For some WNBA players, a strictly quarantined season, a global pandemic and social unrest were reasons to pass. For Candace Parker, those were reasons to play.
"Basketball has been something that I've always leaned on my entire career, my entire life, really, when things aren't going well," Parker said Tuesday from the WNBA's bubble location in Bradenton, Fla. "I look to that for joy. And as much anticipation and hesitation that there has been going into this season, when we got here, we stepped on the floor. I mean, I was smiling the entire time."
Entering her 13th season, the Sparks star forward hopes to add to her already impressive resume by helping her team overcome a season with unprecedented circumstances. Parker said the team that conquers the shortened regular season and traditional playoff format while combating a global pandemic and quarantining at IMG Academy deserves an exclamation point instead of an asterisk with their championship trophy.
"I really like a challenge," Parker said. "And I know there's a lot of challenges going forth in this season."
The two-time MVP missed 12 games last season because of hamstring and ankle injuries, and averaged a career-low 11.2 points. But even without a traditional offseason, Parker looks healthier, physically and mentally, coach Derek Fisher said.
"She's in a much better place than she was at this point in training camp last year," Fisher said. "So in terms of what we expect from her, I think she's going to have a phenomenal season."
The Sparks need that from the five-time All-Star as the team hopes to bounce back from getting swept in the semifinals last year. They reloaded in free agency, addressing a need for a second point guard by signing Kristi Toliver from the Washington Mystics, but can't reap the benefits of the move yet as Toliver opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns. Without Toliver and forward Chiney Ogwumike, who also opted out, Parker's leadership becomes even more necessary.
"So many of our players, whether veteran or young players, still look to Candace as an anchor of who we are," Fisher said. "So when she's going good and she's in a good place, it makes our team much, much better."
Being limited in the WNBA bubble helps Parker in some ways, she said. She avoids hour-long commutes that put stress on her back. She doesn't have to recover from cramped commercial flights. She can have "tunnel vision" in her basketball goals.
Some circumstances stay the same: Parker's daughter Lailaa is at the IMG Academy campus, too. The league allows players to take their children into the bubble and have a caretaker to help.
The 11-year-old has been looking forward to this season since December, telling her mother she couldn't wait to return to Staples Center to watch games. Parker said they used to be lucky if Lailaa could stand watching two quarters without her iPad. Now, the sixth-grader loves the game. When she plays "NBA 2K," she plays as the Sparks.
"It's really fun when you're able to share your passion with your kids and for her to be old enough now to really, really remember," Parker said, grinning. "And now it's my responsibility — she's watching everything I do."
Parker hopes that by the end of the season, Lailaa will see her mother with a championship trophy in hand.
©2020 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):