Candace Parker had simply recorded her W.N.B.A.-leading 10th double-double of the season, with 19 issues and 10 rebounds in her ultimate sport prior to the playoffs.
However it didn’t faze her. For Parker, a two-time most beneficial participant taking a look to win her 2nd league name, it’s by no means what she has finished that issues. It’s what comes subsequent.
“I think just like the season’s simply starting,” mentioned Parker, the 34-year-old Los Angeles Sparks big name. “The common season is superb, however that’s now not what you play for.”
That ultimate sport, a loss to the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces, left the Sparks with the 3rd seed within the playoffs and a first-round bye — much-needed relaxation from the wear and tear and tear of enjoying a condensed season within the league’s bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“I feel total we were given higher, particularly with the placement — everybody was once in the similar bubble, enjoying video games each different night time,” Parker mentioned. “My handiest want is to be wholesome going into the postseason, and that’s the case.”
Those subsequent video games, beginning with Thursday night time’s single-elimination sport towards the Connecticut Solar, are, as Parker alluded to, what you play for. Her teammates can sense it; Parker, Sparks guard Sydney Wiese mentioned, is “on a venture” this 12 months.
“Candace is all the time Candace, however you need to inform a special degree of depth and focal point from the minute that we were given to this bubble,” Wiese mentioned.
“We cross as she is going,” Wiese added, “and he or she feels that, she senses that. Her aggressive power, her want to win, it trickles right down to the remainder of us. She’s in reality set the tone for us because the starting of the season.”
Parker mentioned the monthslong quarantine prior to the W.N.B.A. season helped her to be at her best possible when it all started. Reminiscences of a coarse 2019 that noticed her combat accidents, and a rocky finish to the playoffs that ended with a sweep via the Solar, additionally served as motivation.
“There was once not anything however time, and I used it in a favorable approach,” she mentioned. “I used to be in a position to make appointments I had to cross to care for my frame and raise 4 or 5 instances per week, do aerobic and simply come into the season in a position.”
“I do know you’ll’t in reality lend a hand being injured ultimate 12 months and being out and in — it simply didn’t sit down smartly with me ultimate 12 months,” she added. “So I simply roughly put that power towards doing one thing extra.”
Reinvigorated, Parker led the league in rebounding (nine.7 according to sport) and on Tuesday was once named the league’s defensive participant of the 12 months via The Related Press. The award got here greater than a decade after she become the one participant in W.N.B.A. historical past to win the M.V.P. and the Rookie of the 12 months Awards in the similar season (2008).
“Her dedication to this season has been a perfect catalyst for the luck we’ve been in a position to have thus far,” Sparks Trainer Derek Fisher mentioned. “When a participant of her caliber and enjoy presentations up in nice form, wholesome and engaged below tough cases, it units an instance for others of their day-to-day method.”
Parker’s versatility — combining her dimension and duration with uncommonly excellent ball-handling, passing and perimeter capturing — makes her distinctive, Fisher mentioned.
“This units her with the exception of different traditionally nice skilled girls’s gamers,” Fisher mentioned. “The truth that she is at this level in her profession, functioning at this degree, says so much about how she nonetheless loves the sport and has interest for it.”
This season, Parker has served as one thing like an additional trainer, mentioned the Sparks rookie guard Te’a Cooper. “She is helping everybody,” Cooper mentioned. “She’s speaking, she’s giving the whole lot she’s were given at the flooring. She’s rebounding, helping issues, she’s doing the whole lot.”
Brian Agler, who coached Parker for 4 years in Los Angeles, together with the workforce’s 2016 championship season, mentioned Parker was once “simply within the peak 5 of probably the most professional gamers to ever play within the W.N.B.A.”
“She has her critics, she has her detractors, however one this proficient and achieved will all the time have that,” mentioned Agler, who now coaches the Dallas Wings. “It’s a badge of honor!”
Sparks guard Chelsea Grey, one in every of Parker’s closest pals, has been calling Parker “12 months 13” to problem her to proceed excelling in her 13th season.
“There’s all the time that announcing of you wish to have to go away the sport higher than you discovered it, and I feel she’s finished that with how she performs the sport,” Grey mentioned.
Even with up to she’s doing for the Sparks, Parker is doing extra off the courtroom.
Parker additionally works as a basketball analyst on TNT and enjoys her favourite function — mother to 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, who’s within the bubble together with her. They play board video games, watch TV and paint — what they might be doing at house in Los Angeles, Parker mentioned, “minus the L.A. visitors.”
“I feel every now and then I’m a bit bit beaten with discovering time to do stuff with paintings and tv and being a mother, however I don’t take with no consideration I am getting to do what I really like on a daily basis,” Parker mentioned.
Parker works to stability her time however mentioned she every now and then feels “guilt as a result of I’m now not in a position to be at the whole lot, do the whole lot.” Her “circle of relatives and village” step in.
“I had Lailaa my 2nd 12 months within the league, so truthfully it’s been me and her my complete profession. I will be able to’t take note lifestyles prior to her. We grew up in combination. She has the best sure angle; I’m so fortunate to be her mother so it’s now not a problem together with her.”
Parker mentioned her standpoint on lifestyles has modified, too. Possibly it was once the dying of her liked mentor and school trainer Pat Summitt in 2016. Or the unexpected dying of Kobe Bryant, who was once killed in a helicopter crash previous this 12 months.
“Other folks assume there’s all the time time to recover and feature expansion and do issues the suitable approach, however every now and then there’s now not,” she mentioned. “On the finish of the day you must you need to be the most productive model of your self now.
“And truthfully I need to go away one thing in the back of. Legacy is one thing other folks discuss when it’s all mentioned and finished, however legacy is created within the second, within the provide and you were given to begin setting up yours now.”
Parker mentioned Bryant’s post-retirement lifestyles — which confirmed him being an energetic father, basketball trainer and motivator — represented “the evolution of what you hope to look in people.
“He was once turning into the most productive model of himself. It was once all the time about his circle of relatives, all the time about his youngsters. He was once nice, however he was once a dad and that’s what I feel tears everyone aside.”
The dying of Summitt, the mythical Tennessee girls’s trainer, was once tough in numerous tactics. “Pat was once so influential in my lifestyles,” Parker mentioned. It bothers her, she mentioned, that Summitt “isn’t in a position to look and be part of a lot of these recollections that we’re making at the moment.
“I listen her voice so much, extra so off the courtroom, simply within the evolution of who I’m as a human being.”
Parker mentioned she doesn’t know the way for much longer she’ll play.
“I simply know when the time comes and I’m really not myself — it’s now not amusing for me not to be the most productive model of myself — that’s it,” she mentioned. “I don’t need to cheat the sport of basketball that’s given me such a lot, so when it’s my time to head out, I’m going to just do that.
“I’m going to understand. I’m going to get up someday and that’s going to be it,” she mentioned, including. “For now, I’m centered at the provide day.”