In his first appearance at Wintrust Arena since the Chicago Sky announced he joined the team’s ownership group, Dwyane Wade sat with Mayor Brandon Johnson and other Sky owners in a suite Tuesday night, then moved courtside where he posed for photos and signed autographs.
A three-time NBA champion and 13-time All-Star, Wade is the second former NBA player to invest in a WNBA team. Magic Johnson was part of the ownership group that took control of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2014.
“Why the Sky? Because I’m a fan of basketball,” Wade told the Tribune before the team’s 107-95 loss to the Las Vegas Aces. “I love it to my core. It’s changed my life. It’s changed my family’s life. And I understand the need for support. I know what that looks like.
“We’ve got some of the best players in the world playing in the ‘W’ and we’ve got some of the most generational players coming real soon. And it just feels like the time. It’s there. We’re on the cusp. But there’s a lot more that we have to do to make sure that we push ourselves over so this can be the No. 1 league in the world for women’s sports.”
Wade is also an investor in the NBA’s Utah Jazz, having joined that ownership group in 2021. He said he has “learned what partnership looks like in the management and ownership group … and how it could trickle down to the rest of the organization.”
“(Jazz owner) Ryan Smith has done an amazing job of bringing a different mindset from the tech world into the front office,” Wade said. “I think I could come in (with the Sky) and just challenge the ways of past thinking and how we look to the future.
“How can we get creative? What are the things we can do? Because it’s a lot of creative things that the NBA is trying and doing. How can we bring that to the ‘W’?”
When Wade joined the Jazz ownership group, he mentioned the importance of being a Black owner in a league with so few. He sees a similar need in his new role with the Sky.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It means a lot for me to see Nadia Rawlinson (the Sky’s operating chairman) in her seat as co-owner. It means a lot that I can come in and support a Black woman that is doing this.
“This is a women’s league, but that doesn’t mean it only needs to be women who are part of this league. So being a Black man and being a part of this league in my hometown … it kind of feels like it’s my duty to step up in the ways that I can.”
As he gets acclimated with the Sky and the WNBA, Wade said he has had conversations not only with Rawlinson and other team owners, but also with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and executive director Terri Jackson about how they can partner to grow the game.
Though he’s looking to the future, Wade doesn’t want to act as if the past 27 years of the WNBA never happened.
“We have to stop and have an ovation for that,” he said. “But in the midst of that let’s move on to what else needs to be done. I’ve always had success through partnership. That’s taking your egos and your pride and putting (them) aside and actually getting together and saying, ’Let’s make sure everybody gets what they want.’
“To get this league where we need to, each side needs to listen and then try to educate so we can all help each other and understand how to get to the common goal.”
One of those goals is making the Sky a premier destination for both WNBA players and fans. Wade said he wants to make the team “feel like the city” and make Sky games the place people want to be in the summer.
“For those three months, you want to be in Chicago, and we want our women to feel like they play in Chicago,” he said. “So how does that look? And what does that entail from us to do?”
Another major goal for Wade is to re-sign All-Star guard Kahleah Copper. After seven years with the Sky, Copper — who scored a career-high 37 points Tuesday — will be a free agent this summer. The 2021 WNBA Finals MVP told the Sun-Times she wants the team “to be able to keep up with the Joneses.”
The Aces opened a state-of-the-art practice facility before this season, and the Seattle Storm plan to construct a $64 million, 50,000-square-foot practice facility with team offices. Sky ownership has committed to moving the team out of Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield and into a new facility within two to four years, and Wade sees Copper staying in Chicago as a key to the team’s future.
“Coming off of a championship (in 2021), it’s tough to lose the core — a lot of great pieces,” he said. “And to have an All-Star like Kahleah … big summer for her, big summer for us. We don’t want to rebuild and start all over. We have a centerpiece. And your goal is to build around a centerpiece with the right pieces.
“Your perception is your reality. So my challenge to us is what is our perception as a team, and let’s figure out a way to change the perception so our reality can look different.”