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Chicago Sky players, including Chicago Sky MVP Kahleah Copper (2), 2nd from left, celebrate after winning the WNBA championship, 80-74, against the Phoenix Mercury on Oct. 17, 2021, at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

Basketball

So great for women’s sports’: Chicago Sky fans celebrate team’s first WNBA championship

A sold-out crowd of fans at Wintrust Arena erupted in cheers of “We Are the Champions,” after the Chicago Sky won their first WNBA championship Sunday.

As confetti and gold streamers rained down, Joanna Karlos, of Chicago, was holding her phone up to not miss a moment of the magic on video.

“This is so great for women’s sports,” she said. “Look at all these people supporting the WNBA!”

The Sky beat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game 4 to win their first title. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted that details regarding a rally celebrating the historic win would be released soon.

For many dedicated fans, this championship has been in the works for a while.

Michael Giammanco, a Gold Coast resident, was courtside Sunday afternoon in a flowing, multicolored coat paired with sparkly Doc Martins adorned with flames.

Michael Giammanco watches as members of the Chicago Sky warm up before the start of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury.
Michael Giammanco watches as members of the Chicago Sky warm up before the start of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

After getting sober 17 years ago, Giammanco said his paychecks now go to Sky tickets, the team’s charity and couture fashion.

“I spend my money on clothes now instead of drugs,” he said. “I go to every game and wear something a little different.”

Giammanco, a season-ticket holder for 11 years, said he used to work with Elton John designing record album covers and worked on a couple of tours as an assistant. That was when his partying began, he said.

After he got sober at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation treatment center in Chicago, he returned to work as a counselor at the same foundation.

“In my recovery I discovered the WNBA and women’s basketball, and I started to come to games,” Giammanco said.

He went to his first game and sat a couple of rows back from the court. He decided to start sitting courtside instead. “Once I did that, there was no going back,” he laughed.

For Sunday’s game, Giammanco was joined by his 24-year-old son, Kendall Srubas-Giammanco.

Giammanco had a ticket to Tuesday’s Game 5 in Phoenix but he was happy not to have to use it.

Giammanco said women’s basketball players deserve much more recognition, including more pay, for what they do. He arrived early to the game, and got to speak with the Sky players.

“Today I got to say thank you to them, to show my gratitude. It’s such a gift they’re giving the city, and to all of us fans,” he said.

He said a Sky championship means a lot for Chicago.

“This is a basketball city in a lot of ways, but we haven’t been there with the Bulls in so long. And now, to see the Sky this close … it’s exciting,” he said. “If this happens today, the fan base is just going to shoot up,” he said.

Elyse Garabedian, 10, of Glencoe, watches as members of the Chicago Sky warm up before the start of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals.
Elyse Garabedian, 10, of Glencoe, watches as members of the Chicago Sky warm up before the start of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

Also courtside was a family that got tickets to Game 4 thanks to the youngest family member’s talent and love for the game. Johanna Duncan, or as everyone calls her, JoJo, won a contest to appear in an Adidas commercial alongside Sky forward Candace Parker.

JoJo, a 12-year-old from Schaumburg, is the youngest participant in the commercial, where she dribbles a basketball expertly and has several lines in the video.

Attending the game with her parents, Corina and Mark Duncan, JoJo said she was excited to be sitting so close to her favorite players. The family was among the first in line to enter for Sunday’s game.

JoJo, who has been modeling since she was 5, sent an audition tape for the commercial when she found out about the opportunity. Adidas liked her tape, and sent her gear to try on. The next thing she knew, she had landed the commercial and courtside seats.

While she said she has been a big basketball fan her whole life, this was only her second game. Her birthday party was at a game in August, where they sat farther back.

“So these seats are much better,” Corina Duncan said.

One couple was celebrating recently tying the knot at Sunday’s Sky game.

Brian Flores Cruz, an Army veteran who recently returned home, and his wife, Cristal, just started watching the Sky this season.

The couple, who grew up in Chicago and now live in Bolingbrook, have known each other since the fifth grade and got married nearly two weeks ago. They were celebrating with their first in-person Sky game.

Decked out in foam cheese grater heads to support the Bears, their other Chicago team playing Sunday, the two were ecstatic to be part of the Sky’s journey to a championship.

“This is our home team, this is beautiful,” Brian Cruz said. The Chicago Bears didn’t fare as well, falling to the Green Bay Packers 24-14.

“I love the Sky. I’m super empowered when it comes to watching women’s sports and seeing what the Sky is doing … Also can we talk about how much more entertaining they are than the NBA?” Cristal Cruz said.

A man sitting in front of the couple offered Cristal Cruz a fist bump in agreement.

“I’m super excited to see what our girls do,” she said. “I know they are going to take us home.”

Chicago Sky players celebrate after winning the WNBA championship against the Phoenix Mercury on Oct. 17, 2021, at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
Chicago Sky players celebrate after winning the WNBA championship against the Phoenix Mercury on Oct. 17, 2021, at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

After the win, Giammanco and his son were posted as close to the center of the court as possible, soaking up the celebration.

“It was such a nail-biter, but I always have faith,” he said. “To win on defense like that … and the energy of the crowd had a lot to do with it.”

Giammanco said he hoped this would lead more players to want to join the Sky.

“Only upward movement now,” he said. “The Sky is the limit.”

Credit: Chicago Tribune

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