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Q&A: Candace Parker talks health, WNBA, TNT, family and BBQ

Updated June 10, 2023 - 4:43 pm

Candace Parker’s story has been told too many times to count. Her list of accolades seemingly never ends.

She’s a two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player. A two-time league champion. A two-time Olympic gold medalist. A Finals MVP. A seven-time first-team All-WNBA selection. A defensive player of the year. The only player in league history to win MVP and rookie of the year in the same season.

The 2023 campaign is Parker’s 16th in the WNBA. If she helps the Aces win the championship, she’ll become the first player in league history to win titles with three franchises. While the Aces have gotten off to a flying start to the season, Parker’s keeping the main goal in mind.

“There’s definitely room for improvement,” she said. “There’s things we need to get better at, but as long as we’re able to learn and win in the process, I’m happy.”

The Aces (7-1) welcome the Chicago Sky (5-4), Parker’s former team, to Michelob Ultra Arena at noon Sunday. Ahead of the game, Parker spoke with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on several topics including how she’s acclimating to the Aces, her views on the WNBA, her career as a television analyst and her family.

Review-Journal: First, this is your 16th season in the WNBA. How do you feel?

Candace Parker: I think I’m definitely getting back into it. It’s hard enough to not play basketball for six months, basically, and then to be 37 and not do that is difficult. So I’m giving myself grace in my timing and also just in my body. So, I’m just trying to get both of those together. (Coach Becky Hammon) always has to tell me every day it’s about September and October, not May and June, so I’ve tried to listen.

RJ: What are some of the things you’ve done to stay in game-playing shape at age 37?

CP: I can’t stop in the offseason. I think the biggest thing is just mobility. I can’t be on the court as long as I was when I was in my 20s, but I can still work on my body, so it’s just a different type of focus.

RJ: How do you approach taking care of yourself? Did having a former player like Hammon as a coach and facilities like Aces Headquarters impact your decision to join the Aces?

CP: I mean the facility alone, obviously Becky’s addition — she played until she was older — and then also just me, personally, I’ve always had to take care of my body. I’ve had eight knee surgeries, I’ve had shoulder surgery. I had a baby, so I’ve always had to learn to take care of my body. So, I think it’s just great to come here with the same mindset as somebody, and also learn new things.

RJ: How do you feel you’re adapting to the Aces?

CP: I mean, just in terms of playmaking, moving the ball — that’s the philosophy and that’s the mentality I’ve played with my entire career. I know timing and synergy and chemistry will come even more so, which I think is scary.

RJ: What’s been your approach to learning and fitting into the Aces system?

CP: Anytime you come to a new team, it’s figuring out what you’re going to bring. Obviously, this is a team that’s been successful in the past. But then also, just getting up and down and running, reading, reacting, having a set and then playing off it, that’s something I like to do.

RJ: How does this Aces team stack up with some of the other great teams you’ve played with, such as the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky?

CP: I’ve been on a number of teams that have started the season very well and have started off 11-0 or whatever. Some of those teams won a championship, and some of those teams haven’t. We’re measuring ourselves against ourselves, which is something I think we should all do.

RJ: Moving on to some broader questions about the WNBA, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the league during your 16-year career?

CP: I think just the growth and visibility. When you turn on the television now, especially during NBA games, you see three, four, five women who are having commercials. … The more visibility and access fans have, the more sponsors are going to come and the more fans are going to be part of the WNBA, and I think that’s the biggest thing.

RJ: What are some of the changes you hope to see to the league in the future?

CP: Where do I start? I think sometimes the WNBA holds themselves back, and I’d like to see us push the game forward together, collectively.

RJ: By us, do you mean the league and the players?

CP: Yeah.

RJ: What are some of the ways the league and the players can do that together?

CP: I think the way the NBA separated itself from the NFL and MLB is it’s been an employee, players-first league. I’d like to see that in the WNBA.

RJ: You mentioned increased commercial opportunities. You’ve been in CarMax commercials with Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. A’ja Wilson is on Ruffles chip bags. How have you seen commercial opportunities increase for players around the league?

CP: It’s definitely increased. In years past, there weren’t any women that were part of brands. I think brands are seeing the power in it. Women are the purchasing power in households. I think brands are now seeing it’s not just doing it to be in good faith, but it’s actually doing it to further their brand.

RJ: What would be your dream brand to work with?

CP: I’m pretty good right now. I’m a loyal person. I’ve been with Adidas my entire career. I’ve been with Gatorade almost my entire career. After that, obviously CarMax has been really cool. I think Muscle Milk being able to incorporate my daughter and being able to tell stories and be authentic in who I am I think is very important to me. So any brand that I align myself with, that’s what it is.

RJ: Besides loyalty, are there any other qualities you look for in commercial partnerships?

CP: Being able to be authentic and tell my story. I think that’s the biggest thing. Like I don’t want to go on and put something on that I don’t believe in across the board.

RJ: How’s your experience with Hammon been so far?

CP: She’s a players’ coach. She asks us what we think. Obviously she has the final word, but I enjoy the conversation and the talk and her mentality. Her door is always open, and I appreciate that.

RJ: You’re around NBA people a lot because of your job as a TNT analyst. Do you feel Hammon’s still in that position to be the first woman to go through the door to become an NBA head coach?

CP: One thousand percent. I think that’s the problem with our society. We look at it as the first women through the door. There’s a lot of people who, because they’re women, they’re harmed and hurt. I think (Teresa Weatherspoon) is one. I think Becky Hammon is another, that because they’re women, teams are hesitant. I would like to see, eventually in the future, it be the best person for the job, similar to how we’re ushering in and the focal point now is (women) refs in the NBA. I think (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver has done an amazing job incorporating that without it being a press release.

There’s other areas. You look at men’s basketball. We’re going to prepare young men to have women in leadership positions and listen to them as coaches, but in men’s basketball — NCAA — there’s not any force for women as assistants or head coaches or referees. I think we, as a nation and a society, focus on certain things, and really it shouldn’t just be about notoriety and being the first. It should be about the best person for the job and not being prevented from having the opportunity because you are a woman.

RJ: Speaking of your media career, how do you feel you’ve evolved as an analyst since joining TNT?

CP: My heart doesn’t beat as fast when the lights come on. I still get the adrenaline rush, but I’m more calm and confident in what I have to do and what I can add to the game. I’m a basketball junkie, so I talk about basketball nonstop anyways.

RJ: What do you enjoy most about your media career?

CP: Still being around the game, and being around the game with people I idolized growing up. All the people I work with were on my wall at some point. Reggie Miller, he’s like an older brother to me. It was really cool to hear the things he had to say and just seeing they respect me as a player. I’m not one of the guys. I’m one of the players, which is cool when you grew up looking up to these guys.

RJ: How did this whole media journey start for you?

CP: I didn’t want to go overseas anymore. That’s how it started. My daughter was going into junior high, and I was tired of taking her out of school and going overseas. So, I started trying television sparingly, and then I enjoyed it. So that’s kind of how it started.

RJ: How are you settling into Las Vegas?

CP: I love it. It’s nice. I’m kind of a homebody, so I usually bring my people from L.A. with me and we kick it at the house. We have a barbecue. We cook. We chill at home. My favorite restaurant here — and they have it in LA — is Javier’s. I’m going to venture out to the other spots, and I’m a foodie so I enjoy it. I’m not much of a gambler. I don’t go out that much, but this is another side of Vegas I’d never seen.

RJ: Are you the grill master? If so, what’s your best dish?

CP: Yeah. Hawaiian rib-eyes. I slice up the pineapple. I marinate them for probably a day and a half. I grew up with my dad, I was always outside with him grilling. My mom grilled too, so that’s how it was.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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