When Candace Parker gave her speech at the downtown rally celebrating the 2021 WNBA champion Chicago Sky, the Whitney Young girls' varsity basketball team was in attendance.
The two-time MVP helped the Sky win their first title in franchise history, an 80-74 victory over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 of the Finals. It was Parker's second title of her career.
"I remember watching the Chicago Bulls parade and the Chicago Bulls rally on television and dreaming of being in that moment," Parker said, who scored 16 points, including a game-tying three-pointer in the championship game. "To do it with this special group in front of a city that showed up, we turned up at Wintrust. Everybody that showed up, thank you."
The Chicagoland native, who played basketball at Naperville Central High School, virtually surprised the boys and girls basketball programs at Whitney Young High School on Tuesday. She gave the school a demonstration on Gatorade's latest sports technology, the Gx Sweat Patch.
A month after winning the championship and celebrating downtown, Parker was reminded that she was once in the shoes of the student athletes who watched her at the parade.
"I'm reminded so much by them what my purpose is and how lucky and grateful I am for being able to compete for a championship in Chicago, but then also for them to experience the win. To experience the excitement around the city.
"I have role models and mentors that I look up to and inevitably it comes back to like, if you work as hard as you can and you do what you're supposed to, and you stay late, you don't have any regrets, regardless of what the outcome is. Living the rest of your life as a champion of 2021, like that's so special. It's worth every tear, every sweat. Everything you put into it."
Parker was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008 and won her first championship with the team in 2016. In the semifinals, the Sparks beat a Sky team that featured her current teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
Parker signed with the Sky this February, saying that Quigley and Vandersloot were primary reasons she's in Chicago. Parker remembers thinking of the possibilities when she joined an already talented team.
"If we ever figure it out, it's gonna be scary," Parker said. "We'd show glimpses and then something would happen."
When Parker wasn't playing her best this season, she would watch some of her top performances on YouTube to remind herself of her amazing capabilities on the court.
Practicing with veterans Vandersloot and Quigley helped keep Parker at the top of her game. She was excited to share the glory when they won their first WNBA title together.
"To be able to shoot with one of the best players in the world in Allie Quigley and to be able to do dribbling cone drills and reads with Sloot, I thought I benefited from it. I just wanted to get them a championship. I wanted to get them a championship because they deserve it. They're great players, they're great people and they inspire me. It was really, really really special."
Parker, who serves as a NBA game analyst for Turner Sports, is excited to see if the 10-4 Chicago Bulls can "shock the world" by following the Sky with another championship for the city.
"I'm so grateful for the memories of the Bulls and growing up in a winning city where it was like the expectation was that," Parker said. "I think then it became an expectation of myself. That's what the bar was. And so I hope the kids around the city got inspiration from the Chicago Sky.
"Now, listen, the Chicago Bulls are playing extremely well, too, so we may be onto something."