined nine Olympic and World Cup medals, one ahead of Taurasi and Edwards.
U.S. Olympians don’t just take care of business on the international stage but domestically as well.
Eleven players in the program’s history, including four on the current Olympic team, have won an Olympic gold, FIBA World Cup gold, WNBA title and NCAA championship, including Bird, Stewart, Taurasi, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Asjha Jones, Brittney Griner, Maya Moore, Sheryl Swoopes and Kara Wolters.
Bird and Taurasi aren’t the only frequent medalists on the squad. The 12 members of the U.S. Olympic roster collectively hold 60 gold medals in major international tournaments (three of which are in 3x3 events).
This will be the fourth and third Olympics for Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles, respectively, and both have winning experience at the World Cup (three for Charles, one for Fowles). Griner and Stewart are also one-time Olympic and two-time World Cup gold medalists.
Even Olympic newcomers Loyd and Wilson have won gold before at the 2018 World Cup, while Atkins, Collier and Skylar Diggins-Smith took home gold in 3x3 events, youth tournaments or the FIBA AmeriCup. Chelsea Gray is the only Olympian on the roster without a gold medal to her name — yet.
The improbable happened last week during the U.S. Olympic team’s training camp in Las Vegas when the star-studded roster lost back-to-back exhibition games, first against the WNBA All-Stars (less surprising) and two days later against Australia minus Liz Cambage (more surprising). The national team hadn’t lost consecutive exhibitions since 2011 and is now 200-18 overall in exhibitions since the 1995-96 national team tour leading into the Atlanta Games.
Should American fans be worried about the U.S. Olympic team? Probably not. Team USA looked much more like itself when it breezed past Nigeria in its third and final tune-up before heading to Tokyo and is already using that momentum to ensure the squad peaks at the right time and adds to its history of dominance.
“Obviously we lost those two games back to back, which nobody wanted to do,” Bird said Wednesday. “But at the same time, I think it taught us some things, we learned some things, and we’re going to use that in this week of practice and try to get better every day. But the mood’s been great. If anything, those losses could end up being our biggest wins, if you will.”