Candace Parker Announces Her WNBA Retirement, There Is No Doubt That She Changed the Game

Feature image via Candace Parker’s Instagram, where she announced her retirement from the WNBA after a 16-year career.

Today is the first day of WNBA training camp. Four years ago, this day would have meant nothing to me. A random Sunday on my calendar not unlike any others. But this morning year I was the first person in my basketball group chat, alerting everyone with breaking news and memes — AD Durr was released from the Atlanta Dream, the New York Liberty posted a photo of their beloved mascot Ellie waking up with curlers in her hair, of course everyone wants to see Caitlin Clark’s first day with her teammates Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith. I walked down the stairs to do my laundry, excited for a full day on scrolling to see all my favs back home in their gym. Then the news broke. And all across the internet women’s basketball stood still: 

After a historic 16-year career, in which she won three WNBA Championships, two league MVP awards, won Rookie of the Year (she’s still the only player to have one ROY and MVP in the same season), became the first woman to be on the cover of a NBA2K video game (and still the only Black woman to have ever been on the cover), and won a pair of Olympic Golds for good measure… Candace Parker is retiring.

The difference between four years ago and today? Four years ago Candace Parker lead her hometown team, the Chicago Sky, to their first WNBA Championship. She brought me to this game.

I’m sure it feels convenient, me saying that “Candace Parker brought me to this game” on the day of her retirement. I feel a need to provide backup; I said the same thing just last week. Back when I thought I’d be spending today watching video clips of CP lacing up her Adidas for at least one last ride and not spending it writing about the sunsetting of this chapter of her career.

In 2021, immediately after signing with the Chicago Sky in free agency, and after a storied over decade-long career with the LA Sparks (with whom she won her first championship), Candace Nicole Parker of Naperville, IL brought a championship back home to the city that put first put a ball in her hands. About three months after that, she came out. Fitting to her retirement message today, CP also came out in an Instagram post. It broke the lesbian internet.

After 15 years in the game, due to a lot of ills of capitalism and sexism that have stunted the league’s growth, Candace Parker had never even had as much as a locker to call her own. So in her next free agency period, she signed with the Las Vegas Aces, a team coming off their own championship and becoming the first in the league with their own private state of the art practice facility. At the time, Parker said that after all of her work, she wanted to be able to say that she had seen the growth in the league for herself and with her own eyes.

The move to Vegas reunited Parker with one of her best friends (and God mother to her son, Airr) Chelsea Gray. With the Aces, Parker averaged 9 points, 5 rebounds, and a little under 4 assists per game — which may seem a bit underneath her usual range, after all it’s become something of a meme that you can’t find a WNBA record without Candace Parker’s name in the Top 10 All Time, that is until you realize that she was playing for the Aces on a fractured foot.

The fractured foot ultimately took her out last July, though she returned to the bench to cheer her team on as they won the championship. That makes Parker the only player in WNBA history to win three championships on three different teams. Just one last record-break on her way out of the arena, just one more for the road.

It’s impossible, of course, to talk about record books and Candace Parker and injury without talking about her one-of-a-kind college basketball career, where after having to sit out her freshman year with two knee surgeries (her doctor has now estimated that she has no cartilage left in one of her knees), Parker lead the University of Tennessee Lady Vols to back-to-back national championships. She ended up bringing the school their last championship under the legendary coach Pat Summitt. When Summitt passed away eight years later from complications stemming from early onset Alzheimer’s, Parker took pride in the fact that Pat never stopped recognizing her face. To this day, she wears “For Pat” inside one of her signature shoes.

After a career of multiple championships, countless records, 10 surgeries (no less than eight surgeries on her knees alone), torn discs, injured ankles and achilles, and a fractured foot — Candace Parker only wanted one thing. She wanted to never cheat the game that she’s loved, a game that has deeply loved her in return.

And so today, quoting her favorite rapper (you can’t love Candace Parker and not know how much she loves Jay-z), Candace Parker wrote a goodbye letter to summer. In January, she signed a one year extension with the Aces. Today, the first day of training camp for the new year, she was supposed to be entering that already iconic grey and white gym. And I think if she had felt ready, there’s no doubt she would have played. But last fall Candace Parker told Robin Roberts that she wouldn’t play the game again in pain. She didn’t want to do that to herself, and she didn’t want to do that to her family.

News of Candace Parker’s retirement spread quickly as players showed up for practice today and fans gathered to watch them online. Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty found out live in front of the camera and her eyes widened in disbelief, “…effective immediately!?!” She asked, her mind racing as if she couldn’t make sense of the words.

It’s become something of a tradition in basketball for the true greats to do “One Last Dance.” A final season, a tour for fans to pay their respects as you pass through their city. So they can tell their children one day that they saw you up close. One last year of locker room jokes with your teammates, of hectic close calls making the bus or plane that you’ll remember for years to come, a few final buckets. One last All Star appearance, so that you can be paid the rightful homage you deserve. Michael Jordan did one. So did Kobe and Dwayne Wade. Sylvia Fowles. Sue Bird.

But Candace Parker never had much need for fanfare, “I always wanted to walk off the court with no parade or tour, just privately with the ones I love. What now was to be my last game, I walked off the court with my daughter. I ended the journey just as I started it, with her.”

Candace Parker was pregnant with her daughter, Lailaa, during her rookie year with the Sparks. Laila’s been by her side for every season, every championship, surgery, every off-season league in Russia and in China. They did it together. They ended it together, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

I first heard the news of Candace Parker’s retirement from an Autostraddle writer, Nic, who messaged a link to her Instagram post along with the words “I’m sorry Carmen” into our basketball slack. I’ve been jokingly calling Parker my fantasy wife for years, and I make it my goal to pick her first in every year of our fantasy league (one year someone else got her first, it still hurts — but only a little). Immediately, I texted former Autostraddle Senior Editor Heather Hogan. While Heather and I were talking, Natalie (also an Autostraddle writer) started spamming our chat with links.

Candace Parker wrote in her retirement message that she’s not done yet. In addition to her already successful broadcasting career (oh did I forget to mention that she’s a sports analyst for NBA TV and TNT? On top of everything else!), she’s made it a goal to be an owner of both a WNBA and an NBA team in her future. I have no doubt she’ll do it, because Candace Parker has never set a goal for herself that she can’t meet. But she also said this, she promised herself that when it came to the game, “I’d leave it in a better place than I came into it.”

I keep going back to how I found out the news today because I know I’m not the only one who found a love for this game, and a community to love it with, because of Candace Parker. She already left the game better, and not just because she’s one hell of a hooper. But because with her confidence, her playful cockiness, her swagger, her heart — she made room for all of us. And there’s nothing I can write that’s going to be enough to say thank you. But I know that’s going to be her legacy.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 714 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. Should’ve known your words would be the ones to finally make me cry. Thank you for this beautiful write-up, and thank you for including Pat’s legacy too. Candace changed everything, and I’m so glad we were able to share her for those seasons!

  2. As a newer fan (2023 was my first season as a viewer) this news broke my heart. I bought her jersey last summer before she had to sit out for the rest of the season, and I’ll still proudly wear it for the rest of my life. She is truly the GOAT, I’ve seen all her highlights, and I’m so thankful for everything she’s done for the league. I look forward to rooting for whichever future WNBA team she ends up owning. Everyone needs to watch her documentary!

    • I’m also still a new fan (2021, here!) and I really feel the same way!!! Everyone should watch that doc, it’s excellent. I’ve seen a lot of fans hoping/wishing that Candace ends up in the ownership group of the Chicago Sky, and I wouldn’t be mad at that at all. But I’ll be rooting for her wherever she ends up, for sure!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!