A familiar Ace: Candace Parker, Las Vegas get past Sky

The former champ says she was close to returning but has no hard feelings.

SHARE A familiar Ace: Candace Parker, Las Vegas get past Sky
The Aces’ Candace Parker reaches out to fans as she runs off the court after her team’s 93-80 victory over the Sky in Las Vegas.

The Aces’ Candace Parker reaches out to fans as she runs off the court after her team’s 93-80 victory over the Sky in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — All season, the Sky have faced reminders of their recent championship past.

For Kahleah Copper, the last remaining starter from the Sky’s 2021 championship team, those reunions have been anything but easy. But Sunday was different.

Candace Parker was the last championship-winning teammate the Sky and Copper had yet to play, and the reunion was bittersweet. For Copper, losing to Parker and the Las Vegas Aces 93-80 was the bitter part.

Hugging Parker and her family provided the sweet.

“I’m still mad at her,” Copper told the Sun-Times of Parker, who has become like family. “But she played great. It’s good to see her and see her happy with her family after the game. I know that’s what’s most important for her.”

Parker’s decision to sign with the Aces as an unrestricted free agent was the first domino to fall in what ended up being a cascade of player departures in free agency. The two-time WNBA champion has maintained that her decision came down to family.

On Sunday, she reiterated that but said her return to the Sky nearly happened.

“Really close,” Parker told the Sun-Times when asked how close she was to re-signing with the Sky. “Yeah, really close. I mean, honestly, every day in terms of the family situation, that was it.”

Parker had 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals against the Sky. It was her most complete stat line of the year. In her 16th season and playing for her third team in the WNBA, Parker is still searching for her rhythm.

Through eight games, she’s shooting 23.1% from three-point range and 34.5% from the field and averaging 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. The Aces, a loaded team not lacking firepower, afford her the luxury of time to find her rhythm

“I’m not worried,” Parker said. “It’ll come in time, and defensively, just as much as offensively, it’s finding that rhythm as well and learning everybody.”

Against the Sky, the Aces and Parker had no problem finding their rhythm.

The Sky trailed by nine after the first quarter, but that deficit ballooned to 17 at the end of the half. The Aces increased their lead to 29, shooting better than 60% from the field for much of the game and capitalizing off Sky turnovers.

They outscored the Sky 50-28 in the paint, led by A’ja Wilson, who had a game-high 21 points. Marina Mabrey led the Sky with 20 points, and Copper added 18 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Similar to former teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Azurá Stevens, Parker said there are no hard feelings about the way the Sky’s back-to-back title pursuit ended. But as the buzzer sounded in Game 5 of the team’s semifinal loss to the Sun, Parker was the first player off the court, exiting before huddling with her teammates.

It foretold what was to come. Parker was adamant her quick exit was nothing more than anger over how the game ended.

“I wasn’t mad at anybody except for Connecticut,” Parker said. “Looking back, I wish I would’ve stayed on the court, but I don’t know what I would’ve done if I would’ve stayed on the court.”

Parker has never been one to play the what-if game. So when she paused to contemplate the question of how much she thought about the Sky being the last franchise she would play for in her career, her peace with reality was apparent.

At this point, she said, “Everybody, I feel, tried to do what was best for themselves.”

But if Parker were writing the storybook version, she admitted the last chapter might read differently.

“I’m a huge believer in things happening the way they happen,” Parker said. “Just as what led me to Chicago, family led me here. So, I mean storybook ending, yes, [I thought about Chicago being the organization I retired with]. But life.”

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