There’s a storm brewing in Chicago.
Listen to recently-official free agent signee Candace Parker discuss the factors behind her decision to join the Sky -- which marks a return home for the decorated superstar -- and that much is obvious.
“I do believe in things coming full circle, and I do believe in perfect storms,” Parker said on a jam-packed introductory Zoom call Tuesday. “When I left the Chicagoland area, when I left Naperville, and I went to Knoxville (to attend the University of Tennessee), I was 18 years old. And I’m coming back a lot older. So I think, with that being said, time has wings, and I’m not going to take for granted this opportunity.”
When Parker ventured out all those years ago, she was leaving Naperville Central High School a two-time state champion. She returns now on a two-year contract at age 34, with an overflowing list of accolades under her belt: Two-time NCAA champion; six-time All-WNBA first-team selection, five-time WNBA All-Star, two-time Most Valuable Player and one-time champion, with a Finals MVP to boot.
All of her professional feats, she achieved over a 13-year career with the Los Angeles Sparks. When it came time to decide on a destination, Parker said the calculus was only between LA and Chicago.
“It was a difficult, difficult decision,” she said. “But I think ultimately I chose the Sky because I wanted to follow my heart.”
That sentiment permeated her comments. Parker perked up when speaking about her family’s reaction to the news of her homecoming, especially from her grandmother on an excited FaceTime call. She looks forward to the opportunity to tour her daughter Lailaa around the blacktops that raised her, and become embedded in community initiatives, especially those surrounding youth education. A Portillo’s stop upon returning from the city -- her typical order is a doozy -- was front of mind.
Parker, as with most any legend of the sport, is also someone concerned with her legacy.
“Legacy is obviously what you leave behind. But it's also what you take with you,” Parker said. “I've taken so much of what Chicagoland basketball means… and I've taken that with me and I've taken that legacy with me, across the world, to LA, and now I'm coming back with all of those different experiences and values and everything that I've learned in my process.
“I hope it shows, and not just the way that we carry ourselves on the court, but off. This community means so much to me and the person that it's made me. I think my legacy is, I came back. And I wanted to come back. And this was not -- this was a choice.”
That makes the next step all the more crucial. Already, Parker’s addition marks one of the most groundbreaking signings in Chicago sports history. Don’t let age fool you: Speaking to Chicago and national media Tuesday was the WNBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the league’s leader in rebound average and an All-WNBA first team honoree from 2020.
“I can assure you that if I didn’t feel as though I could make it to Chicago with enough in the tank, I wouldn’t play,” Parker said. “I don’t want to cheat the game.”
And her fit with the Sky should be a seamless one. Parker cited her grab-and-go fastbreak ability as well-tailored to the Sky’s up-tempo offensive system. She’s enamored with the team’s personnel, from Courtney Vandersloot helming the point guard spot, to Allie Quigley, who Parker has known since high school, to Diamond DeShields, a 2019 All-Star, who Parker became acquainted with during Tennessee’s successful recruitment of her.
“High IQ, being able to play off one another. I'm eager to learn the system,” Parker said. “I've already talked to coach (James) Wade about getting video and things like that to be able to learn my teammates, and I think they're gonna want to learn me and how I play.”
Again, a perfect storm.
With great talent comes great expectations. Parker comes in handy there too. She joined the Sky to compete for a championship, and setting that mantle as a goal is reasonable. But she also understands the grind that comes with building that quality of a team.
“Our sights are set on a championship,” Parker said, “but with that being said, we understand that there's the day-to-day. We understand we have to get to work, we understand we have a lot a lot to do before that can happen.”
Still, it’s hard to not feel the buzz. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, after all, led the call by welcoming Parker to Chicago and reminiscing about watching her play at Naperville Central. Wade said Parker’s addition has already generated considerable interest in the team from players and agents around the W, notable for a franchise that has traditionally struggled to lure free agents.
The chance is there. All that’s left is to seize it.
“The lessons I've learned being gone have brought me back home, and I really appreciate it. I promise I'll give my blood, my sweat, my tears,” Parker said. “Let's get to work.”