Former Naperville Central star Parker returns to Chicago to play with Sky
It all started here.
And it very well might end here, too.
Candace Parker got her start in basketball and first made a national name for herself while living in the Chicago suburbs.
Just three months from turning 35, the former Naperville Central star and three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball will be experiencing a full-circle moment on Tuesday when she is formally introduced as a member of the Chicago Sky.
Parker, who has spent her entire WNBA career with the Los Angeles Sparks but became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season, will be entering her 14th season this summer and could be settling into her final destination before retirement.
Parker hasn't lived in the Chicago area on a regular basis since she left Naperville to go to college at Tennessee, where she became an all-American and a two-time NCAA national champion.
"I don't want to speak for Candace about how much she has thought about (having a full-circle moment), and how important it was for her," Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade said. "But we did talk about that, about the whole beginning of her career and end of her career thing.
"I think being able to come back home to Chicago factored into this for her."
According to the Sky, Parker will not be doing media interviews about her move to Chicago until Tuesday. And terms of her multi-year deal with the Sky will not be disclosed until the WNBA free agency period ends this week. But her salary will likely be the maximum a team can offer a free agent, which is approximately $200,000 per season.
Wade did say that he and the Sky went after Parker hard.
The team also wanted to try to retain another Parker, forward Cheyenne Parker, who had spent her entire 6-year career with the Sky and had a breakout season in 2020, averaging a career-high 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
But Cheyenne Parker, also an unrestricted free agent, got a better offer from the Atlanta Dream, and that further cleared the path for Candace Parker.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a player of this caliber," Wade said of Candace Parker, a two-time WNBA most valuable player, a five-time all-star, a six-time first-team all-WNBA selection and the reigning WNBA defensive player of the year.
Parker also led the WNBA in rebounding in 2020.
"We went full-speed ahead with Candace," Wade continued. "We knew that we needed a player of this caliber. We've been able to build something that has made people want to come here. The players and the organization have done that. We've built a chemistry and a togetherness and we work hard and the buy-in from the players is portrayed in how we play.
"It was a hard decision for Candace to leave L.A. But I think the way our team is, I think that really helped to make the decision for her. She wants to win, and she wants to be in a place where she's going to have fun. And she wants to be in a great environment. We checked all the boxes."
Parker checks the boxes for the Sky, too.
Even in the twilight of her career, Parker played some of her best basketball last season in the WNBA's "bubble" in Florida, earning the first defensive player of the year honor of her career.
She averaged 14.7 points per game, and a league-leading 9.7 rebounds per game, along with 4.6 assists per game and 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
The fact that Parker is a WNBA champion (2016) and a legit MVP contender every season was also attractive.
"This is an MVP player, and there aren't a lot of those out there," Wade said. "This is something we really haven't had, and all championship teams need a player like that. Candace give us a leader, a player who commands double teams, a player we can lean on when times are difficult, a player who gives our other good players a lot of confidence.
"Candace's ability to create off the dribble, make open shots is at a level that is unmatched. We'll change a little bit about how we do things because we want to make sure she's comfortable, but I think she's going to fit into what we're already doing really well."
Wade said that all of the other players on the team were 100 percent on board with going after Parker.
Many made calls to Parker and expressed their excitement about having her join the team.
Sky veteran guard Allie Quigley has played with Parker during the offseason in Turkey and goes way back with Parker to high school, when they were both all-staters together. Quigley played at Joliet Catholic before going to DePaul.
Meanwhile, Sky assistant coach Olaf Lange has coached Parker overseas and the two won a EuroLeague championship together.
"We had a lot of connections with Parker. I go way back with her, too," Wade said. "And we did our homework on her, our due diligence. We knew that she was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball, and a state champion here. We didn't just make a few phone calls for this. We didn't recruit her lightly.
"We wanted to make sure that Candace knew that we were very much invested in her."
Wade isn't sure how fierce the free agency battle was for Parker with other teams, but he knew that getting Parker to leave Los Angeles was going to be a challenge.
Parker has been with the Los Angeles Sparks since 2008 and in 2009, she gave birth to her daughter Lailaa Williams, who has grown up in Los Angeles. In October, Parker and her daughter, now 11, became part of the ownership group of Angel City FC, a Los Angeles-based professional women's soccer team set to play in the National Women's Soccer League beginning in 2022.
"We knew it would be tough for her to leave L.A., so our biggest concern wasn't who else was after her, it was 'How do we get her to leave L.A.,'" Wade said. "We wanted to make it as comfortable as possible for her here. We put on a full-court press with our players reaching out.
"We're just so happy that she chose us. We think we are the perfect fit for her."