Coming Home

March 2021 View more

The Chicago Sky made a big splash in late January when it reached an agreement with two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker. Parker is one of the greatest players of her generation, and the signing marks a homecoming for the former Naperville Central basketball star.

Parker spent 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, with whom she averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game.
Her career stats have been impressive, but so have her accolades at every level. In high school, she won two Class AA state titles with Naperville Central. She then chose to play for Pat Summitt at Tennessee, where she was SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, and a two-time NCAA champion.

The Sparks selected Parker with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft and won two league MVP awards and a championship in 2016.
Now, Parker hopes to bring a championship to the Windy City. The Sky already have three former All-Stars on the roster—Diamond DeShields, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley—so adding Parker into the mix should make the Sky a championship contender. Here are six things to know about her:

  1. Candace Parker was a three-time Ms. Basketball of Illinois.
    Parker established herself as a future star as a sophomore at Naperville Central. She averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds, 3.8 steals, and 3.4 blocks per game and narrowly won Ms. Basketball of Illinois in 2002. She is believed to be the first to dunk in an Illinois girls high school game.
    She edged out Lake Zurich senior Johanna Solverson by 23 points in voting, becoming the second sophomore in the then-17-year history of the award to win it. The other? Tamika Catchings.

    The next two years of voting weren’t close—her margins of victory were 281 points in 2003 and 906 points in 2004. She joined Cappie Pondexter as the only girls to win back-to-back Ms. Basketball of Illinois awards and became the first to win it three times in 2004.

    “Parker often has been compared to LeBron James, the phenomenal 6-foot-8 prep standout from Akron, Ohio, who was the Naismith boys winner and is expected to be the No. 1 selection in this year’s NBA Draft,” the Tribune said of Parker in 2003.
  2. Parker’s first offer from Tennessee wasn’t for basketball—it was for volleyball.
    Basketball wasn’t the only sport Parker was good at. She received a letter in the mail from Tennessee in high school and was elated.

    “I saw the Tennessee Lady Vol[unteers] symbol and I was like, ‘Yes, Pat Summitt, she finally recognized me,’ ” Parker said in an NBA 2KTV interview.

    Parker ran around her house, showed her parents, and opened the letter—only to find it was a volleyball scholarship, not a basketball one.
    Eventually, she did get the basketball letter she coveted. For Parker’s part, she said still plays beach volleyball.
  3. Parker is an NBA analyst on TNT and cohosts a podcast.
    In 2018, Parker added another title to her basketball résumé: television analyst. She agreed to a multiyear deal with Turner Sports that made her a commentator on NBA TV, NBA on TNT and NCAA Tournament coverage.

    “I’m so excited to be returning to Turner Sports to work alongside the best teammates in the world,” Parker said in 2019 after signing an extension with Turner.

    She and Kristen Ledlow cohost a podcast called Ledlow & Parker. They have spoken with a variety of basketball minds, including Damian Lillard, Cheryl Miller, Sue Bird, and Grant Hill.
  4. She shares an ownership stake in Angel City FC, an NWSL expansion team in Los Angeles, with her daughter.
    Angel City FC was founded in July 2020 and is set to begin competing in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022. Parker and her daughter, Lailaa, join a star-studded lineup of owners in the team.

    Actress Natalie Portman led the majority ownership group, but the list of current and former athletes is extensive: Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Lindsey Vonn, P.K. Subban, and others own a piece of the team.

    “Lailaa and I are pumped!” Parker posted on Instagram in October. “Baby girl, you can do and be anything you want to be! Keep dreaming and Mommy’s right here with you! #MommyDaughterBusinessPartners”
  5. Basketball talent runs in her family.
    Candace isn’t the only Parker who found success on the court. Her parents met at Iowa—where her dad, Larry, played basketball and her mom, Sara, was a cheerleader.

    Her two older brothers also played basketball—Marcus played in high school, and Anthony went on to play at Bradley University before making the jump to the NBA.

    Anthony Parker’s career wasn’t defined by his nine seasons in the NBA but instead his five years with Maccabi Tel Aviv. There, he won five Israeli championships and National Cups, three European titles, and two EuroLeague MVPs. He is now the general manager of the Lakeland Magic, the G League affiliate of the Orlando Magic.
  6. Parker has two dogs—one of whom plays decent defense.
    During the COVID-19 shutdown, Parker still practiced her basketball skills—against her dog. The video of her playing with her dog Nahla, who plays pretty good defense, went viral.

    “Nahla is going for the DPOTYD (Defensive Player of the Year Dog) she said check up,” Parker wrote in her Instagram post.
    She has a second dog named Ace. Parker frequently posts her dogs on her Instagram account.

    Parker also had a dog named Fendi who died in 2015, and she has partnered with PETA on antifur campaigns.

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Chicago Tribune, and is reprinted with permission.

Photos by Chris Sweda and Warren Skalski/Chicago Tribune