Candace Parker on why she returned to the Chicago Sky, and the value of telling her own story

If she’s honest – something Candace Parker is making a point of doing these days – there were many moments after the Chicago Sky (at Washington Mystics, Sunday, 3pm ET, ABC) last fall won the WNBA Championship won when she thought of retiring.

Parker’s wife, Anya Petrakova Parker, was pregnant with her first child together. Although Parker’s body still passed the test she had set for herself as a condition of playing through – “‘Can I still play with my kids?’ – she had just completed one of her greatest athletic achievements in leading her hometown. team to the first championship ever.

If there was a moment to ride in the sun, it was this.

But every time Parker weighed the pros and cons, she kept coming back to one thing:

“I just appreciate happiness,” she said in a broad interview with ESPN. “I really do.”

And the life she and Anya had built for themselves over the past five years, the choices they made to come at this exact moment, had made them happier than they had ever been. So why not enjoy something longer?

Bask in there.

Then build from there.

Parker’s legacy in the game was secured after a second WNBA title, to go along with two NCAA titles and two Olympic gold medals. Her career as a broadcaster for TNT went on. She had never been hotter than a businesswoman or a spokeswoman.

This was the time to command the stage and see how far her voice is now carried, not to go out.

For too long in her life, Parker had tried to do what the world expected Candace Parker to do. But over time, something wonderful happened. The more Parker chose herself and the things that made her happy, the more the world seemed to like her.

But before committing to another season and once again bending into the spotlight, she made sure to think for a moment about what she wanted to say.

“In those moments, I really reflected on the journey – those moments where it was bad,” Parker said. “The rehabs and doctor appointments where the news just kept getting worse [Parker has dealt with knee, shoulder and ankle injuries during her 15-year WNBA career]Then after the season going abroad, not spending time with my family … I remember the divorce [from her husband, Shelden Williams] and go through it all in terms of being public.

“But that all leads to this … that just makes it so much sweeter.”

That journey had been difficult, but it had also shaped her to who she was now. How much time and energy had she wasted trying to live up to an ideal she never once wanted and never fulfilled? Where did that come from? Wounded, unhappy, missing home and her family.

And so after the 2021 season, when she and Petrakova prepared for the birth of their son Airr Larry Parker Petrakova, it was time to leave the world in their relationship and how happy it had made her.

Op Dec. On 14 2021, Parker publicly wished his wife a happy second wedding anniversary and shared with the world that her family was growing.

“To know me or you is to know our love,” Parker wrote in an Instagram post. “This journey has not been easy. I am proud of us and what we have built and who we have grown to become both individual and together.”

It was the first public recognition of their relationship. Those close to Parker and Petrakova had long known that they had been together since they met while playing together in a team in Russia, but to the general public it was a great revelation.

“I feel like everyone who knew me, knew them and the people who did not know that do not really know us,” Parker said. “I do not remember telling many people, ‘I have a girlfriend.’ It was just like, ‘Hey, this is Anya’ and people would eventually figure it out.

It’s hard for Parker to say whether she would have ended up in public if a child was not on the road.

“I do not know. I just never felt you had to come out,” Parker said.

But when Petrakova became pregnant, they knew it was time. “There are so many people who do not have the best of intentions and you worry about it because this is our story to tell,” Parker said. “This is not from anyone else. That I’m so grateful it could be told by us.”

No one knew what the answer would be. Petrakova said she was most concerned about how the news would be received in her native Russia, which has adopted a number of discriminatory laws for “homopropaganda” in recent decades.

“I was nervous, to be honest,” Petrakova said. “I did not know if there would be any consequences for the government if my Instagram was shut down. [LGBTQ+ rights are] a very easy subject in Russia. So I wanted to wait until I got my green card. “

As it turned out, the care was misplaced.

“Since then, I have felt so liberated,” she said. “I have not been much behind, even from the Russians. Many of my friends DM me and tell me that they are so proud of me and I am so brave. They would be scared to death, but now they are” re brave because of me.

“But mostly I just love the fact that I’m Candace’s wife. I’m not just Anya anymore.”

In many ways, Petrakova said, it’s like they’re back in the newlyweds stage.

“She told me the other day, ‘I was with these investors and was like,’ Me and my wife … I just love to say me and my wife! ‘” Petrakova said. “So it’s fun to see it for herself too. She’s probably her most authentic self right now. She likes to almost brag about us … ‘Me and my son and daughter and my wife.'”

Parker said she was also surprised by how good it felt to be public.

“Honestly, Anya is like my favorite person,” Parker said. “I think to everyone I may seem like this bold and self-confident person. But with them I may be that vulnerable person. I think that vulnerability made me make these choices because I was not afraid of them. I think was not afraid of being vulnerable. I was not afraid of people not liking me, I was not afraid of people saying mean things. I’m now laughing at such things. of things, as long as it’s best for me and my family. “

Parker’s main concern before making a final decision to play this season – which she admitted could also be her last – was rooted in such family considerations. It was difficult to move from her home in Los Angeles to play in Chicago last year. Her 13-year-old daughter, Lailaa, stayed in LA for most of the season, and Parker had never been separated from her for so long. And in a few months, Parker and Petrakova would have a newborn.

Petrakova assured her that all would be well.

“For me, it was a kind of adventure,” Petrakova said. “We’re both used to traveling and constantly changing teams. That’s the lifestyle we’ve been living our whole lives.”

Then Parker spoke with her daughter, who encouraged her to return another year.

“She was like, ‘Lai, what do you think?’ Do you think I should go? Or do you think I should stay and be with you? ‘”Said Petrakova.” And Lailaa said:’ No, mother, I want you to play. I want to come to games and I want to come to Chicago. I think you have to play. ‘”

With the blessings of her wife and daughter, Parker took one last look at her own feelings.

Everything about returning for another season felt like honoring the person she had become over the long journey she had been on. She not only chose to play through, she chose to remain that person.

“It’s as powerful as you can live,” she said.

A few months later, when Parker was sitting down to write a TED talk, she turned to Jan. 14, 2022, which was one of the main points she wanted to address.

All her life she would be despised in boxes assigned by others.

“Barrier-breaking is about not staying in your job and not being something the world expects of you,” Parker said in her TED interview. “It’s about not accepting restrictions.”

People would see and build her height and ask if she was a basketball player, and reluctantly she would admit she was.

“But from within, I rage I am so much moresaid Parker.

Finally, Parker explained in the 11-minute speech, she realized she was the one who needed to change.

“I realized I was the one who always put basketball in a box,” she said.

Why could not a basketball player thrive in business while still playing? Or as a broadcaster? Or produce a Title IX documentaryOr take her family to Chicago so she could continue playing the game she loved?

Parker had done all these things the past few years without judging herself for it, so why would anyone else?

“Everyone needs mentors, so I just started asking a lot of questions, looking at meetings, seeing things,” she said. “As a vet, when a rookie comes in and is instructive and asks questions and things like that, you’re not angry at her. You want to help her even more. So I’m a rookie in this game, so I have to do just that. “

When she was at the Los Angeles Sparks, she spoke to CEO and Managing Partner Eric Holoman with questions about how he had helped Magic Johnson build his business portfolio. Parker worked closely with her business manager Gary Scharf and agents at WME to plan their broadcasting and production careers.

She talks to broadcasters including Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts as often as they could make time for them, and would follow her advice closely.

“They literally take time, all the time, to reach out to make sure I’m good, to ask questions to be a sounding board,” she said. “The biggest thing [Michael] told me he said he woke up on Monday after Sunday games, when many of his boys took days off and did nothing and he did a radio show.

“So it’s inspired me to get my ass up and do things like that. I mean, I was not completely with Turner when I started. I did things with Kevin Garnett on his Area 21. [segments for TNT’s Inside the NBA] and then it became, ‘Can you fill in on NBA TV? Can you do [the NBA TV segment] “Only players?” Then it escalated. That’s what set the stage for life after basketball and the preparation at the moment. “

It’s tempting, when someone is in a moment like Parker is now, to keep it as long as possible. To hold it tight, sentimental, as if it will pass and never become so good again.

But Parker did not come here laden with that kind of fear. She came because she encountered them on the way and continued.

“I appreciate all the choices I’ve made and the journey I’ve been on,” she said. “All the hard parts. Because I know it has helped me to be a better mom, a better spouse, a better person and player. It’s so important to appreciate these things.”

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