Basketball Legend Candace Parker Won't Accept Limits

“It’s gotten me in trouble a lot, but at the same time I think it’s started conversations that need to be had.”

Candace Parker
Photo: Getty Images

Since her initial draft to the WNBA as the number one pick in 2008, basketball legend Candace Parker, 35, has been moving the needle for women in sports. As The Associated Press' Female Athlete of the Year (for a second time) in 2021, she has become one of the most recognizable figures in the sports world and isn't afraid to use her platform, often rallying for things like maternity benefits and equal pay. In fact, she just released a TED Talk about how to break down barriers and not accept limits and is developing a documentary about the impact of Title IX through her production company, Baby Hair Productions.

The Olympian, Allstar, broadcaster, and mom also recently made headlines for some exciting personal news. At the end of last year, Parker came out on Instagram by revealing that she had been married for two years to fellow basketball player Anna Petrakova, and the couple has a baby on the way.

We sat down with Parker — who had just won her second WNBA championship in her first season with the Chicago Sky — for our February Badass Women issue to talk all things badass.

What went into your decision to return to Chicago to play and how did it feel to bring your hometown its first WNBA championship?

It was a tough decision to go back to where I grew up. Los Angeles had become home and still is home. I'd been in LA for 13 or 14 years [after starting her career there with the Los Angeles Sparks]. It was a difficult decision, but I wanted to go back to where I started playing basketball and be near my family, friends, and the familiarity of it all. That was the selling point.

What was going through your mind in the final moments of that championship game?

It's unbelievable because I think our team did such a great job of just focusing on the next quarter, the next game, the next series. We didn't really stop and take it in. We were never ahead of ourselves. In that moment when I realized we really just won a championship, it was unbelievable. To do it with people who watched me first pick up the ball with Naperville Central [High School], it was an amazing feeling.

You're also the first WNBA player to appear on a 2K video game. What impact do you hope that has on young girls, and maybe even more importantly boys, who play and what was getting that offer like for you?

The moment was extremely special because I grew up playing video games, even though my controller was unplugged as my brothers would play and I would think I was playing (laughs). But that's what you dream of as a young hooper – having your own sneaker and being on the cover of a video game [Parker has her own sneaker line as well]. To be honest with you, it was an amazing experience and I'm so proud to be the first, but I hope that there are so many more that follow. I hope that this opens up the door to so many other athletes that should be on the cover of video games.

Candace Parker

I think my badass quality is I'll say the stuff that other people think but don't want to say...It's gotten me in trouble a lot, but at the same time I think it's started conversations that need to be had.

—Candace Parker

How would you define the term badass and what do you think is your most badass quality?

You're an individual. You aren't afraid and ashamed to be yourself. I think my badass quality is I'll say the stuff that other people think but don't want to say (laughs). Everybody thinks it and I see it on their face with a smirk when I say it, but I'm that person that asks the question. It's gotten me in trouble a lot, but at the same time I think it's started conversations that need to be had.

What would you say is the most badass thing you've ever done?

Winning an Olympic gold medal and winning MVP in the same season while I was pregnant with my daughter is pretty badass. I tell [my daughter] Layla all the time that before she was born, she had an Olympic gold medal. I think that's pretty cool.

That is definitely badass. What women do you look up to?

I am fortunate enough to be friends with Allyson Felix. I've had a parallel path with her as we've embarked on our careers. We've known each other since we were 15 or 16 years old. It's great to see how we have become ourselves through all of this and how we've grown and matured. Allyson is someone I tremendously look up to and respect and I'm so happy that Layla has her as a role model.

You've already accomplished a lot of dream goals. Looking ahead, what are you ambitious for?

Using my voice for women in sports. But it's so much bigger than just women in sports, to be honest with you. It's about women learning the qualities that are necessary to do well after their playing careers, through business and in life. I'm ambitious to continue to uplift young girls through sports and to continue to teach values that will help them in the workforce later on in life. Boardrooms are operated like a locker room. It's a team sport.

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