On this week’s episode of the Vertical Podcast with J.J. Redick, JJ interviewed Candace Parker, legendary basketball player for the Los Angeles Sparks.
I can’t say enough about Candace Parker. You’re best off glancing at her wiki page if you don’t know who this is. And really, if you don’t, shame on you. Parker is one of the best women’s players to ever lace them up, and even the most WNBA ignorant could appreciate her Magic Johnson-like game. Incredible considering Parker didn’t dive into basketball until late middle school in fear that she couldn’t live up t her brother, Anthony Parker. You know, that really sneaky Toronto Raptor fantasy waiver wire pickup you use to make in your deep leagues like a decade ago. She was one of the most public women’s players I can remember when she was crossing over from college to the pros. Here are some highlights:
Parker, amongst her other innumerable achievements including MVPs, ROY, and Olympic gold, recently won a very dramatic WNBA finals that rivaled the NBA’s finals in terms of competitiveness and level of play. Like in the NBA, Parker led her team to a last second road win over the defending champions in a deciding game. It was Parker’s first title and the Sparks first title since the hey day of the Lisa Leslie era. Parker memorably dedicated the win to her college coach and mentor Pat Summit.
So yeah, Parker is a huge deal, and this was a great pod. I’m not completely versed with the WNBA but I tend to watch a handful of games in the postseason, as the sports cycle is usually dead otherwise and the level of play is pretty intense. Redick started the pod off talking about his strong interest in the WNBA.
With all the rage this summer talking about Olympic golds vs NBA titles, Parker gave a resounding answer that her WNBA title meant all the more to her. You might remember that Parker was absolutely inexplicably left off the WNBA Olympic team this year, and followed that up with a season for the ages. JJ also spoke about how the USA is just expected to win gold, so while I understand the pride in representation, I’ve always felt it would be more of an accomplishment to get that pro title. But, making team USA means you’re the cream of the crop, so I get that this is also what gets players hyped.
Parker and JJ spoke about the parity in women’s college basketball and brought up a bunch of points I didn’t even think about. Parker brought up the very valid point about how certain teams are juggernauts because they simply have the best facilities and women’s players are very unlikely to leave programs unlike in the men’s game. She paralleled the women’s game now to how the men’s game use to be when a school like UCLA dominated during John Wooden’s years, before the super profitable NCAA become what we know it to be now and Cinderella teams became more frequent. WNBA players seem to prioritize playing for programs even over playing time, and now the player pool is expanding. Sometimes you forget just how new the expansion of women’s basketball has been. In the college game, there’s more weight in playing for a great program and really expanding your game rather than going one year and soaking up a ton of minutes in a smaller program.
Redick also spoke about how to make the WNBA a more popular sport, and Parker spoke about finding the demographic to market to. The WNBA seems to be marketing more towards women based on where games are broadcasted, but for a while it didn’t feel like I knew its direction. Even now, I feel like the direction is a bit confused, with NBA players almost pleading with NBA fans to watch in some ads. Honestly, there’s a ton of machismo with dudes that really gives the league a bad rep, the idea that the WNBA is watered down because of the lack of dunking. While women may be behind athletically, I’d much rather watch a WNBA than most college basketball, as the fundamentals in college basketball tend to be dreadful with some exceptions compared to the WNBA. I think the league still has a problem with marketing and how to market, and really the best way to get fans is for people to just watch with an open mind. It’s probably easier for women to do, and sadly men seem to be lagging in that field. If you read youtube comments for highlights of WNBA players, it’s usually littered with the same “can they dunk tho” drivel as you’d imagine.
Another point Parker made that I found fascinating was the difference between selling yourself as a female athlete vs. a male athlete, and how important looks are in the equation, and “carrying yourself like a lady.” I have always found this is a point worth discussing, mostly because of the marketing deals a tennis player like Maria Sharapova gets vs. Serena Williams, when the latter is miles better and has actually completely dominated their head-to-head matchups. (There are more issues in that specific comparison that would bog this article down forever.) Parker spoke about how men don’t really need to deal with that, that as long as you’re good, you’re set. Now being charming obviously helps players, but before Stephen Curry was an upstart MVP candidate, there was Derrick Rose years before getting lots of similar buzz, despite the fact that Rose’s charm has no doubt lacked when compared to someone like Curry. Parker also spoke of the difficulty in coming back from pregnancy, and recalled how she amazingly came back to basketball in July after giving birth in May. This is some next level determination. Seriously.
Parker mentioned an under-the-radar WNBA player that’s a baller without being a household name. She mentioned Tiffany Hayes. I’d never seen Hayes play so I looked her up, and damn. She’s got some serious handle and can finish at the rim.
This was a really cool pod and I really recommend it to anyone that loves basketball. There are some great talking points here. Do you watch the WNBA? How do you think they could increase their popularity? What do you think when someone mentions the name “Candace Parker” to you? Do you care at all? Why not? I need answers.