The WNBA still needs Candace Parker

As league expansion looms, the next era of superstars is emerging. When Candace Parker does retire, it will be players such as Kahleah Copper who are tasked with taking the league to new heights.

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Candace Parker said on Tuesday she plans to play next season.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When eight-time WNBA All-Star Sylvia Fowles announced in February that she’d be playing her 15th and final season with the Lynx, the news rocked the league for obvious reasons. Replacing a player of Fowles’ magnitude is an impossible task. As Sky coach and general manager James Wade put it, other frontcourt players don’t play like Fowles because they can’t.

Then, in June, 13-time All-Star Sue Bird made her retirement official with a tweet after 20 years with the Storm.

The WNBA is now without two of the athletes responsible for solidifying its foundation.

Soon, it’ll lose another: Candace Parker, who’s weighing her future this offseason.

Fowles, Bird and Parker aren’t just three of the greatest players — they’re builders who put the WNBA on their backs and grew it.

Today, the league has never been bigger. The 2022 regular season was the most watched in 14 years, with viewership up 16% from 2021. The WNBA reached 186 million video views — up 36% from 2021 — across its social-media channels, and traffic to the WNBA website nearly doubled. This year’s All-Star Game in Chicago saw record merchandise sales, up 50% from the previous high for the 2018 game in Minneapolis.

The WNBA can’t afford to lose another star yet.

It’s looking like it won’t. Parker told Richard Deitsch’s sports-media podcast that she’s “game” to return but has to see how her body feels in January and February.

Following that news, Parker’s teammate and close friend Kahleah Copper shared her own thoughts on Parker’s future in the WNBA.

“She’s not a free agent,” Copper said on social media, signaling her desire for Parker to return to the Sky. “So go ahead with all of that.”

Parker is, in fact, an unrestricted free agent in January, but Copper’s comment says much about the impact of the two-time WNBA champion and seven-time All-Star.

So does the relationship between the two. Parker is helping to cultivate the next generation of WNBA stars. Copper talks frequently about how Parker has helped her grow and become a better leader, also joking about ice baths and the recovery she considered herself too young to prioritize before playing with Parker. She earned her first All-Star nod and was named WNBA Finals MVP in her first season playing alongside Parker.

Of course, the greatest example of Parker’s influence is probably the Sky’s 2021 championship season. Sky veteran Courtney Vandersloot has described Parker as the link the team had been missing to capture its first title.

As league expansion looms, the next era of superstars is emerging. When Parker does retire, it will be players such as Copper who are tasked with taking the league to new heights.

Another year of Parker’s influence will undoubtedly help them do it.

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