Candace Parker’s next WNBA chapter will take place in downtown Chicago — about 35 miles east from where she grew up.
Parker became the Sky’s biggest free-agent acquisition ever on Monday when she officially signed a two-year contract with the Sky, a league source said. It’s worth $385,000 in total, according to Her Hoop Stats.
The Sparks wanted Parker, who grew up in Naperville, to return to Los Angeles for 2021 and beyond, but she chose to return close to home for what could be the remainder of her playing career even though it meant taking a pay cut.
“Chicago is where my family raised me; where I first learned the game of basketball; and where I first fell in love with this orange ball,” Parker said in a statement. “I am excited to continue the next chapter of my career where it all began. To my new teammates, my new organization, and my new fans: I’m home.”
Parker will be officially introduced at a virtual news conference alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot Tuesday.
Landing Parker was a “dream-case scenario” for the Sky, with implications on and off the court.
“We needed a big-time player, we needed an MVP-caliber player,” general manager/coach James Wade said. “... On the court, she actually provides us with not only another All-Star but she’s reputed to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
Parker’s arrival immediately launches the Sky — already a talented team — to early WNBA Finals favorites and has some Sky players thinking that this could be the year they could go all the way.
“It’s felt like that every year recently. ‘This next year’s gonna be our year.’ Next year, next year. But now it really feels that way,” said Allie Quigley, who’s “beyond excited” about the Parker signing. “... If everyone’s healthy, and adding a championship piece like Candace? I don’t see why not.”
At 34, Parker is still at the top of her game. She’s a five-time All-Star and has been named to the All-WNBA first team on six occasions.
Parker, who led the Sparks to the championship in 2016 and was named the Finals MVP, leaves Los Angeles with the legacy of being one of the best players to ever put on the gold-and-purple uniform — second to only Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie.
In her final act with the Sparks, Parker put on a masterful performance in the Wubble last season, averaging 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 22 games. She was crowned the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and finished third in MVP voting, two spots ahead of Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot.
Chicago has never been a desirable free-agent landing spot. For years, Sky fans have watched as some of the league’s best players have left the team and won titles elsewhere.
But Parker’s historic decision finally put an end to the Sky’s miserable free-agent drought, opening the floodgates for more free agents to come to Chicago. Wade said inquiries from agents and players about playing for the Sky have tripled since news of Parker’s homecoming broke last week.
“Now that we have that free agent and that big major free agent ... players can see themselves going to Chicago. It’s not so scary or whatever it is,” Wade said. “Because when you don’t get them, people start to think, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ But the thing that helps over the last two years is we’ve been able to keep our free agents.”
Fan interest has increased, too.
“We’re more must-see TV,” Wade said. “[Over] the last two years, people have told me more than anything, I want to see Chicago play. I want to see Chicago play. Add Candace Parker into that mix and it turns from a want to a have. I have to see them play, I absolutely have to. And I think that’s the different.
“She just brings the following. She’s like the Beyonce of women’s basketball. You have the Beyhive, you have the Can-hive, the CP-hive.”
The Sky will continue to explore adding at least one more guard to backup Vandersloot and compliment Gabby Williams in the second unit. The Sky have discussed signing former first-round pick Brittany Boyd to a training-camp contract, giving her an opportunity to fill that need, a league source said.