Before this offseason, Candace Parker had never seriously envisioned herself playing for any team other than the Sparks, who drafted her first overall in 2008.
But as the Sky aggressively began pursuing her, Parker opened up to the idea of closing out her Hall of Fame career with her hometown team.
The decision process was emotionally taxing. Parker talked with her close friends, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, about their free agency experiences.
Both gave her the same advice: “You need to follow what you want and what you desire and let all that other stuff take care of itself.”
Parker, who grew up in Naperville, followed her gut back home.
“It just felt like the right decision coming home to Chicago and playing in front of the fans, the city, the people that I grew up in front of,” Parker said. “... It was a difficult, difficult decision but ultimately, I chose the Sky because I wanted to follow my heart.”
Let the CP3 era begin.
The Sky formally introduced Parker Tuesday in a virtual press conference that included opening remarks from Mayor Lori Lightfoot — a season-ticket holder — after the former Sparks star signed a two-year, $380,000 deal Monday.
“This is truly a great day in the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said before holding up Parker’s No. 3 Sky jersey. “We both know you’re gonna love it here and we are definitely going to love having you back. It’s going to mean a lot for girls all across the Chicago region, both on and off the court. The eyes of our girls light up when our basketball stars visit them in their communities.”
Parker, a two-time league MVP and five-time All-Star, achieved everything she set out to accomplish with the Sparks and then some. She led the Sparks to their first title in 14 years and was crowned Finals MVP in 2016.
Ultimately, Parker felt it was the right time to move on.
“I was brought up as, you finish what you start,” said Parker, who, at 34, is still one of the league’s best players. “For 13 years, I feel as though I gave everything I had to the Sparks organization, as well as they gave everything they had. I’m not leaving disgruntled. I’m not leaving throwing stuff, or upset or angry or demanding a trade. I’m leaving because contractually, I can go where I want and I can make that decision.”
The outpouring of support Parker has received since news broke last week has only validated her decision. That includes an excited FaceTime call from her grandmother and a phone conversation with her childhood friend from Naperville who is already making plans for the two to hang out this summer.
“I have texts, like, ‘I’m getting season tickets ... I’m coming to see you play like in high school,’” Parker said. “Those types of reactions that made me really validate my choice in my decision and I’m really excited to come back.”
The addition of Parker puts the Sky in the running for early Finals favorites. She joins a stacked lineup of Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Azura Stevens, whom Parker referred to as “the younger version of herself.”
Parker is not only excited to play in front of her family and friends again but also bring a championship title to Chicago.
“My legacy is I came back,” she said. “... At the end of the day, I can live with the result if we do it the right way. We go out there and play with passion, purpose. And I think that what I want my legacy to be.”