WNBA Finals: Candace Parker Close to Making a Nine-Year Quest Into Glory Road
By Rob Knox @knoxrob1
One of the most transcendent talents -- regardless of gender -- in the last 10 years, Candace Parker gets a chance to add the missing piece to her sterling basketball resume.
It’s probably safe to say that everybody outside of Minnesota is rooting for Parker and the Sparks to claim their first WNBA title since 2002 and third overall as a franchise.
It’s often said that the best things come to those who wait.
If that’s the case for Parker, who has waited her entire nine-year career for this opportunity, the next two weeks should provide riveting viewing.
Her journey to the WNBA Finals has been paved with heartbreak, potholes, bumps, and injuries.
But she never lost faith.
Parker provided a rude reminder to those bleacher critics who thought after battling injuries for parts of her career that she lost a little bit of her desire, skills and focus by delivering a beautifully dominating 29-point performance in helping the Sparks close out the short-handed Chicago Sky in the semifinals at Allstate Arena in the Windy City on Wednesday night.
Demonstrating how bad she wanted to eliminate the Sky, Parker scored 15 points in the fourth quarter.
She had a crazed look in her eyes during her exquisite exhibition in which she combined textbook fundamentals with mesmerizing flair.
Parker punctuated her effort by draining a deep 3-pointer that concluded her scoring show late in the final quarter.
Now, the next task for the Sparks is finding a way to dethrone the reigning champion Lynx starting Sunday at the raucous Target Center in Minneapolis in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
Game One will be televised on ABC beginning at 3 p.m.
With the two best teams meeting in the Finals, the first year under the WNBA’s new playoff format was a smashing success.
Otherwise this series would have been just for the Western title, which might have allowed the New. York Liberty out of the Eastern Conference to maintain its desire to end its 20-year drought for the league title.
“It's been a long journey,” Parker said to the Associated Press following its victory over the Sky. “We haven't done anything yet. We haven't accomplished our goal.”
Parker’s ebullient presence along with the angelic Maya Moore has the potential to make this matchup with the Lynx epic.
Not that Parker needed to prove anything to anybody, but inside she’s probably thrilled with participating in the Finals for the first time in her career.
A 16-time WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week, six-time All-WNBA selection, three-time All-Star, and two-time member of the All-Defensive Team, Parker has scored over 4,000 career points.
Unfortunately, despite winning two national championships at the University of Tennessee, two Olympic gold medals, two MVP awards and a Rookie of the Year accolade during her captivating career, none of those points have been scored in a Finals game.
That’s going to refreshingly change for Parker, who deserves this moment.
For Parker, winning the championship would be the perfect finish to a difficult year.
First she was omitted from the United States Olympic Women’s Basketball Team in a puzzling decision and then her college coach, Pat Summit died after a battle with Alzheimer’s in June.
“Outside of the Lady Vol family, everybody knows that coach Summit is a legend who has touched lives and grown the game of basketball,” Parker said of her college coach back in June. “She changed the nature of women’s basketball.
"I am looking at it from a personal aspect, she changes the individuals. She changed the way I look at life. Everything she did was to make me a better individual.”
Parker took those lessons to heart and inspired her teammates. After sprinting to a 20-1 start, the Sparks wobbled down the stretch losing seven of their last 13 games, which raised some valid concerns about their ability to be the last team standing.
Through it all, Parker played through the pain, blocked out the negative noise, said all the right things publicly after being left off the Olympic team and helped the Sparks enjoy one of the best seasons in team history.
During the four-game playoff series against the Sky, the gloriously skilled Parker was at her unstoppable best in averaging a team-high 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Parker played with an inspired, uninhibited rage as she shot an efficient 51 percent from the field, a team best 4.5 assists per outing and 1.8 blocks per game.
Blending a combination of beauty and athletic prowess, the 30-year-old Parker has been a perfect ambassador for the WNBA as well as a terrific role model for youngsters and working mothers.
She’s enjoyed success in high school, college and the WNBA despite the ultimate prize eluding her.
After losing to San Antonio in the playoffs in her rookie year, Parker was disappointed but she knew she would reach the Finals soon.
Soon dissolved into a series of frustrating finishes before 2016 arrived and a mature, rested and motivated Parker emerged. This season her savvy leadership meshed with her talented and determined teammates.
Sometimes for an elite athlete, less is more and that was true for Parker, who rode shotgun as teammate Nneka Ogwumike, a former Stanford star, was named the WNBA MVP for the first time in her career.
“Being at training camp since day one, we set the tone on what the expectations were,” Parker said earlier this year to womhoopsguru.com. “I was really excited and anxious to get the season going.
"Many of our players got in early and put their touch on things. Our culture, chemistry and comradely are the best I've been part of.
Parker set the tone for a memorable year beginning the season with an eye-opening effort. She started the season with a 34-point performance in a 30-point win against Seattle.
The Sparks wn their first 12 games, setting a record for the best start in franchise history.
Los Angeles has been blessed with a committee of contributors that has helped it soar. From the sticky defense of Alana Beard, Chelsea Gray and Essence Carson, clutch shooting of Kristi Toliver along with the improved performance of Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender, the Sparks, under head coach Brian Alger, have been solid.
Last year was difficult for Sparks as Parker missed half of the season after recovering from the rigors of consistently playing basketball year round.
By the time she returned, the Sparks were mired near the bottom of the league standings. Yet, they
still made the playoffs before being eliminated by the Lynx in three games.
Now, Parker gets to finally display all of her skills on the WNBA’s grandest stage against the best team this decade, which is a terrific treat for every hoops aficionado.
It’s always great when one of the best and most versatile players on the planet gets rewarded for her elegant grace, hard work, positivity, advancing the legacy of women’s basketball and unrelenting passion.