The stars were aligned as the best of the best in the world of women’s basketball came together in Chicago for the WNBA All-Star weekend. As much as the fans were on hand to admire the talents of A’ja Wilson, Candace Parker, Kelsey Plum, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kahleah Copper, and Breanna Stewart to name a few, they were also able to bear witness to the excitement and humanity that the WNBA constantly embodies.
For starters, the players put on a show on the orange carpet Friday night as they strutted proudly with their unabashed fashion sense that would give Naomi Campbell a run for her money. Chicago’s famed McCormick Place Convention Center was the site for evening concerts featuring performances by the Windy City’s native son Chance the Rapper, local vendors, and the chance to take a picture with the Chicago Sky’s championship trophy. In addition, there were outdoor basketball activities organized by which included interactive arcade games. The Mountain Dew skills challenge and three-point shooting contest also happened at McCormick Place with Chicago’s own Allie Quigley coming away victorious.
There were community endeavors that furthered the WNBA’s mission for social justice. Microsoft partnered with Jr. NBA as local youth from the Chicago Public Schools were introduced to techniques used by sports scientists to examine athletic performance. There was also a free youth basketball clinic. Those community missions along with the league’s longstanding history advocating for social justice were highlighted in a pregame video message by former First Lady and Chicago’s native daughter Michelle Obama.
During the game Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird were recognized for their contributions as both have said that they will be retiring at the end of this season. It was Fowles’s eighth All Star game and Bird’s thirteenth.
Players on both teams and the crowd went absolutely ecstatic at Syl’s first half dunk which was fittingly declared the moment of the game. The Chicago faithful were pulling for Parker, Copper, and Courtney Vandersloot every step of the way whenever they got the ball or took a shot. Various luminaries were present including Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Afterwards, Fowles and Parker, contemporaries who came up in the league together, spoke of their mutual love they share with each other.
“It has been unbelievable to play against you (Fowles) for all these years,” said Parker. “The best advice I have gotten is just from watching her because she really makes me level up my game.
“Candace is very finesse and skilled,’’ said Fowles. “She brings it every night. Yes she can win, yes she can score, but she leads and that is something you can always respect about a player.
Brittney Griner was certainly not forgotten throughout the entirety of the weekend. On Friday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, flew to Chicago and stood in solidarity with Brittney’s wife Cherelle and WNBPA president and All-Star player Nneka Ogwumike as the push to release Griner continues to intensify. During the second half of the game all of the players came back out wearing her number 42. Cherelle was also given an honorary place on the bench for Team Wilson.
Sue Bird spoke of the decision to wear BG’s number in the second half as just another reminder of the task at hand.
“Either way you look at it, we just wanted to make sure at some point that we were able to on national television, obviously in front of a sold-out crowd, put Brittney’s name in the forefront,” Bird said. “That was our way of honoring her, our way of hopefully at some point she sees a picture or something and letting her know that she is always on our minds and in our hearts.”
With the final score being 134-112 for Team Wilson and league Commissioner Cathy Englebert presenting Kelsey Plum with the MVP for 30 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists, this marked the conclusion of the first post-COVID All-Star game.
It was such a lively, vibrant, and effervescent weekend that one hopes that Chicago will repeat. That, along with the Sky winning back-to-back titles.