Candace Parker had simply recorded her W.N.B.A.-leading 10th double-double of the season, with 19 factors and 10 rebounds in her last sport earlier than the playoffs.
But it didn’t faze her. For Parker, a two-time most dear participant seeking to win her second league title, it’s by no means what she has accomplished that issues. It’s what comes subsequent.
“I feel like the season’s just beginning,” stated Parker, the 34-year-old Los Angeles Sparks star. “The regular season is great, but that’s not what you play for.”
That last sport, a loss to the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces, left the Sparks with the third seed within the playoffs and a first-round bye — much-needed relaxation from the wear and tear and tear of enjoying a condensed season within the league’s bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“I think overall we got better, especially with the situation — everyone was in the same bubble, playing games every other night,” Parker stated. “My only wish is to be healthy going into the postseason, and that’s the case.”
These subsequent video games, beginning with Thursday evening’s single-elimination sport in opposition to the Connecticut Sun, are, as Parker alluded to, what you play for. Her teammates can sense it; Parker, Sparks guard Sydney Wiese stated, is “on a mission” this 12 months.
“Candace is always Candace, but you could tell a different level of intensity and focus from the minute that we got to this bubble,” Wiese stated.
“We go as she goes,” Wiese added, “and she feels that, she senses that. Her competitive energy, her desire to win, it trickles down to the rest of us. She’s really set the tone for us since the beginning of the season.”
Parker stated the monthslong quarantine earlier than the W.N.B.A. season helped her to be at her greatest when it started. Memories of a tough 2019 that noticed her battle accidents, and a rocky finish to the playoffs that ended with a sweep by the Sun, additionally served as motivation.
“There was nothing but time, and I used it in a positive way,” she stated. “I was able to make appointments I needed to go to take care of my body and lift four or five times a week, do cardio and just come into the season ready.”
“I know you can’t really help being injured last year and being in and out — it just didn’t sit well with me last year,” she added. “So I just kind of put that energy toward doing something more.”
Reinvigorated, Parker led the league in rebounding (9.7 per sport) and on Tuesday was named the league’s defensive participant of the 12 months by The Associated Press. The award got here greater than a decade after she grew to become the one participant in W.N.B.A. historical past to win the M.V.P. and the Rookie of the Year Awards in the identical season (2008).
“Her commitment to this season has been a great catalyst for the success we’ve been able to have so far,” Sparks Coach Derek Fisher stated. “When a player of her caliber and experience shows up in great shape, healthy and engaged under difficult circumstances, it sets an example for others in their daily approach.”
Parker’s versatility — combining her dimension and size with uncommonly good ball-handling, passing and perimeter taking pictures — makes her distinctive, Fisher stated.
“This sets her apart from other historically great professional women’s players,” Fisher stated. “The fact that she is at this point in her career, performing at this level, says a lot about how she still loves the game and has passion for it.”
This season, Parker has served as one thing like an additional coach, stated the Sparks rookie guard Te’a Cooper. “She helps everyone,” Cooper stated. “She’s talking, she’s giving everything she’s got on the floor. She’s rebounding, assisting points, she’s doing everything.”
Brian Agler, who coached Parker for 4 years in Los Angeles, together with the group’s 2016 championship season, stated Parker was “easily in the top five of the most skilled players to ever play in the W.N.B.A.”
“She has her critics, she has her detractors, but one this talented and accomplished will always have that,” stated Agler, who now coaches the Dallas Wings. “It’s a badge of honor!”
Sparks guard Chelsea Gray, one among Parker’s closest mates, has been calling Parker “Year 13” to problem her to proceed excelling in her 13th season.
“There’s always that saying of you want to leave the game better than you found it, and I think she’s done that with how she plays the game,” Gray stated.
Even with as a lot as she’s doing for the Sparks, Parker is doing extra off the court docket.
Parker additionally works as a basketball analyst on TNT and enjoys her favourite position — mother to 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, who’s within the bubble together with her. They play board video games, watch TV and paint — what they might be doing at home in Los Angeles, Parker stated, “minus the L.A. traffic.”
“I think sometimes I’m a little bit overwhelmed with finding time to do stuff with work and television and being a mom, but I don’t take for granted I get to do what I love every day,” Parker stated.
Parker works to stability her time however stated she typically feels “guilt because I’m not able to be at everything, do everything.” Her “family and village” step in.
“I had Lailaa my second year in the league, so honestly it’s been me and her my whole career. I can’t remember life before her. We grew up together. She has the greatest positive attitude; I am so lucky to be her mom so it’s not a challenge with her.”
Parker stated her perspective on life has modified, too. Maybe it was the demise of her beloved mentor and faculty coach Pat Summitt in 2016. Or the sudden demise of Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this 12 months.
“People think there’s always time to get better and have growth and do things the right way, but sometimes there’s not,” she stated. “At the end of the day you should try to be the best version of yourself now.
“And honestly I want to leave something behind. Legacy is something people talk about when it’s all said and done, but legacy is created in the moment, in the present and you got to start establishing yours now.”
Parker stated Bryant’s post-retirement life — which confirmed him being an lively father, basketball coach and motivator — represented “the evolution of what you hope to see in individuals.
“He was becoming the best version of himself. It was always about his family, always about his kids. He was great, but he was a dad and that’s what I think tears everybody apart.”
The demise of Summitt, the legendary Tennessee ladies’s coach, was troublesome in numerous methods. “Pat was so influential in my life,” Parker stated. It bothers her, she stated, that Summitt “is not able to see and be a part of all these memories that we’re making right now.
“I hear her voice a lot, more so off the court, just in the evolution of who I am as a human being.”
Parker stated she doesn’t understand how for much longer she’ll play.
“I just know when the time comes and I am not myself — it’s not fun for me to not be the best version of myself — that’s it,” she stated. “I don’t want to cheat the game of basketball that’s given me so much, so when it’s my time to go out, I’m going to do just that.
“I’m going to know. I’m going to wake up one day and that’s going to be it,” she stated, including. “For now, I’m focused on the present day.”