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 recreation earlier than the playoffs.
But it didn’t faze her. For Parker, a two-time most precious participant wanting to win her second league title, it’s by no means what she has carried out 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 recreation, a loss to the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces, left the Sparks with the third seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye — much-needed relaxation from the wear and tear and tear of taking part in 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 recreation towards 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 yr.
“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 end 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 recreation) and on Tuesday was named the league’s defensive participant of the yr 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 measurement 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 crew’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, considered one of Parker’s closest pals, 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 courtroom.
Parker additionally works as a basketball analyst on TNT and enjoys her favourite position — mother to 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, who’s in the bubble with her. They play board video games, watch TV and paint — what they’d be doing at dwelling 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 steadiness her time however stated she generally 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 year.
“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 tip of the day you must strive to be the very best model of your self now.
“And truthfully I would like to go away one thing behind. Legacy is one thing individuals speak about when it’s all stated and carried out, however legacy is created within the second, within the current and you bought to begin establishing yours now.”
Parker stated Bryant’s post-retirement life — which confirmed him being an energetic father, basketball coach and motivator — represented “the evolution of what you hope to see in people.
“He was changing into the very best model of himself. It was all the time about his household, all the time about his youngsters. He was nice, however he was a dad and that’s what I believe tears everyone aside.”
The demise of Summitt, the legendary Tennessee girls’s coach, was troublesome in several methods. “Pat was so influential in my life,” Parker stated. It bothers her, she stated, that Summitt “is just not in a position to see and be part of all these reminiscences that we’re making proper now.
“I hear her voice lots, extra so off the courtroom, simply within the evolution of who I’m as a human being.”
Parker stated she doesn’t know the way 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 need to cheat the sport of basketball that’s given me a lot, so when it’s my time to exit, I’m going to just do that.
“I’m going to know. I’m going to get up someday and that’s going to be it,” she stated, including. “For now, I’m focused on the present day.”