When the NBA All-Star Game tips off in Charlotte on February 17, all of the sport’s best players won’t be on the court. Candace Parker, one of the most accomplished ballers — male or female — of all-time, will be watching the action from the sidelines.
“I’ll be working All-Star,” clarified Parker, a five-time WNBA All-Star, a two-time WNBA MVP and the 2016 WNBA Finals MVP, all with the L.A. Sparks. “We’ll figure out the specific role and what exact events I’ll be covering. It’s my third straight All-Star. I was in New Orleans with my first ever, L.A. last year and Charlotte this year. I’m getting excited about it because, as a kid, that’s what you dream of — going to the NBA All-Star Game. So, now to be there and be a part of that means a lot.”
If you’ve watched NBA TV’s primetime coverage this season, you’ve likely seen Parker more than hold her own as a panelist on the popular Players Only alongside male contemporaries like Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas and Kevin McHale.
Regular show viewers also know that when Parker says she’ll be “working,” that means she could be doing some play-by-play commentary, breaking down in-game nuances or interviewing a player. And you thought the 6-foot-4-inch Chicagoan was just versatile on the hardwood.
Forbes Travel Guide recently chatted with Parker about her growing media persona, the WNBA’s direction and where she’s headed next for vacation. The mother of a nine-year-old daughter, Parker was also game to share some insight into how she juggles a hectic travel schedule with family time.
Read on to see how she wins at that and, seemingly, just about every other aspect of her life.
You live in L.A., shoot NBA TV programs in Atlanta and travel to places like Charlotte. Does all the packing and unpacking ever get old?
This is my first time being in the States at this time in the last 11, 12 years, so I will take all the packing I have to do to be here. You know, it’s always been tough because I’ve played in Russia, China and Turkey [during the WNBA offseason], so we’re kind of traveling like this — just overseas. We’re gone pretty much once or twice a week anyway.
So, to be able to sleep in my own bed for five nights out of the week and do something that I love [is great]. What’s better than playing basketball and talking about it for a living? I think I’m pretty lucky and blessed with this job.
Packing and unpacking, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I don’t check a bag. I go through security pretty quick. So, there’s no complaints here.
Are you able to slide through airports without being detected?
LAX is great. I mean, nobody cares in L.A. Coming through and going back and forth, you get hellos and stuff [but that’s about it]. Atlanta is a little bit more fun, just in terms of the people that recognize me. I went to college in the South. So, it’s always fun for me to meet people who watch what I’m doing now and have followed me since Tennessee.
To me, sitting in the airport and people recognizing me for different things is always cool. Fans say, “You play basketball,” or “Oh wait, you’re on Players Only,” or “You were on Kevin Hart’s Cold as Balls.”
How do you keep communication strong with your daughter when you’re on the road so much?
From the time she could remember, we’ve always been on the go. And she has always been everywhere with me. That’s my thing. I don’t go a long time without seeing her or her being where I am. So, that means she’s been in Russia, China, Turkey and all the way across the world.
But before she could understand time and days, we would do a sleep calendar. Kids understand sleep. They know their sleep schedule. I would say, “There are two sleeps before I come back and see you.” So, the night before I would leave, I would always make sleep calendars. I’d sit down and I would draw mine and she would draw hers. Then, on FaceTime, we would cross out the days until we would see each other. It kind of helped when she was younger and didn’t really understand.
Now, I can talk to her. She knows the schedule and she knows I’m gone two days out of the week, but the other five I’m there. I’m fully there. I take her to basketball. I take her to soccer. I do all the activities and all the events at school. So, you know, I just try to talk to her and make her understand that there are sacrifices at every point and this just is one of them. The other five days you have 100 percent of me. There’re not many jobs that allow parents to do that. So, we’re fortunate.
She understands that and she’s cool. She’s in fourth grade now. She’s got her life. She’s not worried about me.
With young stars like Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, you have to like the direction the WNBA is headed, right?
Well, definitely. I think every generation is going to, hopefully, leave the game better than when they came into it. That’s how the game of basketball grows. That’s why I get on people judging the state of sports and things like that because you have to give a league some time and give players a chance to evolve and grow.
We were really the first generation [to play basketball]. My mom wasn’t able to play basketball in college. They didn’t do it. Title IX [a rule preventing discrimination from activities based on sex] didn’t exist. So, our generation was really the first to really play sports in college and actually have a professional avenue.
You have people 6 feet 4 inches, 6 feet 5 inches who can handle the ball and can shoot like Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne. You’re seeing that more and more. I mean, the young woman who’s committed to Stanford that just had a tip dunk — Fran Belibi.
In order to do it, you have to first see it and believe you can do it. Now with social media, YouTube and all these things, there are all these different outlets for exposure for not only the players but also the fans.
I know each part of my career there have been people growing up watching me, saying they remember me from the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest. They remember me from when I committed to Tennessee. They followed my career. A lot of that is the storyline and getting attached to a player. I think the game is in great hands as far as talent and skill and passion. I’m really excited what the young crew is bringing right now. I don’t feel like I’m done, yet but I’m happy.
What makes L.A. special to you?
I was drafted here 11 years ago. And as soon as I came here, there was just a vibe that I really liked. I love that you can go get exactly what you want. I played in Russia for six years. If I want borsch, I can go find borsch. I can find that community.
I want my daughter to play on a diverse soccer team. There’s diversity. I just love the weather. I’m a beach girl. I love going out to the beach and playing beach volleyball. I’m a bike rider, so I love going outside and riding bikes. I go hiking with my dog. It just provides all of that.
And it’s just gorgeous. It’s beautiful to be here. I had my daughter here. This is really all she’s ever known — being from California. It really became home then.
Do you like traveling internationally?
I love it.
Where are some of your favorite places?
Well, being in California, we go to Cabo quite a bit, in terms of vacation and things like that. But in terms of going overseas, one of my favorite cities is actually Istanbul. I love Spain. I looove Spain. Barcelona is another one [I love]. I’m kinda big into wine now, so, obviously, France is a key destination.
But when you’re playing basketball, you’re not really able to go and see all these places like you’d want to. So, I’m really excited now I have the time I can plan trips and figure out what exactly I want to do and go see those things that I missed. I’m really big into history, so every place I go I always go to the museums.
Prague is another city that is very historic. The cobblestone streets and the horse-drawn carriages and things like that [are interesting]. I really enjoy going back and seeing that type of Europe.
Is there a place that you haven’t been yet that is very high on the list?
I haven’t been to Rome yet. Rome, Italy, is a place I would really like to go. I hear it’s amazing. When I could have gone, it would have been like one or two days, and I don’t think that’s enough time, so I was like, “All right, I’m going to plan a trip there.”
Another place — and it’s really weird — I really want to go to is Iceland. I don’t know why, but I’m really into the Northern Lights. To be able to experience that, I mean, that’s on my bucket list. Those two places are kind of next on the to-do list.