The sweet reward for curiosity this year was
She displayed a magnetism that was one part attributable to the unfathomable amount of hardware she collected along a route from Knoxville to Beijing to L.A. -- including a Naismith trophy and an NCAA title at Tennessee, an Olympic gold medal in China and the WNBA's Rookie of the Year and MVP awards with the Sparks -- but the real pull of Parker was the gravity of her meaning.
She became a culture bender in 2008 during a journey worthy of SI's Sportsperson of the Year. As a 6-foot-5 forward with
Think of her as an inspirational chain letter that was passed around from month to month and that no one dared break. Nothing deterred her, not even a dislocated shoulder as she played through pain to lead the Lady Vols to their second-consecutive national championship in April. Nothing fatigued her, not even an excellent China adventure that ended in gold this summer. Nothing rattled her, not even expectation as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft who debuted with 34 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
She was a woman for all seasons. Her extended visibility set the stage for a bonding period with fans, reaching audiences that grew more intrigued by Parker as they came to know her story. She was the little sister of the Raptors'
The recognition Parker received was measurable by the time the Sparks reached the Western Conference finals last month. She had helped the WNBA gain a 19 percent spike in television ratings this year and fueled a 35 percent uptick in merchandise sales. Little girls -- and more than a few young boys -- were wearing her Sparks jersey. With the WNBA at a crossroads, Parker steadied the league with her flamboyant style and grit. (She was, as many witnessed on YouTube, involved in an