There is no locker room atmosphere like the one where a season is over.
I remember covering the Detroit Pistons locker room at the end of their run as the Bad Boys of the Eastern Conference at the dawn of the 1990's, just as the Bulls began their legendary run of six titles. Bill Laimbeer sat slumped in a chair, face mask covering a broken bone in his cheek, staring down at his gigantic feet, and repeating over and over again "The Bulls won, The Bulls won, The Bulls won...." Some tried to ask questions. No way was he answering.
I asked Isaiah Thomas what his next days were going to look like. He smiled that interesting smile of his and said "I'm gonna go home, kiss my wife and kids, and see what I can take from this loss." I don't recall what I said to Dennis Rodman, if anything.
You approach players very carefully after a loss. You never know when a question will spark an explosion. Or silence. Or sarcasm. You just have to do your best to respect the fact that right that very minute, they are hurting the most they have ever hurt in their lives. Some feel like failures. Some know they likely won't be back next season.
And I'm guessing, in that funeral-like atmosphere, that most consider the media an annoyance at best, at worst, intruders into a misery that only athletes are privy to understand.
There were bowed heads, many tear-rimmed eyes, and much philosophical thought as the Chicago Sky failed to make the WNBA playoffs for the seventh year in a row. Swin Cash, the Olympian and WNBA champ who came to the Sky from the Seattle Storm in exchange for the #2 draft pick in a bold move by the Sky for experience over fresh faces,, eyes brimming tear,s she said "It's not just one thing, it's many things. The bottom line is, we didn't deliver."
That makes them the only WNBA franchise that has never made it to the playoffs, a dubious distinction at best.
Sky Guard Shay Murphy, who had a three-pointer as the season slipped away, spoke in hushed tones, her eyes misted with tears.
"It is really disappointing. It’s very frustrating," Murphy said. "We even had a chance down to the wire with these last two home games. I don’t know what happened. It hurts. It hurts a lot. There is nothing I can really say. It shows up on the stats and in our record.”
The best the Chicago Sky could hope for was that the New York Liberty would lose Thursday night (they obliged), But they had to win their last two games. Against the playoff-bound Atlanta Dream, though, it wasn't meant to be. The Sky (13-20) never led while shooting just 35.7 percent (25 of 70) from the field. Carolyn Swords had 16 points, Epiphanny Prince 14; Shay Murphy 12 and Courtney Vandersloot 10.
Chicago Sky Head Coach Pokey Chatman “Obviously, it was extremely disappointing with the outcome of the game, more specifically the defensive end of the floor. That’s something we’ve talked about in several of our last games. You have to keep your man in front of you. At the end of the day, you’ve got to play from the tip to the horn, especially with some of the limitations we have because of player rotations. We didn’t, and therefore we’re done.”
Despite a career-high 16 points by Carolyn Swords, the Sky were unable to overcome the Dream as they fell 75-66. Epiphany Prince scored 14 points, Shay Murphy had 12 points and Courtney Vandersloot had 10, but Chicago was unable to slow the Dream who shot 50% on the night off of 26 assists, the most for a Sky opponent all season. Angel McCoughtry led the Dream with 21 points. Sancho Lyttle added 15.
The next step for the Sky is saying goodbye to their loyal fans Saturday night as they complete their season against the Washington Mystics at Allstate Arena, starting at 7 pm. It offers a last chance to see Brazillian-born Ticha Penicheiro, the WNBA’s all-time record holder in assists, having led the league in that category an unprecedented seven times, but she will finish her career with the second most steals in league history.
Penicheiro was named to the WNBA’s Top 15 players of all time.
"As they say ‘all good things must to come to an end,’ and unfortunately the time has come for me to walk away from this game I love,” said Penicheiro. “I would just like to thank, in a general way, the people involved in my career: from my coaches to my teammates to the WNBA and of course the fans. Basketball has given me more than I could ever imagine, and I will continue to give back and stay close to this amazing sport. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all the support throughout the years!”
Penicheiro started her career in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs, who chose her with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 draft. She played for the Monarchs for 12 seasons, nine of which she led her team into the postseason. The Monarchs played twice for the WNBA Championship and won it in 2005 in four games over the Connecticut Sun. Following Sacramento’s departure from the WNBA, Penicheiro signed with the Los Angeles Sparks for two seasons before ultimately coming to the Chicago Sky by way of free agency on February 22 this year.
"I could talk for days regarding the admiration and respect I have for Ticha's mastery of the point guard position and overall impact on the game,” said Pokey Chatman, head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky. “It's more than the sheer numbers, although they're quite impressive. It's her knowledge, love and respect for the game, and the fact she's a great teammate that will distance her from the pack. She's meant so much to women's basketball, I simply want to say ‘thank you.’”
What's next for the Sky? Soul-searching, most likely. An automatic bid for the 2013 draft, where, if lucky, they could be bleseed the 6'8 phenonn Brittany Griner of Baylor , or closer to home, Nortre Dame's Skylar Diggins, who led the Fighting Irish to two NCAA Finals as a sophomore and junior.