NEW YORK (Reuters) – Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, two-time WNBA MVP, said she is in the best shape in years and ready to start a new season of the women’s basketball league that she believes can lead the U.S. sports world into a new era of social activism.
“We are the majority of the minority – we’re a league that’s 80% African-American women, women of color… different ethnicities, (we) tackle sexual orientation – like, we literally check every box,” Parker, who also has two Olympic gold medals, said in an interview as she prepared for her 13th professional season.
“We’re speaking from a platform of understanding as well as being representative of what everybody is trying to achieve,” said Parker, who travels to Florida this week to participate in a WNBA season unlike any other: Without fans and with all games played at a Bradenton, Florida, “bubble” to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
The WNBA also has pledged to dedicate this season to social justice, and its players have been among the most visible racial justice activists in the United States after the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Parker recently appeared at a Women’s Sports Foundation livestream event discussing girls of color and Title IX, a U.S. federal law barring sex discrimination that provided a tremendous boost for women’s sports.
The 34-year-old, who grew up idolizing the WNBA’s now-defunct Houston Comets, has watched the landscape shift for women in sports.
“The Houston Comets were really – other than the (1996) Atlanta Olympics – my first experience with following a women’s sports team,” said Parker, the first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft. She has played her entire career with the Sparks.
“To now see that that’s a normal thing for my child and my nieces and nephews – it really says a lot to how far women’s sports have come but also how far we have to go.”
She is eager to shred up the court after months away from competition, time spent focused on cardio and weights. She said her personal fitness is the best it has been in six years.
“I haven’t really touched the ball but at this point it’s kind of more so taking care of my body and making sure I’m right,” said Parker, who hopes for another WNBA crown before she hangs up her sneakers.
“You win a championship once and there’s a lot of ‘coulda, woulda, shouldas’ – you know this could have gone this way and you might not be a champion. But if you do it twice,” said Parker, “Nobody really can say anything.”
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by David Gregorio)