Losing Was Not Candace Parker's Ministry

Losing Was Not Candace Parker's Ministry

The consummate champion retires from WNBA after a 16-year career

Women’s college basketball has become en-vogue of late, with much credit due to stars like Caitlan Clark, Angel Reese, and USC's freshman phenom Ju Ju Watkins. Dawn Staley, Kim Mulkey, Geno Auriemma, and other coaches also get their due. I started watching the women’s collegiate game in 2004 when Candace Parker hit the University of Tennessee (UT) court. Tennessee was already a dynasty under the late Pat Summitt. Candace was the most highly recruited high school star in the nation. She is the only two-time award winner of the USA Today High School Player of the Year, winning the award in 2003 and 2004, and was All-State for four years in Illinois. She was the first female to announce her college decision live on ESPN.

I didn’t follow women’s basketball in 2004. I stumbled upon a UT game while changing channels. I’d known of UT basketball by reputation and decided to check them out. It took about a minute to single out Candace Parker as a star. She played center/forward (I played the same positions in college) and I admired how easy she made the game look. She was fundamentally sound and played both offense and defense. It struck me how much she seemed to enjoy the game, smiling after a great play and even a good one. Then there was the occasional dunk, which wasn’t common in the women’s game.

Candace sat out her freshman year at Tennessee after a knee injury requiring surgery on the lateral meniscus and the lateral articular cartilage in her left knee. There was a concern she might not live up to the promise she’d shown when winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award in high school and leading the undefeated USA Junior World Championship team to a gold medal. There was nothing to fear as Candace was the SEC Rookie of the Year and was the only college player named to the USA squad for the 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women in Brazil. Parker led UT to NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008, named the Most Outstanding Player each time. Parker was the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game and, minutes later, became the first to do it twice.

One day after winning the NCAA title, Candace was the first pick in the 2008 WNBA draft by the Los Angeles Sparks on April 9, 2008. In her first game against the Phoenix Mercury, she had 34 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. I then became a fan of the WNBA. Parker became the first WNBA player to win the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player awards in the same season. No woman had accomplished that feat; the only men who did so were Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld. In the middle of that season, Parker won an Olympic Gold Medal with the US National Team at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

After 16 seasons in the WNBA, Candace Parker has announced her retirement from basketball. She never lost her love of the game; it was her inability to play at the level she demanded of herself due to injuries that caused her to retire. She wasn’t going to cheat the game. She walked away without fanfare, posting the news on Instagram.

There’s more to say about Candace’s career in the league. She is a three-time WNBA Champion and won the WNBA Finals MVP in 2016. She also won two MVP Awards and was a seven-time All-Star. I’m impressed that she led the league in separate years in rebounds and assists. She was the consummate player. She won titles on the three teams: Los Angeles Sparks, Chicago Sky, and Las Vegas Aces. Everywhere she went, a championship followed.

I’ll miss her on the court, but there’s a chance I’ll see more of her than before. In 2019, she signed a multi-year extension with Turner Sports as an analyst and commentator for the NBA on TNT, NBA TV, and NCAA Tournament coverage on CBS Sports. On TNT, she holds her own with Shaq, Charles, Kenny, and Ernie and demonstrates not only her knowledge of the game but also continues to exhibit the joy she showed me as a teenager at UT. She has the confidence, smarts, and personality to be as big a star in the studio as she was on the court.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of William Spivey's work on Medium. And if you dig his words, buy the man a coffee.