‘It’s time’: Women’s basketball icon Parker retires

All-time women’s basketball great Candace Parker announced her retirement on social media Sunday, marking the end of a career for one of the sport’s best players and, for nearly two decades, one of the faces of the game.

“I promised I’d never cheat the game & that I’d leave it in a better place than I came into it,” Parker posted to Instagram. “The competitor in me always wants 1 more, but it’s time. My HEART & body knew, but I needed to give my mind time to accept it.”

Parker, 38, dealt with a left foot injury during the 2023 season — her first with the Las Vegas Aces — before ultimately being sidelined for the rest of the campaign and undergoing surgery. The final game of her Hall of Fame career was July 7.

Parker, who had initially re-signed with the Aces on Feb. 7 to a one-year deal, said in her Instagram post Sunday that her foot “isn’t cooperating.”

“It’s no fun playing in pain (10 surgeries in my career) it’s no fun knowing what you could do, if only…it’s no fun hearing ‘she isn’t the same’ when I know why, it’s no fun accepting the fact you need surgery AGAIN,” Parker posted.

Parker, 38, is one of the game’s most decorated athletes, having won NCAA titles at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008 before being selected No. 1 in the 2008 WNBA draft. She won championships with the Los Angeles Sparks (2016, Finals MVP), her hometown Chicago Sky (2021) and the Aces (2023) — becoming the first player in league history to clinch titles with three different franchises.

She was also a two-time league MVP (2008, 2013), a 10-time All-WNBA selection, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year (2020) and a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2008, 2012).

“There’s only one Candace Parker. One of one,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “There’s not very many people that can say they’re the first, but I would say that she’s the first who just threw off the labels as a basketball player and was just a baller.”

Parker played 13 of her 16 WNBA seasons with the Sparks before the player out of Naperville, Illinois, signed with Chicago ahead of the 2021 season — a seismic move at the time in a league that had generally experienced little free agency movement. After two seasons with the Sky, Parker signed with the Aces.

“Although the majority of her career was played in opposing uniforms, we were blessed to have her as part of our championship team a year ago,” the Aces said in a statement. “We are saddened that she won’t be a part of our three-peat aspirations, but we look forward to welcoming Candace back to Las Vegas as an Aces alum, and we can’t wait to see what the next chapter in her life has to offer.”

Parker made her impact on the league from the get-go with the Sparks, and she is still the first and only player to be named WNBA MVP as a rookie. Despite dealing with various injuries, she secured a second MVP in 2013 and won all three of her WNBA titles in her final eight seasons in the league.

“We are deeply grateful for the remarkable contributions Candace Parker has made to the Los Angeles Sparks and to the sport of basketball as a whole,” team governor Eric Holoman said in a statement. “She will forever be enshrined in Sparks history — from her standout MVP and Rookie of the Year season, to leading us to a 2016 WNBA Championship, and the way she’s revolutionized the game. Her impact in the community and ability to inspire will always be felt here in LA. Through my many conversations with her about life after basketball, I am certain that she’ll be just as successful in the boardroom.”

Parker might have been one of the best scorers in league history — her five seasons averaging more than 20 points per game are tied for second all time — but her versatility as a forward with guard skills was the true trademark of her game.

She finishes her WNBA career with 6,574 points (16.0 per game), 3,467 rebounds (8.5 per game), 1,634 assists (4.0 per game) and 619 blocks (1.5 per game) in 410 regular-season games — the only player in league history to rank top 10 in all of those categories.

Tamika Catchings, Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner are the only other WNBA players to amass 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. Only Sylvia Fowles and Lisa Leslie joined Parker in the 6,000 points-3,000 rebounds-500 blocks club.

Earlier in her career, Parker became the first WNBA player with multiple career triple-doubles and the first to dunk multiple times in the regular season.

“The dunks. The dimes. The boards. The blocks. The smile. The swagger. The memories Candace Parker created for a generation of women’s basketball fans will remain ingrained in our collective conscience forever, but she has given so much more to the game beyond her accolades and statistics,” the Aces’ statement said. “As a teammate and mentor, a mother and wife, a baller, broadcaster, and businesswoman, she has inspired countless young people, both boys and girls, to chase and achieve their dreams.”

Her fame began in high school, where she was the first girl to win the McDonald’s High School All American Dunk Contest. Her commitment to Tennessee was the first on ESPNews by a women’s player. After redshirting her freshman season because of a knee injury, Parker was a two-time Wooden Award winner and propelled the Lady Volunteers to back-to-back national titles — the program’s final championships under the late Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt.

“I’m grateful that for 16 years I PLAYED A GAME for a living & DESPITE all the injuries, I hooped,” Parker posted. “I’m grateful for family, friends, teammates, coaches, doctors, trainers & fans who made this journey so special.”

For decades, Parker’s popularity has transcended beyond the court, from signing endorsements with Adidas and Gatorade fresh out of college, to producing a documentary on Title IX, to joining the ownership group for the NWSL’s Angel City FC, to becoming a well-respected NBA analyst for TNT and NBA TV.

Parker wrote in her retirement announcement that although her playing days may be done, “this is the beginning” when it comes to her business endeavors.

“I’m attacking business, private equity, ownership (I will own both a NBA & WNBA team), broadcasting, production, boardrooms, beach volleyball, dominoes (sorry babe it’s going to get more real) with the same intensity & focus I did basketball,” Parker wrote.

Parker and her wife, Anna Petrakova Parker, announced in December that they are expecting a child in May. The couple welcomed their first child, Airr, in February 2022. Parker has a 14-year-old daughter, Lailaa, from her previous marriage.

“My mission in life, like Pat Summitt always said, is to ‘chase people and passions and you will never fail,'” Parker posted. “Being a wife & mom still remains priority #1 & I’ve learned that time flies, so I plan to enjoy my family to the fullest!

“Today’s players: ENJOY IT. No matter how you prepare for it, you won’t be ready for the gap it leaves in your soul. Forgive me as I mourn a bit, but I’ll be back loving the game differently in a while.”

This post was originally published on ESPN

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