Candace Parker had just finished filming content for NBA 2K20, the latest edition of 2K Games’ basketball franchise. It was a banner moment for Parker and women’s basketball players as the video game publisher was including all 12 WNBA teams in the series for the first time.
Still donning the full body motion capture suit, Parker chatted with 2K engineers at the company’s headquarters in Novato, California, for an hour about the nuances of women’s basketball and the WNBA as both star athlete and game creators knew they couldn’t just add a ponytail to a character in a WNBA jersey and truly call it women’s basketball.
“That meeting was really special for me because I saw how important it is because there’s going to be boys and girls playing this game and you want it to be a representation of what it actually is,” Parker says. “I did value their willingness to get input and their willingness to want to make the game better, and they’re continually wanting to make it better.”
For Parker, the extra hour she invested with the game’s engineers and developers was well worth the intended long-term effects of inspiring the next generation.
In fact, everything Candace Nicole Parker does is supported by a similar intention.
“When I started doing stuff with purpose, I think that’s when things started changing both on the court but also off the court,” she says. “Sometimes we do things and we may just do them for monetary benefit—and obviously early on in people’s career that’s what you have to do—but I wanted to reach a point where I was doing things for purpose and for a bigger cause.
“That’s where you benefit, and where others benefit the most is when you do things with purpose. All the deals that we’ve carved out, we’ve tried to do just that. Hopefully we continue to do things with purpose.”
Treat my first like my last, and my last like my first
Parker’s on-court accomplishments and accolades are unmatched from the time she became the first—and only—player to be named USA Today High School Player of the Year twice, and the only player to receive the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year award twice in 2003 and 2004.
In college, Parker starred at the University of Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt, winning consecutive NCAA championships in 2007 and ’08 and being a two-time consensus national player of the year. Parker’s list of firsts expanded when on March 19, 2006, she became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game, then became the first to do it twice in an NCAA Tournament game.
A consensus first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker has won two WNBA titles (2016, 2021), is a two-time WNBA MVP (2008, 2013), six-time WNBA all-star, 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and is the first WNBA player to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season (2008). Outside of the WNBA, Parker won gold medals with Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games.
“I’m fortunate to be in the middle (of generations) to understand how crucial the people came before us were and us even having a league today,” Parker says. “Being in the middle and just continuing to try to grow it and never being satisfied with this just being OK. I think we’ve reached a perfect storm in a sense of social media, what the world is going through now and just the understanding with organizations and companies that it’s no longer OK to just send out messages, you have to represent those messages.
“I think the WNBA has a spot in the world, and should continue to hold a seat at the table. Now people are realizing that more and more just by our actions even off the court.”
Parker has proudly leveraged her on-court success to not only further her impact off it, but make a difference for those who follow.
In July, Parker became the first female athlete to grace the cover of NBA 2K, marking just the third time across all sports video games that a woman has been featured solo on the cover. Two years prior, Parker became the first WNBA player in the game and in 2020, became the first active player (male or female) to be an in-game broadcaster with the franchise.
Parker became one of the first female athletes with her own basketball shoe in partnership with adidas, is the first female athlete to sign a global deal with JBL Audio, and is the first female athlete brand partner with Alienware.
“She wants to not only break down doors for other people to walk into but knock down the whole wall and wants to tear down the whole building,” says Zack Miller, her agent at WME Sports. “She was afforded certain opportunities because of the work the generation before her put in and she wants to make sure she’s paying it forward so the next generation has opportunities she didn’t even have.”
I’m a hustler baby, I sell water to a whale
To say Candace Parker is a huge Jay-Z fan would be an understatement.
In an effort to overcome struggles at the free throw line early in her career, a sports psychologist recommended Parker sing a song in her head when at the charity stripe; she chose “Song Cry” off The Blueprint. She knows every word to every song. She references the rapper’s lyrics on social media whether it’s 2014 or 2021.
While Parker is a fan of Jay-Z’s music and influence on rap, she is more of a fan of the man known as Shawn Carter, who is laying the blueprint for rappers, musicians, athletes and entrepreneurs to create successful enterprise around them. It’s also what attracted Parker to Magic Johnson, who continues to prove he is more than just a basketball player.
She tries to replicate their blueprints in her own way. Contemporaries including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are leading the charge in terms of not only redefining what an athlete is, but how to utilize their platform and reach to enact positive change.
“I think women’s basketball players are way more than just basketball players,” says Parker, who finally had the opportunity to meet Jay-Z in April. “I think women’s athletes are way more than just athletes. … I just really want to change the narrative of what people perceive for women’s sports. There’s a lot of people out there doing it with me, and women athletes out there I’m doing it alongside.”
Parker is a founding member of the Gatorade Women’s Advisory Board, recently sold her podcast “Moments with Candace Parker” with female-founded Wonder Media Network, partnered with Grubhub to support the Restaurant Strong Fund, and is featured in Band-Aid’s “Our Tone” campaign, highlighting their new products for a wider variety of skin tones.
When she isn’t starring for her hometown Chicago Sky, which recently won the 2021 WNBA championship, or serving as a basketball analyst for Turner Sports, Parker is in the process of shopping multiple projects via her production company, Baby Hair Productions, and working with partners including Gatorade, Goli and Sabra.
“Candace Parker is a cultural icon and professional athlete who dominates in whatever she does—on or off the court,” says Ralph Santana, chief marketing officer at JBL parent company Harman International. “She’s a respected idol who inspires young women and aspiring athletes everywhere to break boundaries. We are proud to have Candace as an ambassador and member of Team JBL, embodying everything our brand represents from sports to culture and beyond.”
“We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Candace since she was the Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year, and from that time up to today, she’s been aspirational, winning at every level, inspiring teammates and fans, and redefining what it means to be an athlete,” says Jeff Kearney, global head of sports marketing at Gatorade. “She leaves an impact and raises the bar with everything she touches on or off the court, as her character is as world class as her game. It’s why all sports fans recognize her, not just those who follow basketball, and why brands like Gatorade love both fueling her and learning from her.”
Legacy, Legacy, Legacy, Legacy
Basketball fans are guaranteed to have at least one more season of watching Parker play. After becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2021, Parker signed a two-year contract with her hometown Sky where she wasted little time making an impact by helping guide the franchise to its first-ever WNBA title.
September 16 was declared Candace Parker Day in the City of Chicago. Parker was honored as grand marshal of the homecoming parade at Tennessee on November 13.
But Parker will be 36 years old ahead of the 2022 WNBA season. While she plays in Chicago, her daughter Lailaa goes to school back in Los Angeles where they live full-time. Parker knows her schedule doesn’t allow her to be there for her daughter all the time and “it honestly tears my heart out. Thankfully, friends and family help bridge the gap when necessary, like showing up with balloons to celebrate Lailaa recently being named student of the month where Parker was able to join the celebration via FaceTime.
Parker does her best to expose her daughter to as many experiences and opportunities as she can—including investing in new NWSL club Angel City FC—while reiterating that nothing trumps hard work.
“As much as she can be a part of, I want her to be a part of, and I want her to have the upper hand, but I also want to show her you are going to work hard as well,” Parker says. “I want her to understand that but just as much the benefit of her seeing me get on a plane and fly to work, come back and work out to prepare for a season that starts in six months. I think that’s just as valuable as setting her up with these opportunities. I really want to mix and match and show her as much as I can.”
What Parker showed her daughter and the rest of the world is that there’s no slowing down anytime soon.
After hoisting the WNBA championship on October 17 and celebrating during the ensuing parade and rally in the streets of Chicago two days later, Parker, who was recently honored on the WNBA’s “The W25” list of greatest and most influential players, jumped back into the studio as an analyst for NBA on TNT.
“Personally, obviously I’m a mom first, that’s my No. 1 job,” she says. “But I want people to know that they can be versatile—you can have a career, you can have a family, and you can still dream.”