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Candace Parker is the Queen of the Court. The 2021 playoffs were her coronation. And nearly two decades after the Naperville, Ill. native made a name for herself, her family and her Chicago suburb, she successfully brought a WNBA championship home in her first year with the Sky.
That chip, the Sky’s first in its 15-year history, if nothing else before, has cemented Parker as the Hall of Famer we all know she will be one day. Chicago should consider itself lucky that such royalty was bred in its streets, but it foretold long before she left the Windy City that she would become the most decorated basketball player in history.
At Naperville Central High School, she emerged an Illinois standout. She was named a Gatorade Illinois State Player of the Year by her sophomore year of high school, then was awarded the honor again the next two years in 2003 and 2004. Those last two years, she’d also been named the Naismith, Gatorade and USA Today National Prep Player of the Year. She also won the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk contest in 2004, as well.
“Chicago is the mecca of just grassroots high school basketball,” Parker told Sports Illustrated in September in an interview about the McDonald’s All-American game returning to Chicago. “There’s nothing like coming from here and just being around the Chicagoland area. ... The amount of support and the amount of fans that really tune into high school hoops makes it so nostalgic to be from here. This city has the type of fans who will follow you throughout your entire career.”
She then rose to collegiate fame at Tennessee, where she became the fastest Tennessee player to reach 1,000 points, led the team to back to back NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008 and was awarded back to back Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards those two years. Aside from her other mind blowing collegiate highlights, which included being the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game, she earned her spot as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 by the Los Angeles Sparks. And of course, she dominated there as well.
Parker was the first player ever to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, the second-ever player to dunk in a regular season game (which she did twice) and helped the Sparks to 11 straight playoff appearances despite missing significant time after the birth of her daughter, Lailaa, and injuring her shoulder and knee in the early years of her WNBA career. She also brought a championship back to the Sparks in 2016, the team’s first since 2002 and was rightfully awarded Finals MVP.
Before she left Los Angeles, she became a five-time All-Star, won All-Star Game MVP and another WNBA MVP (2013), a Defensive Player of the Year award (2020), six All-WNBA First Team, three All-WNBA Second Team and two All-Defensive Second Team honors, an ESPY for Best Female Athlete (2017) and two Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2016). She was already one of the most decorated basketball players by the time she stepped foot back in Chicago. All that was left was to ball out like she’s done since high school.
Oh did she.
The Sky entered these playoffs as the No. 6 seed and Parker struggled with ankle issues almost all season. Parker dropped a double-double with 11 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in the Sky’s first-round single elimination win over the Dallas Wings. They went on to upset the No. 3 seed Minnesota Lynx in their single elimination round two game. Parker helped them get rid of the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun in their best-of-five semifinal matchup — she averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and almost two blocks per game.
In the championship winning game against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, in which the Sky came out with a 80-74 victory, Parker put up a 16-point, 13-rebound, five-assist, four-steal, one-block performance.
The final buzzer hadn’t even sounded before the tears started to well up in Parker’s eyes.
And once it did ring, she sprinted head long for her family sitting courtside.
“It’s amazing. Look at this,” Parker said after the game looking up at the celebrating Chicago fans. “My high school coach is here, I know [former Tennessee head coach Pat Summit] is watching. I got the whole city here. We got the whole city here and it’s just amazing how Chicago supports. I mean we’re champions for life now.”
Yes, Candace Parker, the Candace Parker included her Chicago in her long list of accolades. The Candace Parker, “Ace” as she’s also been called, has taken her rightful seat on the throne of basketball’s all-time legends.