Candace Parker has a lot on her plate.
Aside from her day-to-day duties as a six-time WNBA All-Star (who just so happened to be named one of the greatest players in the history of her sport), she’s also a devoted mother to her daughter Lailaa, she recently became the first woman to grace the cover of the popular NBA 2K video game series, and she lends her insight and commentary as a studio analyst to TNT’s Emmy award-winning NBA coverage—all while breaking the internet in the process.
She’s also been a lifelong partner of Adidas, who she collaborated with for her recently unveiled Ace collection that includes three new colorways of her Exhibit ACE PE sneaker, an Ultra Boost, and a line of performance apparel that are all set to launch on Thursday as part of a retail partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods.
So to commemorate the upcoming release of her signature collection, the Chicago Sky star spoke with The Root to discuss her illustrious career, what it means to finally play for her native Chicago as a professional athlete, and how the perception of women’s sports has evolved since she was first drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008.
Earlier this month, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, the WNBA announced the W25; a definitive list of its 25 greatest players since the league’s inception in 1996. That list includes obvious picks like Houston Comets legend Cynthia Cooper and the seemingly immortal Diana Taurasi, but with only 25 players allowed to make the cut, there were bound to be some glaring omissions. So who does Candace think was snubbed?
“Well, I think the criteria is one thing,” she told The Root. “What are you judging it off of? If you’re judging it off of rings, then I think it’s the person that had the most amount of rings in league history, Rebekkah Brunson. Top in rebounding, I think she could have been an addition.”
Throughout the course of her 15-year career, Brunson became the only player in the history of the league to win five WNBA championships. But while Parker acknowledges that Brunson is more than deserving of her due, she’s also keenly aware that doing so would come at the expense of another equally deserving player.
“I’m in television,” Parker said. “So if you’re going to add somebody to the list, you gotta take somebody off. I don’t know who I would take off so I’m leaving it like that.”
On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city of Chicago will now recognize Sept. 16 as Candace Parker Day. Considering her roots in the Windy City—she grew up in the western suburb of Naperville and first became a national sensation while playing for Naperville Central High School—it was a beautiful tribute to one of the most decorated players in professional sports. The moment also has significant meaning to Parker, who left the Los Angeles Sparks and returned home this season as a free agent in order to extend her basketball legacy as a member of the Chicago Sky.
“It means so much,” she said of her homecoming. “I think it’s nostalgic just driving past things. We were at Moody Bible [Institute of Chicago] the other day and I remember so many times when I watched my brother play there. Summer league hoops, the gym. I spent my childhood just playing there. I remember the first time my brother played in an NBA uniform in the United Center. The list goes on. So to be back here, it’s really special to be able to see the faces that first saw me with acne, my baby hair. [I was a] baby face child now coming back later.”
As one of the most dominant figures in basketball, Parker also shared her thoughts on how the perception of women’s sports has changed throughout the course of her 14-year career in the WNBA.
“I think it’s changing for the better, especially the last five years,” she said. “You know, the WNBA has really grown just in terms of women’s sports as a whole, just the investment in it, making it a priority. Like Dick’s Sporting Goods has done by investing in women’s sports and investing in women. I think it’s important. It trickles down to other things, in terms of leadership positions, how we view women. So I think that women’s sports are changing, but so is the landscape around it.”
As to what specific changes she’s observed within the last five years, she points to a significant increase in the amount of capital that’s being poured into women’s sports and related programs.
“I think it’s just investment in sports,” she said. “Scared money doesn’t make money. So you’re going to properly invest in something that you want to succeed. You have to invest properly and you have to put things around it to be able to allow it to grow. I think we’re seeing more teams, more companies with organizations really put that first.”
Of all of her contributions to gender equality, diversity, and inclusivity within sports, Parker is also acutely aware that there’s much more work to be done. So when asked which of her contributions toward those causes was she most proud of, she insisted that she’s just getting started.
“I think it’s still being written,” she said. “I’d like to continue to open doors. To me, diversity isn’t one. You’ve got to have four or five at the table. That’s what my goal is. At the end of the day, I want my daughter to have the same opportunities that my nephews have. And until that day comes, we’re still going to continue to push forward and do the work.”
Her partnership with Adidas serves as an extension of that work, and she’s been fortunate enough to have the sportswear juggernaut in her corner throughout her entire basketball career. A team is only as strong as the sum of its parts and for Parker, there’s no better teammate for what she’s set out to accomplish both on and off the court—including her non-gender-conforming Ace collection.
“This has been a 13, 14-year partnership,” she said of Adidas. “Before that, I was with Adidas in college. Before that, I was with Adidas in high school. I am loyal and I do believe that they are as well in terms of partnership, sticking with me through the ups and downs. I was pregnant, I was injured. And I think it’s about support. You’ve got to make each other better and I think that we do that.”
She added, “I’m really excited about our Ace collection that’s coming out. This is something that we’ve been working on for a long time and have put a lot of thought into it and a lot of meaning behind it.”