Sky point guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley—who were wed last December—have learned how to navigate the peaks and pitfalls of their itinerant careers while pushing each other to become better players
TWO WEEKS before her wedding, the bride jammed her ring finger. In what would end as an 82--68 victory for her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, point guard Courtney Vandersloot lunged for a rebound, and the basketball caught the tip of her digit. The knuckle swelled instantly.
From a few feet away, Familia Schio's playmaker winced. Allie Quigley, the star of the Italian squad, had a vested interest in that hand. Foes that day in central Russia, Quigley and Vandersloot returned to being fiancées at the buzzer—at which point they each had one more game to avoid their worst shared fear: a prenuptial black eye.
Fortunately for the point guards, no opponent's elbow left a mark. Vandersloot's ring finger, however, remained so swollen that she was forced to wear her bling on her right hand. And on Dec. 28, the Vanderquigs, as they playfully call themselves, were married before 100 guests in Vandersloot's hometown of Seattle. After keeping their relationship out of the spotlight for more than five years, Vandersloot posted a photo on Instagram of herself and her wife in their sleeveless lace gowns, holding hands in front of Puget Sound. As the well-wishes continued to pour in, they had a mere three days together before heading back to join their teams in Europe. Their honeymoon would have to wait until ... well, they're still not quite sure when.
THE STORY of how WNBA teammates decided to get married begins, of course, with hoops. At the end of the 2012--13 Euroleague season both women were playing in Slovakia. Vandersloot was about to return to Chicago for her third year with the Sky; she had been the West Coast Conference player of the year three times at Gonzaga and was the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft. Quigley, three years older, had played for five WNBA teams in four seasons since graduating from DePaul in 2008. After going unsigned in 2012, she was considering quitting basketball in the U.S. before her hometown Sky invited her to training camp. Thus, when Quigley's team (Kosice) faced off with Vandersloot's (Ruzomberok) in a five-game series to decide Slovakia's champion—Kocise won—each woman scouted her competition for playing time in Chicago. They found themselves on the same flight back to the U.S. and in the same limousine from the airport to the doctor's office for team physicals—beginning to get to know each other en route. "I'm not very talkative, especially with strangers," Vandersloot recalls. "I just don't like small talk, and I never felt that with her."
The women acknowledged their mutual feelings when Quigley made the team, but agreed that anything more than friendship would have to wait until the WNBA season was over. So in late September, before flying to Poland (Quigley) and Hungary (Vandersloot), they decided to begin dating.
While overseas they glued their phones to their hands, latched onto WiFi and video-chatted as much as possible. Jantel Lavender, the Sky center who played with Quigley for Wisla Krakow that winter, recalls her teammate groggily smiling over FaceTime in an airport at 4 a.m., Vandersloot's wide eyes and blonde bun filling the screen. Being apart wasn't so bad at first; Krakow is a five-hour drive from Gyor, Hungary, manageable for an off-day visit. But then Vandersloot's team folded, and she ended up with the team in Schio, Italy. It was a harsh reminder that love and basketball can be a difficult combination.
Once back in Chicago, each negotiated the peaks and pitfalls of being in a relationship with a teammate—a first for both women. There was comfort in partnering with someone who knows the unique demands of being a professional athlete, but too much proximity could be overwhelming. There was "not a lot of breathing room" at times, Allie's sister, Samantha Quigley Smith, says, but the relationship was committed from the start. "I could see in Allie's eyes and her behavior that Courtney had changed her so much for the better."
Slowly, both women let teammates and coaches know they were dating. Their worries—"Oh great, I don't know, something could go wrong," Quigley recalls thinking, "and it's going to affect everyone"—subsided, and the couple enjoyed a bubble of acceptance. They played together for Wisla in 2014--15, and over the next three Euroleague seasons they were on different Turkish teams but lived together in Istanbul. It was "almost the closest you can get to a regular relationship," Vandersloot says: separate workplaces, a shared life, opportunities to travel.
In the WNBA, they brought out the best in each other on the court. In Quigley's first season in Chicago, the Sky made the playoffs for the first time. The next year they reached the finals, losing in three games to Phoenix. Quigley was the league's Sixth Woman of the Year, averaging 11.2 points and shooting 44.4% from the field. Vandersloot averaged 6.8 points, 5.6 assists and 2.2 rebounds despite missing six weeks with a sprained knee. Chicago made the playoffs the next two seasons but then everything turned upside-down. Coach Pokey Chatman, who had drafted Vandersloot and given Quigley a chance, was fired after going 18--16 in 2016. Under new coach Amber Stocks, the Sky went 12--22 in 2017, 13--21 in '18. The team was tested—and so, with every defeat, was the Vanderquigs' relationship. "I think [Courtney] has more emotion and she's more competitive in the games," Quigley says. "So sometimes she might just yell at me." Vandersloot agrees: "I'm harder on her than anyone else."
Over time the women learned not to take criticism personally and to identify stressors and triggers. Kent Rhodes, an author and family business coach and consultant, says awareness is crucial for couples who work together in high-stress environments. "What I suggest is to bring some of that really good strategic thinking that you use in your career, bring that into your marriage," says Rhodes, who has never met Quigley or Vandersloot. "They need to be aware of each other's competitive buttons, and be aware to not use them against their partner."
Both women realized that while they couldn't shut basketball out when they returned to their apartment at night, they needed to at least push it aside. Vandersloot watches less film than Quigley, who has a habit of showing her partner plays she deems crucial. "I remember I was having a conversation like, 'We have to be able to separate this,'" Vandersloot recalls, "because we're both kind of junkies."
As hard as it was to keep basketball out of their home, it was easy to keep their home life out of the gym. Disagreements don't bleed over, nor has preferential treatment ever been an issue. Sure, Vandersloot and Quigley are often on the same team during drills—but that's because they both start. And yes, they tend to be the first to high-five each other after a big basket, but so too would close friends on a team. "You can't feel that they're married on the court," Lavender says. "It speaks volumes about how relationships can actually work in this league, if you marry the right person, and how your teammates can benefit from [your relationship] as well."
THE WNBA is without question the most LGBT-friendly of the U.S. pro sports leagues; on the 2018 All-Star team, for instance, seven of 22 players were publicly out. Examples of WNBA relationships run the gamut. Phoenix star Brittney Griner was wed to Dallas's Glory Johnson for a drama-filled month until Griner filed for an annulment. Griner's teammate DeWanna Bonner is married to Candice Dupree, a former Mercury forward who was traded to Indiana in 2017—while Bonner was pregnant with the couple's twins, whom they're now raising from bases in cities 1,700 miles apart. Diana Taurasi, one of the league's all-time greats who made her 2019 debut on July 12 after recovering from back surgery, met her spouse, Penny Taylor, in Phoenix too. Taylor gave birth to the couple's son, Leo, last year, and now is a Mercury assistant coach.
WNBA relationships involve complexities absent from most male athletes' unions. Most players move every six months between the U.S. and overseas; WNBA salaries average $75,000, but pay can be more than 10 times higher abroad. Vandersloot and Quigley consider themselves lucky they were able to spend four years overseas in the same city. Next winter, they'll both play for Ekaterinburg. They have also aligned their WNBA contracts: In 2019, they're on one-year deals—which they stress is not a sign they want to play anywhere but Chicago; they just want to maximize their options.
As fan favorites and leaders of the Sky, they don't fear being traded. Under new coach James Wade, a former Lynx assistant who also serves as an assistant for UMMC Ekaterinburg, Chicago got off to a strong start thanks to star forward Diamond Deshields (15.3 points as of July 19) and an improved defense. Ranked last in the league in 2018, the Sky are now seventh and have fought for a 10--8 record. Quigley, 33, is the team's second-leading scorer with 12.8 points. After setting the WNBA single-season record for assists in 2018 (258), Vandersloot, 30, leads the league with 8.2 per game and is now seventh all-time in total assists (1,533).
"I don't really think about [their relationship]," says Wade, who sent the couple a Hypervolt massager as a wedding gift. "It's just two of my players, professional women. They're really leaders for our team, and everyone looks at them like family."
Sloot, as coaches and teammates call her, plays at a high tempo and loves to have the ball in her hands. At 5'8", she's two inches shorter than her partner, her frame a shade sturdier. Quigley, with her wispy, dark-blonde hair and angular features, is more of a half-court player. She's better off the ball and is a deadeye shooter, hitting 47.5% from behind the arc. In short, Vandersloot's game facilitates Quigley's. "We talk [on the court] a lot more than I think we did early [in our relationship]," Vandersloot says. "We're always trying to think beyond what we're doing and I think that's been positive."
Quigley adds, "We have the same style of basketball and see the same things." They do most activities together—rides to work and home, workouts at the same time, pregame shooting. They're each other's accountability and motivation. It's not so much unity as symbiosis.
ON JUNE 18, 2017, the Sky dropped to 2--9 after a loss to the Fever. Quigley's birthday was two days later, and Vandersloot had been gone for two weeks playing for Hungary in a EuroBasket tournament. (Both women acquired dual citizenship in order to play for the Hungarian national team.) When Vandersloot returned, she and Quigley took advantage of a day off and went to a small resort in Zion, Mich. While Quigley got a massage, Vandersloot executed a scheme she'd been plotting for weeks. She set up a projector to play a video montage, made a play list, planned the route they'd take in her black Jeep. That night, with the car's top down, the women took a drive to a nearby beach, where the video rolled and the music played and Vandersloot proposed with a vintage-inspired ring.
When they returned to the Sky for a game at Atlanta—a win—Quigley and Vandersloot shared their happy news. Vandersloot got a ring of her own: gold, with small diamonds rather than one larger stone. But apart from that jewelry, which the women rarely wear because of games and practices, nothing changed. A year later, when rookie Gabby Williams reported to training camp, she only learned about her teammates' engagement thanks to an offhand comment from Quigley.
The couple bought a split-level house in Deerfield, just a few miles from the Sky's practice facility. They began to schlep what few possessions they had in from a storage unit, realizing their only furniture was a beanbag chair. So they bought couches, Quigley's a white pullout, Vandersloot's a more typical leather recliner. Do they match? Not really. They've come to terms with the fact that their tastes are different, Quigley's vintage, Vandersloot's edgier.
This summer the Vanderquigs added plunder from their wedding registry, the plates and cookware Quigley chose and Vandersloot's less traditional requests: basketball hoops for their pool, an app-controlled treat dispenser for their dogs, Romeo, a Chihuahua-pug mix, and Gemini, a French bulldog. Teammates come over on off days to grill and watch TV, to enjoy the patio and the landscaping Vandersloot has pruned and cared for all spring. Sometimes, younger players make tacos while Quigley and Vandersloot relax. Lavender has the garage-door code. The home is like an evolved sorority house, and for now, it works. Everything works. After so many years of organizing and finagling, finding footing in their careers and at home, Quigley and Vandersloot have found harmony.
Only one question lingers. Romeo has wintered in Seattle with Vandersloot's family, but Gemini has always traveled abroad with one of the Vanderquigs. In Russia, pugs and bulldogs are banned from entry. For the first time, Gem will have to stay Stateside. They're looking for takers, a happy home for their beloved pup, but they don't seem concerned. After everything, this is a blip; solutions will emerge. They always do. Vandersloot shrugs, laughs: "We might just smuggle her in."
There's comfort partnering with someone who knows the unique demands of being a professional athlete, but TOO MUCH PROXIMITY can be overwheliming. There was "not a lot of breathing room" at times, says Quigley's sister, Samantha.