Chicago belongs to Candace Parker.
The current sports landscape does, anyway.
At a time when every other major professional team in town is average or below, Parker has led the defending champion Sky to first place in the WNBA standings at the All-Star break.
And she has broken several records along the way, recently becoming the first player in league history with three career triple-doubles and the first to eclipse 6,000 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,500 assists.
Before the Sky shift their focus to the second half of the season and their pursuit of another title, Parker will headline the first WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago on Sunday, making her seventh All-Star appearance.
When she graduated from Naperville Central in 2004 after committing to play for the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee, turning down DePaul and a number of other programs, she couldn’t have dreamed of returning to play professionally in Chicago one day. The Sky weren’t established until 2006, two years before the Sparks drafted her first overall.
The romantics, including some in Sky ownership, talk of a near-fairy-tale scenario in which Parker would have joined the Sky 13 years sooner as a rookie had their efforts to trade up for the No. 1 pick been successful. But Parker will tell you that at that point in her career, she wasn’t ready to return home.
Since signing a two-year deal with the Sky as a free agent in 2021, she said she saw Chicago as a place to add to her legacy, not diminish it. And she did just that last October, capturing her second WNBA title as she helped lead the Sky to their first.
“Pat Summitt would be proud,” Parker said. “Handle success as you handle failure. Last year, [we were] even-keeled. This year, we’re excited to be first, but it’s midseason. It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”
According to All-Star voting by players, Parker is only the 13th-best frontcourt player in the WNBA — perhaps an example of the disregard for her accomplishments and talent that follows her, despite being one of the most decorated players in the league.
Parker is joined by six teammates this All-Star Weekend. WNBA coaches voted four-time All-Star Courtney Vandersloot and two-time All-Stars Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman as reserves for the game Sunday. Plus, Allie Quigley will compete in her fifth three-point contest and Azura Stevens in her first skills challenge.
After All-Star captains Breanna Stewart (Storm) and A’Ja Wilson (Aces) drafted their teams last Saturday, the Sky were left divided. Wilson, whose team will be coached by her Aces coach, Becky Hammon, took Parker with the first pick before selecting Vandersloot 12th. Stewart, whose team will be coached by Sky general manager/coach James Wade, took Copper ninth and Meesseman 17th.
“They don’t want us to be great,” Wade said. “I thought [Wilson] was going to choose all Vegas players and we were going to have all our players on the other.”
At the halfway point last year, when the Sky were 10-10 and struggling to find consistency, her championship experience became a critical component in their title run. And this year, she’s again the team’s unquestioned leader, with experience on what not to do in pursuit of back-to-back titles. Her 2017 Sparks team, chasing a repeat, gave up a 2-1 Finals lead to the Lynx, who ended up winning the series 3-2.
Before this season, Parker’s future came into question when she told Turner Sports’ Kristen Ledlow she was operating under the assumption this would be her final season. Since then, she has said her desire to train in the offseason will be the deciding factor. The day she wakes up without that drive, she’ll know it’s the end.
One thing is certain: For now, Parker is chasing championships — plural.
“I just want to get more rings,” she said. “That’s it. Then what are you going to say?”