Parker sees opportunity in unusual WNBA season

Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike celebrate a basket. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike celebrate a basket. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Candace Parker has kept a low profile during the first week of WNBA training camp.

The 13-year veteran hasn’t been featured in team videos, hasn’t been in many practice photos, and has barely posted on her social media accounts. In fact, she had her first interview as a Los Angeles Spark since last September today, and more reporters had questions for her in the session than she had time to give answers.

But one thing was clear: far from considering this pandemic-shortened season a throwaway, Parker embraces it. Rather than being affected by current social injustice unrest, she is pressing on. Parker looks forward to playing and competing at a high level, and she is enjoying it with her 11-year-old daughter Lailaa, who is appreciative of basketball now like never before.

“Everybody here is fighting individual battles with what’s going on, individually and in the world,” Parker said. “This season isn’t an asterisk – it’s an exclamation point, because of all of the factors and outside things going on that determine who’s here and who’s not.”

“Everybody who’s here wants to be here. This is not a season that is going to be easier for anyone.”

The 12 teams – most with altered rosters due to opt-outs, COVID-19 positive tests or injuries – will play a 22-game slate beginning July 25 and running through Sept. 8. As in a regular season, the top eight teams will advance to the playoffs.

Most teams reported to Bradenton, Florida July 6 and quarantined for four days before beginning camp. Though being limited to one campus location for two months is restrictive, Parker sees many positives.

“We’re not traveling, we won’t have to recover from playing back-to-back games,” she said. “My commute to practice is an hour, so (not having to do that) is better for my back.”

Parker suffered through several injuries earlier in her career, and missed 12 games last season with hamstring and ankle injuries. This year she is healthy, and in touch with the love she has felt for the sport since she first picked up a ball as a child.

“Basketball is something I’ve leaned on my entire career – my entire life, really,” she said. “When things aren’t going well, I look to that for joy.”

Despite the anticipation and hesitation in beginning the season, Parker never lost that focus.

“When we got here and stepped on the floor, I was smiling the entire time, because the joy you have from basketball brings back so many memories. The opportunity of being here has eased the burden of 2020 and all the pressure, being between the lines and playing the game you love.”

Part of Parker’s happiness stemmed from her daughter’s newfound interest in the sport that she has grown up around, and casually played. Lailaa was asking her mother about the 2020 season last December.

“She was like, ‘I can’t wait to go back to Staples (Center) and watch you play,’ and she’s never said that before,” Parker said. “It’s really special to share your passion with your kid.”

The former Tennessee standout has spent her entire pro career with the Sparks, and has watched team personnel change around her each year. But she said the expectations of her this season are the same as any other.

“When I came into the league, people wondered if I’d be able to play and compete….and now there’s those same questions,” Parker said. “I like a challenge, and I know there are a lot of challenges going forth this season, and a lot of question marks after last season.”

Parker said she focuses on the things she can control.

“I don’t know if I have a role (this season),” she said. “I would hope that for me it’s just demonstration every day of competing. It’s also….doing my job in taking care of my body off the court. That’s my biggest role, is making sure I’m on the court to help my teammates.”

Los Angeles tips their season on the first day, as they take on the Phoenix Mercury.