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Candace Parker on how she can improve, if the Sky can repeat entering her 15th WNBA season

The two-time WNBA champion spoke about the Sky’s repeat chances, the new playoff format, and watching her daughter grow to love basketball.

Muscle Milk

After making the move to her hometown Chicago Sky in 2021 and helping lead the franchise to its first WNBA title, Candace Parker probably deserved a break. Instead, Parker kept plowing through the offseason, working for Turner Sports on NBA and men’s NCAA Tournament coverage. She and her wife Anna Petrakova welcomed a new baby in February, and Parker was also the executive producer on a documentary that premiered in April, Title IX: 37 Words That Changed America.

Parker’s busy schedule makes it that much more important that she leads a healthy lifestyle, and she wants everyone to have the tools to take charge of their own physical fitness. That led Parker to a partnership with Muscle Milk — together, they have created the Lifting Project to make fitness more accessible for individuals in underserved areas. Aspiring trainers can enter the Lifting Project contest to get Muscle Milk’s help to become certified and then empower those in their communities to pursue healthy choices.

Parker spoke with SB Nation about her new initiative with Muscle Milk as well as the upcoming WNBA season, which tips off Friday, May 6. The defending champion Sky will be hosting Parker’s old team, the Los Angeles Sparks, at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

SB Nation: I see that you’ve had quite the busy offseason. I noticed that you just got into training camp today. How are you feeling in year 15?

Candace Parker: Year 15. Oh my goodness. No, I’m good. Had an amazing offseason, but definitely prepared. I’m excited to start this year. I think just being back and seeing the excitement around the season definitely motivates me to continue to work hard. And, you know, I think last year was amazing and to be able to come back and to do it with a similar group this year in terms of competing, I’m excited about it. So, year 15, right? Like it’s crazy. It’s gone fast. Definitely got a lot of mileage and definitely older, but I hope a little wiser, too.

SBN: Is there anything that you try to add to your game at this point in your career?

CP: Simplicity. I think simplicity has always been difficult for me. I think physically because you know, I’ve been versatile and have played multiple positions. I think simplicity was always, you know, me dribbling and me doing this and whatever. And now I’ve just learned that simplicity is key, doing things with the least amount of motion is going to benefit me greatly. So I think that is the biggest thing to me is just yes, I can dribble and do that, but it’s more beneficial for me to be able to do it with less motion. So I think that’s been my off-season mantra has been “simplicity is key.”

SBN: It seems like this offseason you got to work out with your daughter quite a bit, just based on Instagram and this ad campaign. Is she getting more into basketball as she gets older?

CP: She’s getting more into basketball, but more into sports. I think, for me, personally, it’s about not her aspiring to be a professional athletes, it’s about her learning through sport the skills and life skills and teamwork and losing and winning, and getting back up. And I think there was so much value in last year, not because she was there when we won the championship — I mean, that was amazing — but I think it was she was there when I was laying on the floor exhausted from doing cardio on a random Saturday in January. So she saw the effort and energy that I put into it. And so I think that this year, being able to train with her and to see her play school sports. And they were really good in basketball, they fell short, they were second place this year. And so to see her commit to trying to get better to win next year has been amazing. And then also being a part of this campaign with her, I mean for her to be in this spot with Mom was so much fun. And I think any time I can do anything with my kid and she can be a part of what I’m doing, it’s always a proud mom moment.

Candace Parker shows off her strength with her daughter Lailaa.
Muscle Milk

SBN: About that partnership, what is it about Muscle Milk that inspired you to want to connect with them?

CP: I always think, especially something like the lifting project, just being purposeful and understanding how crucial access is. I’m fortunate enough to be able to come back to a community that I grew up playing the game of basketball in, and I realize how valuable community is. And in that value, I don’t think access should determine whether you can take care of your body or whether you have the tools to know what physically you should do and how crucial it is to continue to move. And so through this lifting project being able to help someone learn about fitness, you know, to train, to certify, and then to go back and empower their own community. I think no matter where you come from, whatever it is, wherever you come from, being where you’re from shouldn’t deny you the access to understand how valuable lifting is, and yoga, and working out, and taking care of your body. And so this is something that, it’s been amazing to come to life and to do it with Muscle Milk.

SBN: Yeah, I feel like I’ve heard you talk before about access for girls in sport, too, so it seems like a nice confluence of all of those things together.

CP: Definitely. Like I said earlier, it’s so important for me, not just as a professional athlete, but as a mom, to show my daughter a healthy way of life. Yes, it is eating, it is taking care of yourself in that way, but it’s also having an active lifestyle. And a lot of, people because they don’t know how or they don’t know what to do, they don’t do it. And so, obviously girls in sports and activity and movement are things that I’m super passionate about.

SBN: Any idea what you’re going to be looking for in the trainers who participate in the lifting project?

CP: I think it’s interesting because, for me, it’s about wanting to learn and wanting to to help and to empower. I mean, within our community, if you’re able to inspire somebody and you’re able to teach somebody and you’re wanting to learn. I think as a vet on a team now, like I want a rookie that comes in and wants to learn and is eager to get better and wants to listen. And so, I think that those are all things that you definitely look for that can then turn around and do the same for others.

SBN: Well if there’s one thing the Sky don’t have this year it’s rookies, but it seems like you have everything else. Moving on to Chicago, you’ve been through this process of trying to repeat before back in 2017. Is there anything that you learned from that season that you can apply to this year’s Chicago group?

CP: It is really hard to repeat. That’s why it hasn’t been done in the WNBA in twenty years. For me, personally, I think the biggest thing is when you’re going through a season, you always want to talk about the previous year. And sometimes you have to leave that last year. Like we’re not going to be able to do the same things that we did last year and expect to win. We’re going to have to kind of not reinvent ourselves, but be better, and people’s roles are going to change. Things are going to be different, and we have to accept that. And also you’re not going to win a championship today or tomorrow or next week. You know after you play, you think that you’re winning a championship today, and it’s like you’re swinging for the fences, and sometimes, you just gotta hit singles, you gotta hit doubles, and you gotta get to that point.

I think where I’m getting motivation from is that like we sucked during the regular season last year. We sucked. If the season would have ended at the regular season, everybody would have looked at that as a negative season, but because we were able to come together, and we had vets, and we had people that knew they could play basketball. We played a great span of basketball for about a month and that was it. So, I think that’s the energy I’m taking into this year is that like we sucked during the regular season last year.

SBN: Well that was literally what I was going to ask, was how do you reconcile that 16-16 regular season with that month of really great basketball, but it sounds like motivation for this upcoming year.

CP: It’s definitely motivation. But we realize to win a championship, it does take a little bit of luck and by luck, I mean, like, you gotta be healthy. You gotta stay healthy. You gotta be smart. The balls gotta bounce the right way a couple of times. But for me, I think, as long as we do things the right way and we have good intention, I think we’ll be all right.

SBN: One of the changes that’s happening to your team this year is Stef Dolson is out and Emma Meesseman has come in. Have you been able to see how Emma fits in with the squad at all yet? What expectations do you have for her coming in?

CP: Well first, I mean, she’s one of the best posts in the world. It’s been terrible guarding her for as many years as I played against her. She’s one of those people that just makes the game so simple. And it’s so frustrating because you know what she’s going to do, but you can’t stop it. And I’m excited to play with her because I’ve been her opponent for so many years, and that sucks. She literally is IQ out of this world. And so when you’re able to have that type of IQ and you’re adding that to Sloot and you’re adding that to me, you’re adding that to Allie and to Kah, who’s been here, to Z (Azurá Stevens), I think we could be really, really good, and we could make each other really, really good.

I mean, obviously, we’re losing a lot with Stef and what she brought to the team, and I think sometimes it was undervalued what she brought to the team. But I’m excited and happy for Stef in her career and her ability to go home and, you know, make that decision. I understand how important it is to be able to make a decision to go home. So we’re going to miss her, but you know, I think Emma is definitely a great piece for us, and she fits well with our team.

Los Angeles Sparks v Washington Mystics
Candace Parker is much happier to be teammates with Emma Meesseman than spend any more time futilely attempting to guard her.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

SBN: Another big change that happened this offseason, like on a league-wide level, was the changing of the playoff format. And I know you’ve expressed some thoughts about single elimination before. I’m curious how you feel about the new postseason set-up.

CP: It’s so funny to me because everybody wanted to throw out that like, they changed it and the Chicago Sky benefited. Do you know how many times I’ve gotten screwed by that playoff format?

SBN: I remember 2020, Candace. (note: The Sparks were the no. 3 seed and lost in single elimination after Nneka Ogwumike was ruled out with a concussion)

CP: Yeah, like we play all year, we’re one game from the two spot, and then some team comes in that’s a seven seed and beats us, or eight seed or whatever, and they beat us. So anyway, yeah, I am so cool with this format. I think that it definitely is the best team that’s going to win. I also believe that, you know, it’s the same as last time, like you gotta take care of your business. And I think we’ve settled the theory of rust versus rest. At that point in the season, I don’t think rest really matters, I think it’s really about rhythm. I don’t think it’s about rest, and it was truly evident in the fact that Phoenix and us made it to the finals after playing single elimination games.

SBN: It’ll be interesting to see how that works out this year. I’m a little disappointed for the regular season, I think it creates a nice incentives for seeding at the end of the year, but I am very excited for every team to get multiple playoff games.

CP: See, I was fighting for the top two seeds to still get a bye and then everybody else does single elimination almost like the (NBA) play-in tournament where if you’re six, seven, and eight, or let’s say you’re even five. I don’t know, but do single elimination with that, and then the top four seeds are series or something like that. But the whole just going from 0 to 100, I’m like, yeah, but it’s all good.

SBN: It’s a lot of playoff games, I think that’s overwhelmingly a good thing. Hopefully. And then last thing, opening night’s on Friday. Are you on track to play this week?

CP: Yeah.

SBN: I do recall that you did not get to play against the Sparks at all last season. Are there any emotions about suiting up against them this year?

CP: I think as much time as has been in between, no. Obviously, you know, like Nneka is the only one, no Brittney Sykes is on the team, too. So it’s Nneka, Brittney Sykes, and Te’a (Cooper, since been waived) I played with in 2020. Obviously. there’s love for them. Obviously, love for Coach T, Coach Trammell and Fred (Williams), the coaching staff. So obviously, seeing them, hugging on them, as I did last year. But at this point, it’s a game, you know I think there will probably be a little bit more emotions going back to LA because we didn’t play in Staples Center last year. But at the same time, it’s basketball. I think this isn’t like I can’t ever talk to them again. It’s basketball.