For two and a half weeks now, the Chicago Sky have been inside the WNBA's bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Players arrived on July 6, went through a quarantine period, and then started practicing. It's been a long wait, but on Sunday, the Sky finally get to do what they love: play basketball.
"There’s been a lot of anxiety, anxiousness, from everyone to just start playing," said Sky center Stefanie Dolson. "I think these practices have been really important for us to kind of learn each other and stuff, but once we actually tip off, I think it’s going to be a sigh of relief that the season has officially started and that we’ve actually begun playing."
The beginning of any season brings excitement, anxiety and a host of other emotions. It also brings a desire to start quickly and avoid digging a hole in the standings. Sky head coach James Wade says in a shortened, 22-game season, winning early is more important than ever.
"I think it's very important for us to start good," Wade said. "You have less of a margin for error when you have 22 games, because you don't want to find yourself at the bottom of the standings after a quarter of the games have been played, because it’s tough to come out of."
Dolson, a veteran and two-time All Star, agrees with her coach.
"This is a season like no other – everyone knows that," Dolson said. "So every game is just 10 times more important than it would be in any other season."
Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Aces tips off at 2 p.m., and while the team is focused on the game, it's also focused on shining a light on social injustice in the United States. One way it plans to do that involves their jerseys. Throughout the entire season, every member of the Sky will wear Breonna Taylor's name on her back to honor the 26-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by police in Louisville on March 13.
"I still have anger towards the situation," star guard Diamond DeShields said. "It’s beyond frustration. But if there’s anything I can do to continue to raise awareness and try to get justice for Breonna Taylor, that’s what I’m about."
"A lot of people are going to be watching us, and they’re going to see what we believe in, what is right," added rookie Ruthy Hebard. "It’s really nice to have a team and the WNBA as a whole that supports Black Lives Matter, all that kind of things. It just really means a lot."
Both sports and social justice will be on the minds of the Sky when the team takes the floor on Sunday. They hope it'll mark the start of a season that makes a difference off the court and produces wins on it.
"We’re playing with a much bigger goal in mind," DeShields said. "We’re dedicating our season to what’s going on in the black community, so I think that’s going to allow our team to play with a little more fire."