Sky High

BY MATTHEW KELSEY If you’re going to move away from the WNBA house that Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson built, that Breanna Stewart and Jewell Lloyd maintain, and that countless young stars will light up in a future curated and promoted by the likes of Bea Chang and the Awesome Sports Project, then you better damn well land in a place that glimmers as promisingly. Fortunately for me, I’ve not only landed in an elite sports city, replete with the newly minted World Series champs, an enduring Madhouse on Madison, and a top-tier WNBA team, but I’ve left Seattle for a chance to share a city with one of my sports idols, the one-and-only Elena Delle Donne.

"Swallow a few bucks, guys. Carry a few powder blue jerseys. Represent one of your city’s greatest athletes even half as much as she represents you."

Like all successful women, EDD faces a constant backlash of criticism. When she rightfully pointed out that her talents—not unlike those of other great athletes—are overshadowed by constant objectification, she received gross feedback like this. But EDD doesn’t just deserve credit for her graceful 6’5” frame, which has led to her to a 20.5 PPG average in the WNBA. She deserves credit for leaving UConn (UConn!) to be with her sister (who is blind, deaf, autistic, and suffers from cerebral palsy) before transferring to the Delware Hens. She deserves credit for battling Lyme Disease twice en route to completing her collegiate career and being drafted by the Chicago Sky. She deserves credit for being proudly and openly gay, and for being a phenomenal sister, and for being a Special Olympics Special Ambassador.

She deserves credit for being the human she is, not for being beautiful or for being an exceptional athlete.

EDD Photo

When people hear that I’ve moved to Chicago, they say, “Hey! They have great food!” or “Awesome! What a sports town!” or “You can’t beat their art and architecture.” And you know what? They’re right on all counts.

“Yes,” I say. “Chicago also has Elena Delle Donne.”

On September 18th, I watched my first Sky game. (Sorry, Seattle fans—we beat the Storm in a nail-biter.) That day, I had searched multiple sports stores on Michigan Ave, hoping to procure some Sky gear for the game. Unfortunately, none of the stores carried so much as a wrist-band. When I inquired, clerks responded indifferently: “Sky gear doesn’t sell.” I mean, I understand that the Sky doesn’t actually rake in as much of a profit, I do. But at what point does a store—one that doubtless makes a killing on one of the largest US city’s busiest streets—decide that the Sky matter?

Swallow a few bucks, guys. Carry a few powder blue jerseys. Represent one of your city’s greatest athletes even half as much as she represents you. Otherwise, you’re not getting my money.

The 2016 season is in the books now, of course. Snow is packing the streets, a post-Trump, post-Series chill is sweeping the streets and numbing faces. I’ll have to wait almost half a year to see EDD hustle up and down the hardwood again, which is a shame. But I don’t have time to worry about that. I spend my days teaching on the south side in a neighborhood called Englewood. Nearly half the folks there are impoverished. Many are unemployed altogether. When you hear about the violence in Chicago, you’re likely hearing about Englewood. But there’s an irrefutable vibrancy in the faces of my elementary students, and the unforgiving realities of their town haven’t yet robbed them of their dreams. So when I offer them role models, I won’t just be mentioning local heroes Dwayne Wade or Anthony Davis. I’ll be telling them about an enormous heart that beats generously and bravely in Rosemont.

I’ll be encouraging them to live a little more like Elena Delle Donne of the—of my—Chicago Sky.

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