April 28, 2024 

WNBA legend Candace Parker announces retirement after 16-year career

People all around the WNBA heaped praise on the future Hall of Famer

Sunday marks the start of WNBA training camp for all teams, but a piece of breaking news has left players, coaches and fans across the league feeling a dual sense of shock and appreciation.

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Candace Parker, a surefire future Hall of Famer, announced on her Instagram that she will be retiring from the WNBA after playing 16 seasons in the league, citing a difficult recovery from offseason foot surgery as the reason for making the decision now.

“I fell in love with a little orange ball at 13 years old and BECAUSE of it my world goes ’round,” Parker said on her post. “The highs are unmatched & the lows taught me lessons. On & off the court I’m proud l’ve always been true & stayed true to ME, even when it wasn’t popular.

“I’m grateful that for 16 years I PLAYED A GAME for a living & DESPITE all the injuries, I hooped. I’m grateful for family, friends, teammates, coaches, doctors, trainers & fans who made this journey so special.”

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Parker’s illustrious basketball career started in high school at Naperville Central, where she led the team to back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004, was named Miss Basketball in her home state three times and won Gatorade National Player of the Year award in her senior year. She also became the first woman to win a slam dunk contest while participating in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

Parker played for the Tennessee Lady Vols in her collegiate career under Pat Summitt and won back-to-back national championships in 2007 and 2008. She also received many accolades, including the Most Outstanding Player award twice, the Naismith College Player of the Year award and the Honda Sports Award twice.

After her success in Tennessee, Parker was drafted at No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2008 WNBA Draft and made an instant impact at the WNBA level, becoming the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

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Throughout her professional career, Parker became the first player in league history to win three WNBA Championships with three different teams: the Los Angeles Sparks (2016), the Chicago Sky (2021) and the Las Vegas Aces (2023). She won the league MVP award twice in 2008 and 2013, was named to seven All-WNBA First Teams and three All-WNBA Second Teams, league’s 20th and 25 anniversary teams, and participated in the WNBA All-Star seven times.

During her 13-year tenure with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker led the team to 11 playoff appearances and back-to-back WNBA Finals appearances in 2016-17, which including winning the championship in 2016 — a title she dedicated to Summitt, who passed away the same year.

Sparks managing partner Eric Holoman put out a statement about Parker on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday afternoon: “We are deeply grateful for the remarkable contributions Candace Parker has made to the Los Angeles Sparks and to the sport of basketball as a whole. She will forever be enshrined in Sparks history — from her standout MVP and Rookie of the Year season, to leading us to a 2016 WNBA Championship, and the way she’s revolutionized the game. Her impact in the community and ability to inspire will always be felt here in LA. Through my many conversations with her about life after basketball, I am certain that she’ll be just as successful in the boardroom.”

In 2021, Parker signed with her hometown team, the Chicago Sky, and led the team to its first-ever championship, defeating the Phoenix Mercury in four games. She went on to play with the Sky for a second season before playing her final season with the Las Vegas Aces, winning her third championship in 2023 while missing most of the second half and all of the playoffs with an injury.

The Las Vegas Aces released a statement following Parker’s announcement of retiring from the league, titling it to “one of the GOATs of the game” and expressing their apprecation for Parker’s brief stint in Las Vegas.

“Although the majority of her career was played in opposing uniforms, we were blessed to have her as part of our championship team a year ago,” the Aces’ statement said. “We are saddened that she won’t be a part of our three-peat aspirations, but we look forward to welcoming Candace back to Las Vegas as an Aces alum, and we can’t wait to see what the next chapter in her life has to offer.”

Players and coaches across the league gave an outpouring of support to Parker on social media and during press conferences on the first day of training camp.

New York Liberty forward and 2023 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart was shocked she was informed by WNBA reporter Khristina Williams about Parker’s retirement, shouting, “What?!” and “Wow!” in a filmed video. Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu shared a story about receiving advice from Parker during rehab from an ankle injury she suffered in her rookie season in 2020. She also played through it the following year and shared her special relationship with Parker.

“She’s the one WNBA player that, when I was hurt, had tried to reach out to help me find someone to rehab with and that was kind of the first person that ever acknowledged kind of what I was going through and she doesn’t know probably how much that meant to me but to just kind of feel seen by someone else meant the world to me and kind of gave me some hope in life,” Ionescu said.

“It was my second year in the league and so obviously have a great relationship with her and what she’s built in the WNBA and for herself is something you can put into words and she’s left the game in a lot better hands and when she found it. A lot of that has to go to her. So I’m so excited to see what she’s gonna accomplish post basketball, but I give her all the flowers she deserves.”

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Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi played with Parker as teammates for the Team USA women’s national team and UMMC Ekaterinburg in the 2010s. They won two Olympic Gold medals (2008, 2012) and a Euroleague Championship together in 2013.

“What an incredible career,” Taurasi said to media in Phoenix, according to Jeff Metcalfe. “[I played] with Candace on the national team and Russia obviously [in the] WNBA. The way she changed basketball and her size to do what she did really opened up the door to seeing a new way of playing basketball especially on the women’s side and what an incredible career. She’s done some things that not many people even dream of doing and what she did at Tennessee, it’s just incredible. What she’s doing on the other side to now being on TNT and opening all those opportunities for women. I mean, she’s really a trailblazer in a lot of ways.”

New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello coached Parker for three seasons when she was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks.

“She’s a trailblazer,” Brondello told The Next and an Associated Press reporter in Brooklyn. “I can just a wonderful human being and what she’s done for this sport. Hopefully it’s celebrated. It’s sad when I heard that I was like ‘oh no.’ It would have been great because having an injury and then winning even though it was us. I’ve had a lot of respect for Candace. Our kids grew up together coaching and Russia. I have coached her a fair bit. She’s amazing to her to come in and win Rookie of the Year and MVP the very first year and then have a baby and then come back and continue to perform at such a high level.

“Yeah, it’s kind of sad. So everyone knows when it’s right. But look, she’s a trailblazer and her legacy will continue to put it that way, how many championships she’s won. But I got to experience her as a human being too, and she’s an amazing person.”

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With Parker’s retirement, Chicago Sky forward Isabelle Harrison is the only active player in the league who played for the late Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt.

“For those who don’t know, Candace is the reason I went to Tennessee and still my favorite player of all time,” Harrison said in her post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Thank you for everything you gave to the game.”

Angel McCoughtry posted memories of her and Parker together on an Instagram post. She described Parker’s spirit as “infectious on the court” and how she made an impression on the community of women’s basketball.

“I remember you always encouraging a young me and telling me to keep it up!” McCoughtry said. “You were one the reason I made the Olympic team !! We love you, we appreciate you. And as you continue to take our game to another level in other ways, we are always with you!!!”

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Chicago Sky forward Brianna Turner had a full-circle moment from meeting Parker as a fan to playing against her, which she shared pictures on a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Indiana Fever legend and Lady Vol alum Tamika Catchings shared photos and memories she had with Parker on her social media post.

“On to the next lil Sis,” Catchings said in a post. “[I] have loved watching and being by your side from the beginning Tennessee, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, and everywhere in between. The best is yet to come!!! Welcome to the dark side, Love ya fatty!!!”

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Outside of her on-court career, Parker has been a TV analyst and commentator for the NBA on TNT during the offseason since 2018 as well as for the men’s NCAA Tournament. She was also the center of attention on ESPN’s documentary, ‘Unapologetic,” which premiered last October.

It’s safe to say Parker will continue to have a positive impact on women’s basketball. But after two decades of on-court excellence, her presence on the floor will be dearly missed.

“My mission in life, like Pat Summitt always said, is to ‘chase people and passions, and you will never fail,'” Parker said in her post. “Being a wife and mom still remains priority #1, and I’ve learned that time flies, so I plan to enjoy my family to the fullest!

“Today’s players: ENJOY IT. No matter how you prepare for it, you won’t be ready for the gap it leaves in your soul. Forgive me as I mourn a bit, but I’ll be back loving the game differently in a while.”

The Next’s Jackie Powell contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next since December 2022. She is also a sports reporter for the Sun Devils’ women’s basketball team for The State Press. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.

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