James Wade is the first Black male head coach since Corey Gaines in 2009 to win a WNBA championship in his first trip to the Finals. The third-year HC-GM led the Chicago Sky to its first title in franchise history. The Sky is 1-1 in Finals appearances, both by Black coaches—Pokey Chatman (2014) and Wade on October 21 after defeating Phoenix 3-1.
“Cheryl [Reeve] gave me a blueprint to win it,” said Wade of the Minnesota Lynx coach to an MSR post-game question. He reflected for us and another reporter the day before on the significance of becoming only the third Black WNBA coach to win a league title.
“This is something we can’t escape, so we live in this world and we have to represent because the world is a little bit unfair to us [Blacks] in the way we’re represented and the way we’re looked at, and the chances that we don’t get,” said Wade. “It means a lot that my son is here and he gets to see his daddy coaching in front of a lot of fans just cheering, and he gets to see success.
“Maybe in 15 years,” surmised Wade, “it won’t be a big deal for him.”
Wade’s first head coaching job came in 2019 after two seasons as a Lynx assistant, where he was on the 2017 champions’ team, and four years previously at San Antonio.
“I’ve always had to prove my intelligence. Always,” continued Wade, the 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year. “How do you do that? You do that through hard work. The hard work gets your intelligence in the room. So, once you work hard, people start to listen to you.
“I understand that, and I’ve understood that from an early age, that I have to be different, just be visible and represent good visibility instead of the routine or the visibility that they try to put on us.
“It’s not just for my son,” he explained. “It’s for every young Black kid that comes up behind me that you prejudge because they have their pants down or they have their hat on backwards. I’m not perfect by no means, but I’m always trying to do the right thing, and it has nothing to do with my color.
“I know the game of basketball, and I know what it takes to be a champion,” said the championship coach.
Kahleah Copper averaged 17 points and five rebounds in the four-game series and was named the Finals MVP, the first Black player to win the award since Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles in 2017.
“I got traded to Chicago [in 2017],” the 6’-1” shooting guard/small forward recalled. “I just came in and just tried to find my way. I didn’t play much.”
Now a sixth-year veteran, Copper, the seventh overall pick in 2016 by Washington, after serving at least three years as a reserve player, “I’m just grateful for my process. I wouldn’t change anything. I’m just super humble and just grateful for everything, and I’m happy.”
Tonya Edwards, in her first year as a Sky assistant coach, now has four pro basketball titles to her credit—two as a player in the ABL and two WNBA titles as an assistant (Los Angeles, 2016; Chicago, 2021).
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.