After spending 13 seasons playing for the LA Sparks and two seasons with the Chicago Sky, winning a championship with both teams, WNBA star Candace Parker is settling in Las Vegas. The WNBA All-Star, thought to be one of the greatest to ever play in the league, signed with the Las Vegas Aces earlier this year and is set to make her debut, fighting for her third title, when the season begins in May. She’s excited for this next chapter, though the jury is still out on how she feels about the Vegas heat sure to come.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be scorching. I think we’ll have to adjust to that, but it will be fun,” she tells ESSENCE.
So Parker is preparing herself, including by building up her strength and endurance on the court with help from Muscle Milk, the protein shake brand. The vanilla and strawberry flavored milkshakes are her go-to post-workout drink. “It’s really important to get something in your system, especially something good, right after you work out to replenish what you’ve lost.”
She has the shakes whether she’s “on the court grinding,” having a “chill yoga day,” or trying to survive a Pilates workout.
“Pilates is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she admits. “I walked in there like, ‘I’m strong! I lift weights.’ This grandma [instructor] killed me, so I have tremendous respect for Pilates.'”
Parker spoke with us about how she’s strengthening her body to do battle on the court, and shared insight into her life off the court; that includes her work as a commentator on the NBA on TNT alongside the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, making history as the first woman to call the NBA All-Star Game back in February, balancing work and family, and why her teenage daughter Lailaa was the reason she ultimately made the move to Vegas.
ESSENCE: You notably spent a large chunk of your WNBA career in LA, then you returned to your native Illinois to play for the Sky. Now you’re in Vegas. What informs the choices you make on where to play at this stage in your career?
Candace Parker: As I’ve gone on this journey, my family has always been first and foremost. To be honest with you, I made this decision, similar to going back to Chicago and being able to pick up the ball and play where I first picked up the ball and played, it’s similar in this: Lailaa, my daughter, she’s 13. She’s followed me everywhere. She’s followed me to Russia, China, Turkey, to Chicago, everywhere. It’s time that I follow her. So I think this was the best of both worlds. I’m close enough where I can get home on an off day when she’s still in school. I’m close enough where I won’t miss her first high school volleyball game or I won’t miss taking her to school every now and again. And she can come out and live with me in Vegas this summer until school starts back again. I made that decision with her in mind first and foremost. And having an opportunity to win at this stage in my career, I don’t want to play basketball where I’m not fighting for something. I felt like this team gave the best opportunity. And it’s exciting to be around people I love. Chelsea Gray is a former teammate and Becky Hammon actually played on the national team in Russia with my wife, so we have a connection there. It’s a whole bunch of connections and relationships and I’m just really excited to play this summer and be a part of this organization.
After nearly 15 years of playing professionally, how do you take care of your body? How does Muscle Milk help?
That is the biggest thing as you get older and what I wished I would have done better at a younger age — middle school and high school — was take care of my body and recovery. At this stage in my career, it’s about getting on the court. When you’re younger it’s about when you’re on the court, getting better with your skills. It still is to some extent at this age. But now you have to make sure you’re recovering right, getting your nutrition. So after workouts, stretching, Pilates, whatever it is, it’s important to get your nutrition in and that’s where Muscle Milk comes in. I’ve seen how important it is to not just stretch but also put things in your body that it can benefit from.
In addition to the WNBA, you have the honor of being a commentator for the NBA, and made history recently calling the NBA All-Star Game. What has that meant to you and how have your famous co-panelists supported you?
The culture is so important. I walked into an amazing culture that was a family atmosphere of reaching out and supporting and hearing and listening. And yeah, it is the elephant in the room. I am the only woman that’s on television with them talking basketball. I think the biggest icebreaker was “Hey, I don’t want to be one of the guys, I want to be one of the players.”
Shaq really made me feel welcome. He said, “Dwyane Wade sees the game different, Jamal Crawford, myself, we all see the game differently.” That’s crucial and that’s powerful for our show. So to be able to be up there on set talking hoops with guys who were on my wall — Shaq’s poster was on my wall. The Orlando Magic poster where he was dunking on somebody was on my wall. And then for the All-Star Game, it was surreal. As a fan of the NBA, because I’ve grown up genuinely a fan of basketball and the NBA, to to be calling a game with Reggie Miller, to be calling an NBA All-Star Game and sit court side? Kid Candace was pinching herself the entire weekend because these are where dreams are coming true. It’s surreal to think that I was actually able to be a part of that weekend.
Does your daughter play basketball too?
She’s playing basketball but she’s also playing volleyball. If I were to guess I think volleyball is probably number one right now and volleyball is number two. There’s still time…
[Laughs] You come from a family of hoopers. How do you encourage her without creating pressure?
It’s very hard for me because I came from a background where my dad was extremely hard on me. I don’t think I take it easy on her, but I don’t put pressure. I’m big on, put the work in, put the time in, get extra reps, dedicate yourself to your passions — that goes across the board, not just volleyball and basketball. In school, whatever she’s doing, I try to encourage her to do her best and put the work in. That’s the biggest thing. So will pressure come with playing basketball and your mom being me? I think a little bit. But Lailaa’s great at kind of balancing that and putting it in perspective.
How do you balance all your roles with motherhood and family?
The biggest thing is priorities. Setting in stone a schedule and being present where you’re at. I used to have severe mom guilt whenever I wasn’t able to go to something or be at something. But I got great advice in that you can be present, even if you’re not able to be there. So I’m big at when I’m home, I try to take my daughter to school almost every day and I try to pick her up every day when I’m home. When I’m not home, we Facetime on the way to school, we Facetime from school, so I’m still able to stay up to date with what’s going on with her. And when I’m at work, I’m so grateful for the support and the village I have. My wife is unbelievable, taking care of Lailaa who’s her bonus daughter and our son who’s 13 months now. I think it’s amazing to be able to be at peace at work and know things are running smoothly at home. Also, I just think it’s about giving yourself grace. You are doing the best that you can; learning from your mistakes, learning from things you need to do better. But it’s also about knowing that you’re doing the best you can and you need to take time for yourself sometimes. That’s not selfish, that’s actually going to help you be better at work and a better parent at home.