Column: Teresa Weatherspoon is here to ‘stir things up’ for the Chicago Sky, but the GM will be key to the recipe

The mood for the 1999 WNBA Eastern Conference finals between the New York Liberty and Charlotte Sting was “no Teresa Weatherspoon, no win.”

On Tuesday, the Chicago Sky introduced Hall of Famer Weatherspoon as its new coach. Co-owner and operating chairman Nadia Rawlinson welcomed those in attendance at the introductory news conference to “the next era of the Chicago Sky.”

In her opening remarks, Rawlinson discussed 2023 as a consequential year for the Sky. It was a year in which the team received an $85 million valuation, making it the second-most valuable franchise in the WNBA. The ownership group also expanded and diversified via the additions of NBA legend and Chicago native Dwyane Wade and a group of women investors.

But it was also a year when the team lost much of its core, the head coach/GM departed midseason and the team dragged itself into the playoffs. There were points last season where the Sky seemed to be struggling to find their identity on and off the court.

Hiring Weatherspoon is a loud first step as the Sky answer the question, “How are they going to rebound?”

Tuesday’s introduction made it clear: They want to win with Weatherspoon. And believe she is the future.

Weatherspoon’s energy and excitement could already be felt in the second-level VIP lounge at Wintrust Arena on Tuesday. Wearing a black blazer with a varsity jacket look and blonde box braids, Weatherspoon met the moment with the same intensity and passion she was known for as one of the “OG” WNBA players.

Selected No. 10 overall by New York in the inaugural WNBA draft in 1997, Weatherspoon spent seven of her eight years with the Liberty, leading the team to the WNBA Finals in 1997 and 1999 — both times against the Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes-led Houston Comets. Known for her defense, Weatherspoon was the first-ever WNBA defensive player of the year. Her accolades are too many to list.

Post-playing career, Weatherspoon coached in the American Basketball Association and at her alma mater Louisiana Tech. Included in her decade of coaching experience are multiple seasons with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans where she is known for having a close relationship with Zion Williamson. She joins five former WNBA players as head coaches including 2023 WNBA champion Becky Hammon.

Weatherspoon, who was seated between Rawlinson and Sky All-Star Kahleah Copper on Tuesday, alternated between an excited, “electric” energy as defined by Copper, and a serious tone that indicated she not only understood the moment but the importance of her presence.

“When God solidifies and glorifies your position, and your destination, no one can take this away from you. It’s yours. And this is the moment that I’m living right now,” Weatherspoon said.

“And now I sit here as head coach of the Chicago Sky. I am one who has been told many times, “no.” I am one who has (seen) doors closed many times. If you don’t get in the door, you got to get in a window. So I’m coming through the window. They don’t call me Spoon for nothing, I’m here to stir things up.”

In June, it was announced Weatherspoon and the Pelicans, where she had been a part of the staff since 2019 when she was hired as a two-way player development coach, had parted ways. Though she made appearances at WNBA games in the regular season and playoffs, it was largely unknown what her next opportunity would be.

“I am beyond excited to be here. The one thing that I will guarantee you, and you can write it in your books, is I will give you my all,” a clearly fired-up Weatherspoon said.

She vowed that the Sky, with her at the helm, “will take over this town.”

As Copper looked on, Weatherspoon continued, “I’m here because when I take a look at who Kahleah is, I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of her growth and development … (You’ve heard) about all those things I’ve had an opportunity to accomplish, all those things are experiences that I’m supposed to give back. That’s what I want to give to the one on my right. I want to give it all to her because it’s her time. It’s her time to lead this organization in the right way. It is my duty. It’s my duty to pour into her, to pour into every player that is a part of this organization.”

It’s noteworthy that Weatherspoon and Copper already seem to have a closeness and familiarity with one another. They share a similar kind of vigor on and off the court.

“From the very first conversation we had it was our energy … we connected over energy,” Copper said. “I’ve never had a coach that could really match my energy and that really hit me. so just from the conversations earlier I kind of knew like more about her and then we just kind of connected from there and then stayed in touch.”

Aware of the need for chemistry and close relationships in rebuilding the Sky as a team, Weatherspoon stressed the importance of creating connections with her players and how that would shape an environment for success.

Sky guard Dana Evans, who is currently overseas playing for Besiktas JK Istanbul, is excited to be a part of Weatherspoon’s team.

“I feel like she’s going to be very demanding. She has so much knowledge for this game and I’m ready for her to share it with us,” Evans told the Tribune. “I feel like she will get the best out of us and challenge us not only on the offensive end, but the defensive end as well. I’m ready for the challenge and to be pushed to my fullest potential.”

Near the end of her opening remarks, Weatherspoon appeared overcome with emotion as she reflected on her life and basketball journey. “If I could really find the words to tell you all what this means to me …” she said, her voice trailing off.

With Weatherspoon now in place, attention turns to who the team will hire as general manager. After the departure of former coach/GM James Wade midseason, the team separated the positions, the last in the league to do so. Wade had taken some risks with the Sky’s draft capital and the new general manager will need to be savvy with roster construction and cap space.

When asked about the direction of the GM search and why the coach was hired first, Rawlinson said, “we do things our own way here at the Sky. And we do things differently and this was the right thing for us … to make sure that we anchored the coach. And when we knew Teresa was someone who was in our sights and that she was interested, this was an important component for the vision. She was a critical part of that.”

Rawlinson explained the GM search was an ongoing process but offered no details.

But having a coach with Weatherspoon’s resume, the lights will now shine brighter on the GM hire in a critical moment for the franchise. Though Rawlinson and Weatherspoon say the team isn’t playing catch-up to others, the need for a new practice facility that meets professional basketball team standards has them behind — especially with the team building through free agency as opposed to the draft, it could be a sticking point in signing any big names.

Earlier this year, new Sky owner Wade told the Tribune “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. I think I could come in (with the Sky) and just challenge the ways of past thinking and how we look to the future.”

The Sky’s reality is now changing. The addition of Weatherspoon certainly helps their perception, and the decision of who becomes the next general manager could determine how much further they could go.