The busiest person in either basketball bubble

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The NBA’s bubble restart has been a pretty smooth operation. Players have been commended not only for their sacrifices, but for working diligently to follow all of the safety protocols to make the Walt Disney World campus one of the safest venues on Earth.

But an hour and 30 minutes north of the NBA bubble is the one where the WNBA’s 22-game season in Bradenton, Florida, is taking place, and there is a player there giving new meaning to the term “triple threat.”

Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker is averaging 12.7 points, a league-leading 9.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks in 10 games. She also has full mommy duties with her 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, in the bubble with her, and she’s also part of TNT’s Tuesday night editions of “Inside the NBA,” which features Parker, NBA icons Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and host Adam Lefkoe.

Parker, a franchise cornerstone, is the hardest-working player in either bubble.

“There are some days I think I feel overwhelmed, but honestly, I have an amazing support team, family, everything,” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “So when I get overwhelmed, I have people that I can definitely lean on. But I will say this: I'm one of those people, I need that, like I need different things. I kind of talk about the comparison from my game to what I do in life. I can't ever do the same thing. Do you know how many times I got yelled at by [the late] Coach [Pat] Summitt for not doing just a right hook? … I always have to do stuff; that's the way my mind is. And so just to be versatile on the court, but off the court as well. I would say sometimes it's overwhelming, but there's more positive and good days than there are bad.

“It's been really fun because I watch the NBA anyway. I was able to pretty much make all the shows, and it's just been kind of like being able to talk about basketball. I'd be doing it anyway. So to me, it's really not much else other than an hour, maybe, trying to do your hair and put makeup on, added to my schedule. To be able to sit around and watch Shaq dominate, and then now, talk to him on a regular basis, and laugh and joke with him and D-Wade's the same thing. I mean, I had D-Wade's ‘Sidekick’ phone when it came out. … The same thing with [Charles Barkley] and just to see the amount of love he shows me. It's one of those things where I can't even put it all in words. Chris Webber, the same thing. So like you just go down the line, Reggie Miller, Isiah Thomas — I grew up idolizing him, but not liking him because I was a Bulls fan. So to be able to get paid, to do that, I think that's a dream come true.”

Sparks forward Candace Parker (3) goes to the basket against Fever forward Candice Dupree (4) during the first half of a WNBA game Aug. 5, 2020, in Bradenton, Florida. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Her apartment inside the bubble is set up like a training facility. At 34, the veteran point-forward has accumulated her fair share of mileage on the court and has endured multiple knee and shoulder surgeries. Thus, she has numerous pieces of equipment at her disposal for proper maintenance.

She has the Game Ready ice machine, the NormaTec for leg recovery, ultrasound machines for tissue therapy, the Hyperice HyperVolt massage device, and “every type of knee sleeve and back of the thigh” device. Parker is typically an early riser when she’s at her own home, but because games can be late, she has found herself waking up around 8:30 am.

She eats breakfast and watches a little television with her daughter, does some reading to catch up on the news and keep up with the NBA, and has daily yoga sessions before practices in the afternoon. She always lifts before practice. When practice is over, she does her daily COVID-19 testing followed by a massage. From there, her day begins to wind down. Lailaa returns to their accommodations after playing with her friends in the bubble. The evenings are for rehab, dinner, some red wine and mother-daughter time.

“My daughter and I have been doing this since she was 6 weeks old, 7 weeks old,” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “So this is kind of what we're used to in terms of mommy being in season or mommy working. Honestly, I hit the lottery with my child because she's unbelievable. She goes with the flow, she sleeps when we need her to sleep. And especially now that she's 11, I find in this bubble, she has a lot more freedom than she would have at home. So we go to the pool, she has a friend here, so they go bike riding. We honestly just treat it like we're at home. I mean, we read at night, we have a book that we'll read at night. We love board games and we do Tik, unfortunately. So that's kind of like our day. She likes to cook and she's getting into that type of stuff.”

When the 2020 WNBA season tipped off on July 24, numerous NBA players were sporting orange “WNBA” hoodies to help promote the season. It was a collaborative, supportive effort by NBA players that hadn’t quite been done to that level before.

“I do want to say, especially with it being Kobe's birthday coming up [on Aug. 23] and Kobe Bryant Day [in Orange County on Aug. 24], he was an advocate for women's basketball long before people were wearing orange hoodies,” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “If I can be completely candid, I mean, you look back in 2008, 2012, he was at our games for USA Basketball. He attended our play-in games, he attended our gold medal game [at the Olympics]. I remember a preseason game he came through, and it was all about support. I remember when I was a rookie in L.A. and him reaching out and saying, “Welcome to L.A.,” and hitting me up before a big playoff game. So I think a lot has to do with guys that looked up to him and idolized him understanding how important women's basketball was to him. And I do think that there is a trickle-down effect from what he's done for women's basketball.”

Parker says the WNBA is appreciative of the support from NBA players, but emphasized that it’s going to take more from them and society before there is an even playing field.

“For us, it's always been about investment and, you know as well as I do, if you don't put money into something, you're not going to get much out of it,” she told Yahoo Sports. “And so I think that was what our argument was basically all along: You have to invest in something to see what it really can grow to be. And so that comes with visibility and that comes with people making a commitment to put women on television. And I do think that there is going to be a shift and there has been a shift, even in terms of marketing. If you look at some of the commercials, they use women that aren't even athletes to fill in for different athlete spots. They would never have some random guy play a spot in a commercial about an athlete. It would never happen. So it's just little things like that, that have to change in order for the respect to be there. And also, I do believe this generation is going to get it right. Like, I think my daughter's generation has grown up with women in those types of positions and it's not necessarily for sport. I think it changes things in the boardroom, it changes things within companies, where you have men that have grown up seeing women in positions, and so they're going to be able to hire them more often and be willing to hire people like that because they've seen it. So I think it changes things from the sports standpoint, but also from a business standpoint.”

The WNBA has been ahead of the curve when it comes to speaking out against systemic racism and using its platforms to peacefully protest. However, the league is seldom mentioned as being one of the pillars of what has now become the Black Lives Matter movement.

In 2016, Kelsey Bone was the first WNBA player to follow Colin Kaepernick and kneel during the national anthem. Other WNBA players would do the same. This was four years before any NBA player followed suit, and now it’s not viewed as such a radical gesture.

On the opening night of the 2020 WNBA season, players left the court before the anthem in an effort to keep the focus on the police killings of unarmed African Americans and on racial injustice. 

“I think it has been so important to me to be a part of the WNBA and being on the forefront of change,” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “I don't know if we do it for the attention, we do it for the cause, honestly. And it's been interesting to see the kind of shift in public perception of different stances that people are taking. I mean, back in 2017, if you would have told me that more people would kneel for an anthem than stand, that people would be scrutinized for standing, I would have told you, you were crazy. Back in 2017, we didn't come out for the anthem and we were booed and then the ... Colin Kaepernick kneeling and the president basically coming out and making it about the flag. ... I would have told you you were crazy. With seeing the change in thought, it really is special because I do think we've had a hand in that as so many others have, but in terms of just being a part of the WNBA, I mean, that's what it is.

“We're the longest-standing sports women's league in the history of the United States, and it's for reasons more than just basketball. We're 80 percent African American women, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different sexual orientations. I mean, we are the majority of the minority, and I think we take that seriously and understand that we represent so many people that may not have a voice. So it's so important for us to not just go on the court and perform, but also, use this moment to bring awareness to social injustices.”

The WNBA and NBA is showing that you can be an active voice for change and still perform at a high level. Parker just happens to have more jobs than the rest. But she’s still focused on leading the Sparks to their fourth championship.

They are currently 7-3, third in the standings, trailing the Las Vegas Aces (8-2) and Seattle Storm (10-1). The hardest-working player in any bubble says she’s built for everything that’s on her plate.

“Right now, there is not another job that I think would be better at than playing basketball,” Parker said. “And the second job is talking about basketball and, fortunately, I get to do both and I do it with people that I grew up watching and idolizing. And they're my teammates now.”

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