Cheyenne Parker was physically and emotionally exhausted when she got to her hotel room last month.
She was drained from the five-hour train ride back to Montpellier, France, where her offseason team, BLMA, was preparing to play its season finale, and she was just startingto come to terms with the difficult reality that her time in Chicago was coming to an end.
The last two weeks of January took a toll on Parker as she tried to balance playing in her overseas games while figuring out where she would be this summer. Parker had every intention to return to the Sky, her home for the last six seasons. And general manager/coach James Wade was planning to bring her back.
But that plan started to fall apart in the weeks before free-agency signings began Feb. 1.
The Sky signed two-time league MVP Candace Parker to a two-year, $385,000 deal, leaving no room under the salary cap for them to re-sign Cheyenne Parker. She ultimately signed a three-year deal with the Dream, starting at $185,000.
“Unfortunately, it just couldn’t work out where we both could play together. It’s really heartbreaking because, man, Candace Parker, that was a player that I always looked up to even in college. So it would’ve been quite an amazing experience just for my career and my life. And obviously, just leaving my team, leaving my teammates, it was really hard,” Parker said as she choked up. “It’s still hard to talk about because you build a bond.”
The decision was painful to make. Parker feels she owes much of her WNBA career to the Sky. They were the only WNBA team to interview Parker after she was kicked off her college team for failing a drug test just two months before the 2015 draft. After taking her fifth overall, she struggled in her first three seasons, averaging just 3.3 points and three rebounds.
Parker has blossomed into a star in many aspects of her life. Last year was her best season in the WNBA. She averaged career-highs in points (13.4), rebounds (6.4) and steals (1.3). She also shot a career-best 55.4% from the field and made 46.9% of her 32 three-point attempts in 2020.
Off the court, Parker is a rising entrepreneur and model.
In the end, Parker knew her worth was more than the Sky were willing to pay. She said the Sky were “very transparent” heading into free agency.
“It just was the lack of funds, that’s what it ultimately came to, them not being able to offer me the max where there were multiple other teams willing to,” Parker said. “So I just couldn’t do that to myself. I already took a pay cut the previous season just as far as a free agent, I was offered a higher amount and I took less amount . . . and I’m not throwing that in there to make any point, it’s just the simple fact that I can’t do that to myself again especially now that this is my prime.”
Parker believes the Sky are a championship-caliber team. She said it won’t be hard to see them have success this season, though it might be a “bittersweet feeling because of how far we’ve gotten and just how hard we have fought as a team together,” she said. “But that’s natural.”
Most importantly, Parker said she’s happy with her decision.
“I’m excited to continue to grow in this league and become the All-Star that I know that I can be,” Parker said.