Candace Parker of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks is one of basketball’s brightest and most decorated stars. A former league MVP, we caught up with Parker early in 2016, as she was promoting the Capital One Cup for her alma mater, the University of Tennessee, while also preparing for this current WNBA season. The Cup itself is an award which recognizes the best men’s and women’s Division I athletic program in the country, giving a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships. The Tennessee Lady Vols had two top-20 overall finishes in the award’s five-year history at the time that we spoke with Parker, so she was pulling hard for Tennessee and Capital One to mutually finish the season in winning fashion, as is the usual Lady Vols’ tradition.
Always one to support her school, Parker opined on former coaching legend Pat Summitt (not long before her college coach’s passing), how she and her NBA veteran brother, Anthony Parker, might fare in a game of H-O-R-S-E against fellow NBA siblings, Warriors guard Stephen Curry, and recent Dallas Mavericks signee Seth Curry. She even talked about her favorite adidas sneakers to wear (paying homage to her sportswear sponsor).
DIME: So, the Capital One Cup is all about helping universities, universities like Tennessee, from which you graduated. For other female athletes looking to complete their education, what would the $200,000 mean to them if they were able to win the Capital One Cup?
Candace Parker: It would really help a lot. Capital One does a good job of creating a lot of energy and bragging rights around who wins and making it competitive – I mean, it’s meant for all the sports, it’s not just, you know, a couple, and you can win points for winning national championships and things like that. It would’ve been a lot (of money) to me (when I was a college student), so I can only imagine what it would mean to athletes now.
How does it feel to be back in the college atmosphere since you’ve been promoting the Capital One Cup?
Well, I went back to Tennessee recently, and it just means a lot to be able to go back to what it was like playing in college, and obviously, being in college is some of the best years of your life, and to be able to compete for your university, and you know, there’s a lot that goes into college, I mean, you have those fans, and I kind of don’t think you understand that bond until you’re kind of removed from the college, and you kind of understand that, ‘I cheer for Tennessee so matter what (laughs), and I can be years and years removed, but Tennessee will always be who I root for and who I follow.
You’ve done a lot of great things over the course of your career in hoops, particularly between high school in Naperville (a Chicago suburb), Tennessee, and in Los Angeles with the WNBA’s Sparks. And you’ve won everywhere you’ve been, so what do you miss about college, and being a Lady Volunteer?
I miss people being your age, and the Saturdays – the football Saturdays – and the Sundays when you would play. Just everybody, how into Tennessee (the city of) Knoxville is. It’s definitely a college town, and people’s lives revolve around how the Lady Vols do, and how our football team is, and how our men’s basketball team is, so I think the amount of support that you have from the university and from the fans that are a part of Tennessee.
Do you still keep in contact with Pat Summitt, and if so, how is she doing?
Yes, I do keep in contact, I check up on her, and it was tough for the university when somebody of Pat Summitt’s influence becomes sick, but I think she’s handled it with so much class and grace, and it really demonstrates that she didn’t (just talk) all that talk throughout her career, she actually walks the walk and does what she says, and I think that that’s something that’s commendable, and it merits a lot of respect from everybody. She was the face of women’s basketball, and (it shows) in how she’s handled success and how she’s handled some obstacles as well.
Will we see you back next year in the WNBA? I know that you took a road less traveled when you took a leave to get your mind and body right. How are you approaching the upcoming season you have in the WNBA as it corresponds to keeping your body fresh?
Well, last year was a little different. I was coming off of a long season (overseas), and you know, it was a difficult time, because my body had been going six years straight and I had had some injuries and I needed to spend time with my family. So this (recent) basketball season, I didn’t go overseas for the full amount of time, and I decided to take my time and ease my way back in, and now I’m looking forward to playing in this WNBA season.
A lot of girls and women look up to you, and being the superstar that you are, surely they want to know how you prepare. What’s some training and life advice that you can give to get better at hoops?
Well, I was always taught growing up that – my dad was like, ‘If you’re passionate and you’re great at something, you’ll be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave.’ I still hear that and I still want to do that.
I think as I’ve gotten older, I realized how important it is that you get out of something what you put into it, and I was passionate and still am passionate about basketball. So I feel really lucky that I found something that I really love and care about because not all people are passionate about what they do. I get to play basketball for a living, so it’s something I don’t take for granted.
Many may not know that your brother, Anthony Parker, is a former NBA first-round pick (by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1997) and retired as a veteran of the NBA and overseas leagues. Over the course of your lifetime and career, did he help you prepare, and if so, what has he done to help you in maintaining your status as one of the most talented players in the world?
Well, I think he laid the blueprint.
Everything I wanted to do, I wanted to do because of him. He was such a great role model in the way that he handled things on the court and off the court, and his work ethic, his balance, his ability to adapt to a lot of different things, and I was lucky as his little sister to watch him. I think my wanting to become a professional basketball player came and was sparked by him. He was drafted when I was in the sixth grade, so that’s kind of the only path that I thought of: I play basketball, I work hard, and I go to the NBA (laughs).
Speaking of professional siblings in the NBA, who do you think would win a game of H-O-R-S-E easier – you and Anthony, or Steph and Seth Curry?
(Laughter) Well, I don’t know if they can handle me down low, so I would say me and Anthony.
You’re an adidas woman, and have been so for some time. I don’t know if you’re a sneakerhead or not, but what’s your favorite shoe to play in?
My favorite shoe to play in…ummm…let’s see, I’m gonna go old-school. I had the adidas Ace Commanders that came out and those were one of my favorite pairs of shoes, as well as…I really like the adidas Crazy Light 2s – those are probably my all-time favorite shoe that I wore.
And are you a fan of the Yeezy Boost and the Ultra Boost running shoe?
Yes, I do (laughs), I do, (the Ultra Boosts) are very comfortable to work out in.