Candace Parker, the longtime face of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, announced on Feb. 1 her decision to sign a two-year deal with the Chicago Sky. Widely considered the biggest signing in the Sky’s history, Parker will return to her hometown, affording her the opportunity to play closer to friends and family.
For the Sky, Parker’s signing marks the end of a yearslong talent drain, as fans have watched former players find great success elsewhere. Chicago’s gain isn’t necessarily the Sparks’ loss, however. The Sparks will maintain a strong core of Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver, though the exit of their longtime star has left many questioning whether the team can keep up its run of historically strong performances.
Raised in the suburbs of Chicago surrounded by basketball players, Parker attended the University of Tennessee from2004 to 2008, though she redshirted her first season on the basketball team due to a knee injury. By 2008, she was the star of the team, leading the Lady Vols to their second straight national championship and winning Most Outstanding Player in the process.
Parker was drafted by the Sparks later that same year, and anyone expecting the rookie to disappoint in professional play was left wanting. Parker smashed the record for points scored in a debut game — her record of 34 points still stands to this day — and was the first player to win Rookie of the Year and WNBA MVP in the same season.
During her time with the Sparks, Parker has won a WNBA championship (2016), two MVP awards (2008, 2013) and two Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012). Former Sparks teammate and Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie left big shoes to fill, but the Naperville native has outshined even Leslie’s accomplishments.
Parker’s signing is a “dream-case scenario” for the Sky. In 2019, James “Coco” Wade’s first season as head coach, the Sky came close to reaching the WNBA semifinals in a big turnaround, yet failed to impress in 2020. The Sky can now count Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Parker as core players, which has given many fans hope for the upcoming season.
“We needed a big-time player, we needed an MVP-caliber player,” Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times regarding the move. “On the court, [Parker] actually provides us with not only another All-Star but she’s reputed to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
As she nears the final stages of her career, Parker has made close study of Tom Brady and Lebron James, ever eager to remain a top performer for years to come. She has been very clear about her goal of helping the Sky earn its first-ever championship, telling reporters, “winning a championship back home would mean so much.” If Parker’s prolonged on-court success is any indication of her potential, Chicago will be a team to watch.
The Sky stand to benefit from more than just Parker’s contributions on the court. Sky president and CEO Adam Fox told the Chicago Sun-Times that the signing was a “tremendous shot of energy” and that the organization has since seen a spike in season-ticket interest — certainly a good sign in the wake of a 40 percent revenue drop due to pandemic restrictions.
As for the talent drain, Wade has said inquiries about playing for the Sky have tripled since Parker’s signing announcement.
Whether this month marks a turnaround for the Sky remains to be seen. However, Parker joined the Sparks as they hit rock bottom and led them to years of consistent success. History, it seems, is on Parker’s side this time around.