Candace Parker’s long-awaited matchup against former team is almost here

In her 13 seasons with the Sparks, Candace Parker averaged 16.9 points on 48.2% shooting, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists. She led them to a championship in 2016, won two league MVP awards and was named rookie of the year in 2008 and defensive player of the year in 2020.

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Candace Parker poses for a portrait during the Chicago Sky’s media day.

The Sky’s Candace Parker will face her former team, the Los Angeles Sparks, for the first time in Friday night’s season opener.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Candace Parker sat with Sky coach/GM James Wade, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley after her first day of practice and talked about tactics for the season opener Friday against the Los Angeles Sparks (7 p.m., Marquee Sports Network).

“We have to look out for the shot fakes,” she said.

Parker’s first game against her former team should’ve taken place nearly a year ago when the Sparks came to Wintrust Arena on May 28. An ankle injury kept her sidelined for eight games, including all three of the Sky’s meetings with the Sparks in 2021.

In her second season with the Sky after helping lead them to a WNBA championship, she’ll face her old team in a highly anticipated matchup.

“I have so much love for L.A. as a franchise,” Parker said. “I was there 13 years. But we’re not going to win a championship tomorrow, so it’s a game. I didn’t play in the home opener last year, so I’m excited for that.”

With the Sparks, Parker averaged 16.9 points on 48.2% shooting, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists. She led them to a championship in 2016, won two league MVP awards and was named rookie of the year in 2008 and defensive player of the year in 2020.

This Sparks team looks a lot different from the one Parker played on in 2020 before signing with the Sky. For starters, coach/GM Derek Fisher added Liz Cambage this offseason in one of the biggest free-agent signings of the year. Parker’s close friend and former teammate Chelsea Gray signed with the Las Vegas Aces around the same time Parker made her decision to return home.

There will be some familiarity on the court, though, starting with Kristi Toliver, who’s back with the Sparks after winning a championship with Parker in 2016. Then there’s Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks’ franchise player who, alongside Parker, helped bring the organization to prominence.

The duo led Los Angeles to nine consecutive playoff appearances (2012 to 2020), including two WNBA Finals runs (2016, 2017).

Last season without Parker, the Sparks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the year before Ogwumike was drafted with the first overall pick. In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks, Parker compared leaving Los Angeles with the feeling of throwing the keys to your car to another person.

The person she was tossing the keys to was Ogwumike.

“Initially, [Parker’s departure] felt like when you walk out of a store and your car isn’t where you parked it,” Ogwumike said to the Sun-Times in March. “That’s a normal emotional reaction because I care, and we’re more than just teammates. At the end of the day, what we built is still there.”

This WNBA season is teeming with storylines, but for the Sky, the most significant are their pursuit of back-to-back championships and the looming retirements of Parker and Quigley, who’s out for the season opener.

Neither has said when the last game will be, but both have said they’ll know when it’s time. Parker doesn’t want to cheat the game. When she can’t play at the standard she holds herself to, she’ll walk away.

“Even after last year, I had to evaluate if I could come back and give what I needed to give to be able to be what this team needs me to be,” Parker said. “Every year is its own challenge.”

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