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Courtney Vandersloot’s return to Chicago raises a question: What would it have cost her to stay?

Point guard Courtney Vandersloot is the greatest player in Sky history. For 12 seasons, she kept the team relevant, and when other key players left, she stuck around, until February, when she signed with the Liberty.

What would it have cost her to return?

“Everyone would have had to go back,” he told the Sun-Times.

That was his short answer.

What followed was a deeper explanation, painting a picture of a dedicated athlete who, after more than a decade of comfort in Chicago, wrestled with the opportunity to embrace the unknown.

For a long time, Vandersloot said, he couldn’t imagine playing for any other team, but he eventually realized that his personal development depended on change. When describing his fears, the word “plateau” came out of his mouth like poison.

As Sky appeared less and less in his free agency talks, he knew he had made the decision to leave.

“I was so comfortable here, and I always considered it a good thing,” Vandersloot said. “But I know that if I wanted to keep growing as a player, as a person and as a leader, I needed to get out of my comfort zone. So there was nothing, really, that they could have done. Not to say they didn’t try. [But] It was something [where] I needed to make a decision for myself and my career.”

For fans, perhaps the hardest part of Vandersloot’s outing was that few saw it coming. Even after Sky blew an 11-point lead against the Sun in the deciding game of the semi-finals last year, many still believed it wouldn’t be the last hurray for the team’s oldest player. Guard Kahleah Copper thought her veteran teammates, including Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Candace Parker, would re-sign to make amends for how they ended their season in pursuit of a second straight WNBA title.

When Vandersloot looks back, he sees a team that did its best, or at least tries to convince himself of it.

“We did what we came to do,” he said. “We got together with that group, and we won a championship. [in 2021]. We wanted to try running it again, and realized how fucking hard it is. It didn’t happen. I don’t think we’re over it. I don’t think we have failed. I think he broke down. We collapsed in the fourth quarter [of Game 5 against the Sun]. We had a great series. We probably should have won the series. We should have been in the final, but we had a bad seven minutes and it ended like that. That was the way it was supposed to end, and that’s how I see it.”

Did his time in Chicago need to end as abruptly as it did? There may never be a clear answer.

Regardless, Vandersloot is seizing the moment, back in Chicago under the most bizarre of circumstances, as the opponent for Friday night’s game at Wintrust Arena.

Sitting courtside Thursday, dressed in black and seafoam green practice clothes, she struggled to describe her feelings. She’s been anticipating this game for at least a week, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

And discomfort, after all, is what Vandersloot was after when he decided to leave “home.”

“[Friday’s game] It’s going to be a roller coaster for me,” he said.