There are infinite ways to define the word “legacy”.
But for Candace Parker, the word paints a very vivid picture.
“Your legacy is basically the representation of the people you attract, your passion and your purpose,” said the Los Angeles Sparks forward. “I want to be the example of everything I talk about.”
But Parker’s words, her relentless drive and her beaming smile stem beyond basketball.
In just her first season in the league, Parker’s 2008 highlight reel included a 34-point debut performance, dunks in back-to-back games and a league-best 17 double doubles. But after becoming the first WNBA player to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same year, the Illinois native’s life changed forever.
Parker, who was still getting accustomed to playing in the league, gave birth to her daughter, Lailaa in the spring of 2009. The 12th-year veteran has since played all 11 seasons with Lailaa by her side.
“The thing is, as a parent, you kind of get caught up in the world,” Parker said. “We want to give our kids everything. But really, the important thing is time. If you set aside time for your child, like you set aside time for a meeting or a hair appointment or eyebrows, I think you build better relationships.”
Parker launched her first “Presence vs. Presents: Day of Fun” event on Aug. 3 as an interactive day for parents and children to spend time together. The immersive event–which sold out in just two hours–consisted of video games, “Guess Who?” WNBA-style and basketball drills for kids and their parents to enjoy.
“‘Presence vs. Presents’ (has been) my kind of mantra with my daughter,” Parker said. “Like I want to spoil her with experiences, and not with things. And I think I wanted to somehow have an experience come to life for other parents.”
From posing for the camera during player walk-ins, to stealing Gatorades from the team, Lailaa is the reason why Parker–whether win or lose– walks across the Staples Center floor for a hug after every home game, before heading back to the locker room.
“I want my daughter and I to have a great relationship,” Parker said. “I want that legacy to be there. I want to instill values in her–like working hard, I want to be the example of that.”
Parker consistently harps on being an example for others. Just like Pat Summitt was for her.
Participants at Parker’s event as well as fans at the Sparks’ win over Phoenix on Aug. 8 sported t-shirts that read “Left foot, right foot, breathe” in remembrance of Summitt–Parker’s coach at Tennessee. The Sparks forward also has the phrase tattooed to her right arm.
“She said that from the very beginning to the very end, and she lived by that,” Parker said. “So I think it’s just kind of like my way of doing things. When things are good that’s what I do, and when things are difficult that’s also what I do.”
In the Sparks’ 84-74 victory against Phoenix, Parker logged 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists–a game she made sure to leave on the court in honor of Pat Summitt Leadership Night.
“I never met her, but I’m probably meeting her every day through Candace,” said Sparks head coach Derek Fisher. “I think a lot of who Candace is, how she sees the game, how driven she is to push herself and her teammates, I think a lot of that came through from Pat Summitt.”
Parker said she hopes the legacy she leaves for the sport of basketball is simple.
“When I came into the league everyone was asking me, what’s my legacy what do I want to do,” Parker said. “Honestly, it’s just to leave the game better than what it was when I came into it. That’s the question when it’s all said and done.”