Candace Parker has been one of the most popular players in the WNBA since the day she was drafted first overall in 2008. She was Rookie of the Year and MVP that season. She's since won a title and created a career on television.
With the WNBA season in the rear view mirror, Parker has shifted her attention to the new broadcasting role she's starting with Turner on NBA TV. The WNBA superstar, in partnership with Foot Locker and adidas, talked with The Crossover about her work in television, her responsibility as a role model for her daughter, how the WNBA could get more exposure and the Sparks hiring Derek Fisher to be the franchise’s new coach.
Kellen Becoats: Can you tell me about Foot Locker’s Asterisk Collective and your role within it?
Candace Parker: I think it’s really cool to be a part of this collective initiative because obviously I want to use my platform to empower and unite people—women, men, everything—and so I think it’s just about equality and empowering, and that’s just what I’m about. So when I was asked to do this, obviously it was a no-brainer. I think it just is about coming together and creating equal playing fields.
I mean, I come from Coach Summitt at the University of Tennessee, where she’s kinda the head of everything in terms of initiatives for women’s sports and equality and things like that. I have a daughter as well and I want to leave the sport better than I came into it, so to be able to team up with other athletes that I know are great people as well as great athletes, this is obviously a no-brainer.
KB: Can you talk about your daughter and how you want to be a strong female role model in her life?
CP: It’s really important for me because not only am I shaping her life, but I’m shaping her role models and who she's going to eventually look up to and who she's eventually going to want to be. And so it's really important for me for her to understand that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. It's about doing good and being good and doing what you're supposed to. Working as hard as you can and making a difference, especially at this time of year, in and around the holidays, it's really important for you to do good, be good, give back and I think that's what she's learning. So I hope that she's paying attention.
KB: When did you first think about getting into broadcasting and what really spurred you to get on TV?
CP: Well, when I first started getting interested in broadcasting, it was probably a couple of years ago. It was just something that I kinda was asked to do initially—just to go in and cover a game—and I really enjoyed it. I really love basketball and anybody that knows me knows that I'm constantly checking stats and news and watching my app and keeping up with every sport. So this was kinda another thing that they were like, "Hey, you should consider broadcasting."
And then Turner called, which is the network that I always watch and really enjoy being a part of. So it just worked out where I was kinda ready to be at home and not travel abroad and play basketball. I can still play basketball in the WNBA and kinda navigate this new career. So I really enjoy it, I have a great time doing it. Obviously, it's hard work but I think it's something I'm gonna be really interested in doing after basketball's over.
KB: Is Turner the ideal partner for you? You were great during the NCAA Tournament and you look like you have a lot of fun on the Players Only broadcasts and on GameTime. So what's it been like with them?
CP: It was an ideal partner because I think Turner really wants you to be yourself and right now, at this point in my career, I really want to be authentic because I think you're your best when you're authentic. Their the network that's really family oriented and things like that, so I really just got the good vibes coming from them. They always welcomed me, obviously with me being the only female analyst there, I was not nervous at all going in because I knew a lot of the guys, and they welcomed me and told me I was one of them and that I should act that way. There's never been a time where I've really felt being the only female women there. If anything I can bring just another different perspectiv, and I really enjoy being a part of it and it really is a great fit.
KB: What’s the hardest part about being a broadcaster?
CP: The hardest part for me is that I'm still playing. So when a lot of commentators comment on things that players are doing, they're not playing so they can't then go back and be critiqued for the same thing. So I remember last year, I got a tweet, like I made some comment about a player like not boxing out and the tweet was a video of me not boxing out (laughs). So I think that's the hardest thing, just speaking on something and then actually having to go back it up when you're playing on the court.
KB: Shifting away from broadcasting, this year’s WNBA season seemed like it got more traction and media attention than most. How cool is it to see all lesser-covered teams and players, like A’ja Wilson and the Aces or Liz Cambage and the Wings, getting more exposure?
CP: I think, it's all positive and it's about growth. And I think that everybody wants the WNBA to be farther along than it is. If you look at the NBA, obviously it's been in existence for quite some years, and the WNBA is 22 years young so I think we need to give it time to grow. We're going to go through growing pains and ups and downs but, for the most part, at this point in time, this is gonna be our biggest growth. Because right now there's so many more outlets, there's social media, there's so many ways to connect with the players and really it's about storylines. If you think about the NBA, we fall in love with storylines. "Westbrook is going back to play Kevin Durant, they don't like each other" and we follow that. "Kyrie is going to play LeBron." So you fall in love with these storylines so it's really just about allowing the fans to know your personality and know who you are.
KB: How do you think the WNBA could expand its range and bring in new fans?
CP: I think we need to bring in more fans with our—how can I put it this way—with our target fans, just bring in more. And I think it is about visibility. We need to be on TV but we also need to connect on social media and take steps that way. We were the first sports program, sports league to put our games on Twitter. We were the first of our kind to broadcast our games on Twitter and to have live feeds and live conversations. So I think doing things like that, it's definitely gonna grow the league.
KB: Kristi Toliver is serving as an assistant coach with the Wizards. Is it cool to see more women crossing over to the men’s game and being able to get coaching jobs and scouting jobs?
CP: It is. And I think it's about time and that's kinda been my philosophy on things. Everybody asks Becky Hammon what she knows about the NBA because the WNBA is two completely different games but then we have coaches in the NBA that never played. You look at how great Erik Spoelstra is in the NBA, he came up as a video coordinator. I think it's just about, it's not necessarily about how you get to where you're going, but it's about the knowledge that you have to fill that position. And I think people are starting to realize that.
My biggest thing about signing with Turner was that I didn't want to be the token women. I didn't want to be there because I was a woman. I wanted to be there because I deserved to be there and I just happen to be a woman. So I think we're starting to understand in the league and obviously kudos to Popovich because I think he definitely had the foresight to see that this was coming and that Becky Hammon was a good candidate for the job and that she deserved to be a candidate for the job and I'm really excited about where it's going. And that adds to the whole equality, equal playing field.
KB: What are your thoughts on the Derek Fisher hiring?
CP: I'm really excited about it. Jeez, how come they're not asking, "Does he know the women's game?" (laughs) You know what I mean? Why isn't this happening on the other side? But I'm really excited about Derek Fisher being our head coach because he is a great candidate for the job. I think he is very knowledgeable about basketball and he's won a championship and that is life's biggest lesson. If you win a championship—and especially when you win as many as he has—he knows what it takes and that's what this team needs, and I'm really excited to get started and the 2019 season can't start soon enough.