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Candace Parker gets ‘best of both worlds’ by leaving Sparks for Chicago

Sparks forward Candace Parker runs up the court.
Former Sparks star Candace Parker was introduced Tuesday as the newest member of the Chicago Sky.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Chicago rolled out the virtual red carpet for a favorite daughter’s homecoming.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was among the first to welcome Candace Parker to the Chicago Sky on Tuesday during a videoconference after the former Sparks star signed as a free agent with her hometown team. The team’s owner, Michael Alter, chimed in. Dozens of media members queued with their virtual hands raised to ask why, after 13 years in L.A., Parker would shake up the WNBA with this move.

“I really do feel as though my heart led me back to Chicago,” Parker said during the hourlong media session.

The 34-year-old, who grew up in Naperville, Ill., a suburb about 45 minutes outside of Chicago, will open a new chapter of her storied basketball career where it all began. She is returning to her first home. But through her professional career in L.A. — where she won two MVPs, a championship and a Finals MVP — Parker said she found another home on the West Coast, one that was difficult to leave.

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“What I’ve learned in my career and what I’ve learned in my life — you grow in those uncomfortable times, and you grow in those times where maybe you might be a little unsure about it. But you know it’s the right decision,” said Parker, who will live in L.A. during the winter and play in Chicago during the summer. “I’m so thankful and so lucky to have played for an amazing organization with the Sparks. … It is difficult to leave, but in a way, I’m getting the best of both worlds.”

Since leaving Naperville to attend Tennessee as a highly touted 18-year-old prospect, Parker has grown into a trailblazing talent and champion. She won two NCAA championships with the Volunteers and helped lead the Sparks to the WNBA title in 2016. Although she relishes the opportunity to return home, where she can easily root for her favorite sports teams and get chocolate cake and chili cheese dogs (no onions) from her favorite Chicago chain, Portillo’s, Parker did not agree to the monumental move just out of sentiment.

“Playing here in itself holds so much value, but also winning a championship back home would mean so much,” Parker said. “This isn’t just me coming home to play. This isn’t me just going somewhere. Chicago has great players. They have a great organization.”

WNBA free agency opened Monday with Parker signing with Chicago. The Sparks added Wheeler and plan to re-sign Nneka Ogwumike and Brittney Sykes.

Chicago coach James Wade said Parker’s message as an unrestricted free agent was, “If I come, I’m coming to ball.” The coach knew immediately expectations were going to skyrocket.

“We want to win and she wanted to win,” Wade said, “and that’s what it ultimately came down to.”

Wheeler signs

With three-time All-Star Chelsea Gray signing with the Las Vegas Aces, the Sparks announced the addition of former Indiana Fever point guard Erica Wheeler.

Wheeler averaged 10.1 points, three rebounds and five assists in 2019 with the Fever while earning her first All-Star honor. The 29-year-old point guard sat out the 2020 season after testing positive for COVID-19 and doctors found fluid around her heart.

Gray, who spent the last six years with the Sparks and helped the team win a championship in 2016, averaged 14 points and 5.3 assists per game in 2020, but at 30.5%, she had her worst three-point shooting percentage since 2016, when she was coming off the bench for the Sparks.

Wheeler, who is the first WNBA player to go undrafted then be named All-Star MVP, shot 38.4% from three-point range in 2019.

“Erica’s life story and journey in the WNBA is proof of her character, work ethic and competitive spirit,” Sparks coach and general manager Derek Fisher said in a statement. “She will be a great fit for the culture we’re building and brings an ability to score, distribute the basketball, defend and play both point guard and shooting guard.”


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