Candace Parker was more than a great talent. She was a hero to a generation of Black girls.

Candace Parker was more than a great talent. She was a hero to a generation of Black girls.

One of the greatest athlete stars of our time, Candace Parker, announced her retirement on social media Sunday. Barely an hour after her announcement she was congratulated by Charles Barkley, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, Tina Charles from the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, former NBA star Jamal Crawford, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, former All-Star Baron Davis, Olympic gold medalist Carli Lloyd, the WNBA’s Chiney Ogwumike, journalist and author Jemele Hill, and Justin Timberlake.

They know. They all know just how monumental a force Parker was and how important it is to document this moment.

As a player Parker was both ferocious and gracious; powerful and fluid. She brought rigor and intellect to the industrial battle that is professional basketball, where the test of greatness lies in how a player manages the sport’s grueling schedule. She passed that test over and over again. She elevated above it all.

The statistics don’t tell all of the story but they do sing a remarkable song. As ESPN summarized, she won NCAA titles at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. Then she was picked first in the 2008 WNBA draft. She won titles with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016 (she was the Finals MVP), the Chicago Sky in 2021 and the Las Vegas Aces in 2023. That made her the first player in WNBA history to clinch titles with three different teams.

She was also a two-time league MVP, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Parker remains the first and only player to be named WNBA MVP as a rookie.

When Parker was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022, Dwyane Wade wrote her story for the magazine: “As a fellow athlete and a fellow parent, I admire what she’s accomplished and how she has taken her daughter all over the world while playing to provide for her family. Her commitment is unparalleled, as are her insights: through her work as an NBA commentator, she always offers me a different way to think about the game. She is inspiring not only to the next generation of players but also to all young people, and she uses her platform with incredible intent, most recently producing a feature-length documentary about how Title IX advanced the cause of gender equality in the U.S. So many young women watching Candace are seeing how she’s living out loud and achieving greatness. Her legend is only growing.”

Parker is one of the most influential athletes ever. But that doesn’t tell the full story of who she is and what she’s done. Because just as important is that she was one of the most influential Black athletes of all time.

Parker inspired a generation of Black girls to believe that not only could they be basketball players but also a television analyst, a businessperson, a leader, a philanthropist, and a documentary filmmaker.

They saw her excel, push to excel, and wanted to do the same.

Yes, she inspired all kinds of girls, and people, but Parker’s Blackness was particularly notable.

In many ways, her influence rivals that of Serena Williams or LeBron James. If that seems crazy, you haven’t paid attention to her career or what she’s meant to basketball. Or how she’s been fearless addressing social issues when it’s not always easy for Black women athletes to do so.

Parker actually had two Time moments. In 2020, for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, she wrote a column that carried the headline: “We Don’t Need Men to Save Us.” Parker wrote, in part, about her love of history and her incredulity over how long it took Black women to get the right to vote long after white women had earned it.

“Understanding history helps us appreciate the present, but also plan for the future,” she wrote. “It has been 100 years since the 19th Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote, was enacted. I say women, but really it only applied to white women. An African American woman, like myself, would be unable to legally vote until 1965 – some 45 years later. Another way to put it – only 21 years before I was born were women who looked like me GIVEN the RIGHT to vote. Think about that for a minute. Not until 1965, only 55 years earlier than this very moment, did we stop holding back people’s rights based on what they looked like.”

Parker, on the court, was potent and staggering.

“The dunks. The dimes. The boards. The blocks. The smile. The swagger. The memories Candace Parker created for a generation of women’s basketball fans will remain ingrained in our collective conscience forever, but she has given so much more to the game beyond her accolades and statistics,” the Las Vegas Aces said in a statement. “As a teammate and mentor, a mother and wife, a baller, broadcaster, and businesswoman, she has inspired countless young people, both boys and girls, to chase and achieve their dreams.”

She was, if it’s possible, even more impressive off the court. She wasn’t just a hero. She was one of the greatest Black athlete heroes we’ve ever seen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Candace Parker was a generational talent and hero to Black girls


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