Two years after she was snubbed from the Rio Olympic team, Candace Parker says she won’t play for Team USA again. “For me, mentally,” Parker said on the Show Me Your Friends podcast published April 23, “I wouldn’t be able to represent USA basketball anymore.”
Who could blame her?
One of the WNBA’s best players for nine seasons, her 2016 snub was a total shock. The two-time WNBA MVP helped carry Team USA to consecutive gold medals in two prior Olympics, and was still in her prime at 30 years old. Months after Team USA won gold without her, Parker’s Los Angeles Sparks team won the WNBA championship.
Parker explained why she had not previously spoken at length on the issue that dominated headlines in the 2016 season.
“They wanted stuff for me to say and I didn’t have anything to say because I’ve learned that it’s better to reflect and look back on things and then say how you feel,” Parker said.
“I can honestly say now that I’m more upset about the situation because it gave more power to the impact of USA Basketball of me not making the team than me winning a championship. People were saying in the same sentence ‘Candace wants to win a championship because she got left off Team USA basketball.’
That had nothing to do with it. I wanted to win a championship for nine years.”
Parker’s quest to win her first WNBA title following her shocking cut was the narrative that took over her entire season. As the 6’4 basketball unicorn who runs the floor like a guard showed all season, she still had the skills to be extremely effective for Team USA. In the podcast, she detailed how she had even recorded the first-ever triple-double in training camp tryouts.
We may never know exactly what went into the decision to cut one of the most versatile talents in the world, but it clearly still bothers Parker, who’d invested most of her youth to that team. That commitment included time away from her eight-year-old daughter.
“What’s really upsetting to me is that I don’t think people understand women’s basketball,” Parker said. “I think they think we play in the WNBA and that’s it. For me, I was upset because my time with my daughter is very valuable. So for eight years, for the Beijing Olympics, London Olympics leading up to the Rio Olympics, so 12 years, I have played through numerous knee injuries. I had to sit out my freshman year at Tennessee because I played USA basketball in the summer on a messed up knee ... Finished USA Basketball and then I sat out my whole freshman season and had to redshirt ... Because I was playing on a bum knee.
I played through Beijing and dislocated my shoulder. Played through that ... Came back, had to have surgery on my knee again. Played through swelling with that in the next Olympics ... When our season ended two years and we lost to Minnesota in three, I got one week and I went overseas and played on their European tour.
This is time when if it wasn’t gonna be my performance on the court that made the final decision, don’t have me do that. Don’t send me to do photo ops in San Francisco and LA for the Rio Olympics where I was in the commercials ... in fact they accidentally showed one of the commercials before one of the basketball games ... Don’t do that, because that’s valuable time ...
It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads up that I might not make the team and then I can choose. Like ‘Hey it has nothing to do with my performance on the court.’ For me it was that. I was hurt. Because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries and given so many hours into USA Basketball and then in one fell swoop they can just be like ‘It doesn’t matter about your play. You’re just not on the team.’”
The Rio Olympics would’ve been special to the Parker family, as not only was Parker in the prime of her career, her daughter, Lailaa, would’ve been old enough to travel and see her play.
“I was more upset that I wasn’t able to share that experience with my daughter,” said Parker said. “I was gonna take her to the Olympics and that would’ve been the Olympics that she remembered. Now, I’m not playing USA basketball anymore. I think Dawn Staley’s an amazing coach. She’s awesome. I wish could have played for her, this has nothing to do with her. For me, mentally, I wouldn’t be able to represent USA basketball anymore.
“I’m one of those people, once it’s gone, it’s done.”
Parker is not on the list of 29 invitees for Team USA summer camp, which began this week. There’s still time to add her name to the list ahead of the 2020 Olympics, but that doesn’t appear likely.
Team USA will probably move on without one of its best players. Its talent is so stacked that her absence shouldn’t cost the team a gold medal, but a team of all-stars without Parker will never feel right.