How Candace Parker wrote her own story and the WNBA’s story, too — Talking Parker, Sky with Annie Costabile

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 1, 2024

Happy Basketball Wednesday, presented by The BIG EAST Conference! Candace Parker was tired.

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I caught up with her in the tunnel leading onto the court at Mohegan Sun Arena. This is the Fall of 2019, and it looked for all the world like Candace Parker‘s career was coming to an end. She’d been cast aside by many around the league, labelled the most overrated player, cast out of USA Basketball, and despite her incredible achievements, her lone WNBA title stood in many eyes as an aberration.

Ultimately, she was benched down the stretch of an elimination game by Derek Fisher. Had she remained in Los Angeles, it is fair to wonder how much longer she would have played.

Then came the collective bargaining agreement in January 2020, followed by, well, you all remember, and following the 2020 season, Parker, fresh off winning a Defensive Player of the Year award as part of campaign reminding people she is Candace Parker, decided to go home, author her own happy ending, and won a championship.

Except it wasn’t the end. She went to Las Vegas after the 2022 season, served as a critical part of the Aces as a trusted voice, though physically fading, in their repeat in 2023.

It’s been a long, long time since anybody tried to argue that Candace Parker is overrated. Good riddance to that idea.

To me, Parker stands as something greater than her own individual and team accomplishments, which is saying something about a player with three WNBA titles, ten top-five MVP finishes (first in 2008 alongside Lisa Leslie, born in 1972, the last in 2022 alongside Li Yueru, born in 1999). She is fifth all-time in win shares, behind only Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles, Lauren Jackson, and Diana Taurasi.

That Parker stood as the pinnacle of the league for a generation while playing the inside-outside game that powers many of the WNBA’s brightest stars today isn’t some kind of accident. Elena Delle Donne grew up on Parker’s game. Breanna Stewart, too. Angel Reese knows to get to the level she wants to reach in the pros, she needs to add more elements of Parker’s offensive and defensive attributes. Dawn Staley told me before A’ja Wilson even graduated from South Carolina that “it’s time to turn her into Candace Parker”. And Curt Miller, who coached Alyssa Thomas for half a decade, always compared her to Parker.

Stathead Stat of the Week

Caitlin Clark has scored 242 points and had 93 assists so far this season. She is the only player in WNBA history with more than 240 points and 90 assists through their first 15 games.

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Notice that the top three finishers in the MVP voting were part of that group. The WNBA has evolved into a largely positionless league it large part because its best players have spent their formative basketball years watching and emulating Candace Parker.

Everybody in the WNBA wants a Candace Parker now. Some teams, like the New York Liberty with Stewart and Jonquel Jones or the Aces with Wilson and, uh, Candace Parker herself, decided to go get two last offseason. Notably, those two teams matched up in… the WNBA Finals.

In the NBA, Jerry West earned the nickname “The Logo” because he was, indeed, the archetype for the NBA’s brand. What do you say about a player whose game itself has become an archetype for the league’s best players?

Fortunately, thanks to her media gigs, we are far from finished hear from and learning from Candace Parker. I still laugh, remembering when one insider at a place she was working on the broadcast side told me she’d made people uncomfortable because of how much better she was at it than the others on the set. (Imagine how it felt to be in practice with her!)

It is hard to think of someone who has affected the entire way a sport is played the way Parker has short of, perhaps, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Babe Ruth. That’s the real company she’s in. And the reason we know this, why a full accounting of her career has allowed for this in real time, is because Parker, rather than leave the game five years ago, wrote the end of her own story.

Many people around the game of basketball are sad she’s gone, and understandably so. But as I think back to the Parker in that Mohegan tunnel back in 2019 who had, it turned out, miles to go before she slept, the past few years doesn’t feel like a premature ending. It feels like overtime.

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This week in women’s basketball

Gabriela Carroll catches up with notable Philadelphian Dawn Staley.

Lindsay Gibbs has the big-picture view, as always.

Callie Lawson-Freeman, newly-minted Aces reporter, writes about Chelsea Gray’s contract extension.

Sean Hurd writes about a trio of Lynx additions to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Five at The IX: Annie Costabile talks Candace Parker, Chicago Sky

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
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By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.