Earlier this week, women’s basketball fans were gutted to see the bittersweet retirement announcement that was posted on Candace Parker’s Instagram. Seeing as she’s been playing in the WNBA (and other leagues) consistently since 2008, it’s not shocking that the St. Louis-born athlete wants to take some time to herself. Still, the energy she brought to every game will be missed as today’s best players strive to break records previously set by Parker.

As the 38-year-old pivots into a fresh chapter off the court, both she and her supporters are nostalgically looking back on her career. From avoiding the game due to the pressure of perfection at a young age to being named in the W25, Parker has come a long way, and she couldn’t have been able to accomplish so much if it wasn’t for the support of her loved ones.

How Did Candace Parker Get Her Start?

Who Is Candace Parker? pictured: Candace Parker
(Tyler Golden/ABC via Getty Images)

Watching her older brother, Anthony Parker, succeed as a baller was motivating for Candace, though she has admitted that she initially avoided the sport in favor of soccer as she didn’t want to not live up to his legacy. In eighth grade, she was convinced to spend more time working on her dribbling and dunking, which her father played a huge role in. “He did things to make me mad, to challenge me because I was so much more athletic and had so much more knowledge of the game than everyone else that sometimes I just coasted. If me and my dad went to a park and he didn’t think I was practicing hard enough, he’d just get in the car and leave. And I’d have to run home. I mean run home,” the Olympian reflected.

It wasn’t always easy, but Parker used those familial influences to push herself to become the best, setting records in high school that earned her the title of Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year twice (2003 and 2004). Around the same time, she became the first woman to win the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk contest, and two years later Parker was the only college player to make it on the USA team for the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

Off the court, Candace Parker’s good looks caught the attention of People Magazine, who named her one of the 100 Most Beautiful people in 2007. Fellow baller Shelden Williams saw that same beauty in the superstar, as they wed in 2008 (but ultimately divorced in 2016) and welcomed a daughter, Lailaa Nicole Williams shortly after.

Candace Parker’s Legendary Run through the WNBA

’08 was perhaps the biggest year of Parker’s life both personally and professionally. She was the first overall pick in the WNBA draft, joining the Los Angeles Sparks which led to long-term endorsement deals with Adidas and Gatorade. To this day, the icon still holds the record for best rookie performance in a debut game, and she was the first person to ever win both the WNBA MVP and Rookie of the Year Award. As if all of that weren’t enough, Parker took home an Olympic Gold medal and was one of the 11 people suspended in the infamous Sparks-Shock brawl.

Though she had a strong start in the league, the soon-to-be mother of three faced numerous injuries throughout the years. There was her shoulder and a torn meniscus in her right knee as the 2010s began, but Parker didn’t let that hold her back from obtaining a second Olympic Gold in 2012. The year after, she took home her second WNBA MVP title, plus an MVP accolade for her work in the annual All-Star Game.

As her 13 seasons with the Sparks waged on, Parker led the team to their first Finals since 2002. She also competed in four All-Star Games and landed a job as an analyst and commentator for TNT Sports as of 2018. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Candace Parker was one of the athletes who played in the “bubble,” earning her first-ever Defensive Player of the Year prize. In 2021, Ace moved on from the Sparks to play for the Chicago Sky, who she helped win their first title.

Thanks to her tireless efforts over the years, the Missouri-born beauty was also named a part of the W25 – a group of female players who are considered the best and most influential throughout the WNBA’s 25 seasons. In 2023, Parker inked a deal with the Las Vegas Aces, and though a foot fracture took her off the court, she still emerged victorious with her third championship title. In February 2024, another one-year contract was signed, but on April 28th, Parker officially announced her retirement from professional ball.

What’s Next for Ace?

In her emotional post, the sports analyst explained how she came to the big decision. “I promised I’d never cheat the game & that I’d leave it in a better place than I came into it. The competitor in me always wants 1 more, but it’s time. My HEART & body knew, but I needed to give my mind time to accept it,” Parker wrote. “I always wanted to walk off the court with no parade or tour, just privately with the ones I love. What now was to be my last game, I walked off the court with my daughter. I ended the journey just as I started it, with her.”

The 38-year-old recalled the 10 surgeries she’s had throughout her career, and how she’s growing tired of playing in pain with the stubborn foot injury she’s been facing. “I’m grateful that for 16 years I PLAYED A GAME for a living & DESPITE all the injuries, I hooped. I’m grateful for family, friends, teammates, coaches, doctors, trainers & fans who made this journey so special,” Parker thanked everyone who’s played a role in her success. Of course, just because she’s hanging up her WNBA jersey doesn’t mean that we’ve seen the last of her.

“Know IM A BUSINESS, man, not a businessman. This is the beginning…I’m attacking business, private equity, ownership (I will own both a NBA & WNBA team), broadcasting, production, boardrooms, beach volleyball, dominoes (sorry babe it’s going to get more real) with the same intensity & focus I did basketball,” Candace Parker promised, shouting out her wife, Russian basketballer Anna Petrakova, who’s currently expecting their second child together.

To conclude her retirement announcement, Parker shared a quote from her late mentor, Pat Summitt. “My mission in life is to ‘chase people and passions and you will never fail.’ Being a wife and mom still remains priority number one and I’ve learned that time flies, so I plan to enjoy my family to the fullest… Forgive me as I mourn a bit, but I’ll be back loving the game differently in a while,” she promised.