Noted Naperville Central star Parker adds defensive award to resume
It was good to see Candace Parker let her hair down.
Although, technically, her hair was already looking quite natural and "let down" in a wavy, poofy, shoulder-length Afro.
"Nice hair you've got there," said Los Angeles Sparks point guard Chelsea Gray, in a playful tone, which immediately put a smile on Parker's face.
Parker, who played at Naperville Central in the early 2000s, sat down for a Zoom call this week after being named the WNBA's Defensive Player of the Year.
Parker, who went on to play at Tennessee and just finished her 13th WNBA season at age 34, has in the past been named the league's rookie of the year and its most valuable player twice, and also the WNBA Finals MVP, but has never won best defensive player distinction.
Gray was the last Zoom "interviewer" to ask a "question."
She was introduced by the moderator as "Chelsea from 'Texas Weekly.' "
Parker knew immediately it was her teammate and began to giggle, a rare break from her usually serious, no-nonsense demeanor.
"This is not as much a question but a statement that I'm super proud of you. Congratulations," Gray said. "Being around you, you see all the people who talk and have no idea of the capabilities you have on both ends of the floor. I don't mean to get emotional but you deserve the hell out of this award. I know (Parker's daughter) Lailaa is proud, I know your family is proud and I'm glad you're able to celebrate it with them, and I'm glad to just be your teammate. So congratulations."
Parker was moved. To tears actually.
It was nice to see Parker come full circle in her career, too.
Known for so long for a powerful offensive presence, Parker has often taken jabs for a perceived lack of interest in defense, even though she has always put up decent, or even very good numbers in blocks and defensive rebounds.
With the focus on basketball the WNBA's bubble in Bradenton, Fla., provided this season, Parker made defense a conscious focus.
"I took it (defense) as a challenge this year," Parker said. "The reputation thing ... I really don't want to be known as just an offensive player and whether this changes the narrative or not, I hope going forward I continue to play both sides of the ball."
Parker, who averaged a league-leading 9.7 rebounds per game (8 per game on the defensive end), 1.2 blocks per game and 1.2 steals per game, knows her college coach would be proud of her.
The late and legendary Pat Summitt was a stickler for stingy, gritty defense.
"We all know the first thing that popped to my mind was Coach Summitt," Parker said. "I think for me, the first coach that really challenged me and told me I could be defensive player of the year was Coach Summitt and I would hear her line of 'Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships.'
"And everyone from Tennessee who has hit (contacted) me has told me that 'You know, she's up there smirking saying, 'You could have done this earlier.' It's better late than never. It really is a mindset. I'm really proud of this award.
"This is going to go above MVPs and rookie of the year."