Kahleah Copper: How a girl from North Philly helped Chicago win its first WNBA title

2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper
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After being drafted seventh overall by the Washington Mystics in the 2016 WNBA draft, North Philly native Kahleah Copper was asked how playing with the neighborhood boys helped her reach that point.

“In Philly, they don’t care (whether you are a boy or girl). They just want you to get better, so you can go somewhere on TV and brag about them,” Copper said. “So, here’s their shout-out. I just want to thank them. We had a lot of fun on 32nd and Burton. We got it done.”

Five years later, Copper is still shouting out her hometown. “Just A Kid from NORF Philly,” the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP wrote on Instagram after leading the Chicago Sky to the franchise’s first ever WNBA title.

During the early years of her basketball career, Copper tried to stay as close to North Philly as possible. When deciding where to attend college, she chose Rutgers “to be close to home.” When she was drafted by the Mystics in 2016, she expressed her gratitude the same sentiment.

After her rookie year in the WNBA, she played abroad in Belgium, expecting to return to the east coast at the end of the season.

“I kept seeing stuff on Instagram about possible trades, and I’m like, there’s no way it could be me,” Copper recalled on Sunday. “Then I saw Coach (Thibault) calling me, and I was like, damn, it’s me.”

As part of a blockbuster deal, Copper and Stefanie Dolson were traded to the Chicago Sky in exchange for Elena Delle Donne.

Copper, a self-described homebody, wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of moving more than 500 miles away.

“Everything was so new,” Copper said of her transition to Chicago. “I just came in and just tried to find my way. I came in and just tried to find a road.”

During her first three seasons with the Sky, Copper averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game. But Chicago Sky head coach James Wade – who was hired ahead of 2019 WNBA season – said Copper’s desire to improve was apparent.

“The one thing that probably doesn’t get talked about as much [is] her competitiveness. That’s what it takes to get to the next level,” Wade said. “We used to see it every day, even when she wasn’t playing as much.”

“I think I never lost the confidence in myself. I just continued to put the
work in,” said Copper. “I have this edginess and this grittiness about me that’s going to keep me going.”

She turned into a regular starter during the 2020 WNBA “Wubble” season. which helped convince 2020 U.S. Olympic head coach Dawn Staley to invite her to a Team USA camp earlier this year.

Staley, who grew up in the same North Philly neighborhood, had been keeping tabs on Copper since her high school days at Prep Charter.

“Any time we can shed light on anybody from North Philly, I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Staley told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February.

After Chicago won on Sunday, Staley shouted out both Copper – and North Philly – on Twitter:

While Copper’s road to becoming a WNBA champion took her away from home, the 27-year-old is thankful for the journey.

“I’m just grateful for my process. I wouldn’t change anything.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC