By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Do you think about me now and then? Do you think about me now and then? ‘Cause I’m comin’ home again!
Kanye West was inspired to make his 2007 track “Homecoming” by delving into the complicated, yet enduring feelings he, then an emerging worldwide star, felt when coming back to his home of Chicago when he wasn’t busy being Kanye or otherwise enjoying his current residence of Los Angeles.
Another such former Chicago-area native who was long ago lost to the flash and flyness of L.A. was women’s basketball star Candace Parker, who spent 13 years as a pro building a champion’s legacy for the WNBA’s Sparks while Chicago and its Sky always came up close but not able to make it.
But all that has changed, with Parker becoming the latest superstar to willing take on the challenge of returning home and staying there after news broke last week of her agreeing to sign a free agent deal with the Sky, leaving all that she’s known as a pro behind to test her capabilities once again, while doing so in a friendly environment.
And Candace can expect that environment to remain friendly well past 2021 — but will that lead to a career climax worthy of one of Illinois’ most distinguished basketball products? Yeah, you can bet it will. This move is simply an ideal situation for Parker’s career as well as the Sky franchise.
Wading in Different Waters
Dwyane Wade found himself in a similar situation as Parker back in 2016 — willing to explore his free agent leverage against the needs and wants of the beloved franchise that drafted him and molded him into a star through a decade of high-level play and championship experience.
With his beloved franchise, the Miami Heat, doing less than flipping backwards to bring him back, Wade saw a chance at a new start by coming home and playing for his childhood favorites, the Bulls, in 2016. What this aging veteran came to was an entirely different situation than Parker (which we’ll get into shortly). Wade attached himself to a franchise that had no direction and who had no real goals of being a playoff contender beyond the Hail Mary they were throwing that summer in bringing Wade and Rajon Rondo to a team lacking any established leadership on the bench and on its roster and who had standards that didn’t measure to the successful Heat and Boston Celtics they were most associated with.
As it would turn out, 3 Alphas did not a success make, it led more to chemistry issues and discomfort among that year’s Bulls, and by the summer of 2017, Wade was seeking refuge in Cleveland with his best buddy Lebron.
Parker’s tenure with the Chicago Sky may be short, but it would be hard to imagine it being as short as D-Wade’s and it could be much more successful due to the presence of another Wade: Sky coach and general manager, James Wade. Since taking over those positions in 2019, the Sky have made the playoffs in back to back seasons, the franchise’s first visible success since reaching the postseason in 2016. The Sky also features an array of talented players, including multiple All-Stars and one of the WNBA’s very best back courts in point guard magician Courtney Vandersloot and sharp shooter Allie Quigley.
6 things to know about new Chicago Sky star Candace Parker (Chicago Tribune)
Wade — who’s contract was recently extended through 2025 — has done a lot to raise the standards with Chicago’s WNBA team, identifying talent with a keen eye and coaching them up to fine results that show real development. Drafting Gabby Williams and Diamond DeShields and trading for Azura Stevens played specific roles in getting the Sky to the playoffs each of the past two years and those players should resonate as elements of the team’s young core for years to come.
For Wade and the Sky, the only piece missing to raise the team to another level was a superstar talent that can not only fulfill multiple facets of the game but can draw from big game experience and can measure up against the other elites who populate the rosters of teams like Minnesota, Las Vegas and the defending champion Seattle Storm. Parker fits that bill and the team is now in its best position for championship success since trading former league MVP Elena Delle Donne to Washington (another potential rival) in 2016.
Increased Ticket Revenue/Attendance
The WNBA has long been a league that has struggled to diversify income streams due to the lack of revenue generating within the league. However, the league always thrives when its big city markets are playing competitive basketball. As a big-market team in a basketball-crazy metropolis, the Sky are one of the franchises that deserves support and should draw a relatively nice-sized average attendance due to its continued success.
With the addition of a standout, home-grown talent in Parker, the numbers of season ticket holders to games at Wintrust Arena should improve and the buzz produced among more casual fans and supporters throughout Chicago should resonate — Chicago likes stories that involves Chicagoans, especially positive ones and a good ‘ol homecoming story warms the heart of most.
Coming home provides an outlet for Parker to give back to her community as well. She has a record as an active member of community efforts and she’s maintained a level of outspokenness towards efforts that support Black people and women at every level.
As a rising broadcast star with Turner Sports and NBA-TV, Parker is affable and mixes well with the often boisterous former NBA stars who surround her, yet sincere and well-spoken when social justice issues are on the table. You can expect that visible profile to lead to Parker doing a lot to effect change in Chicago.
Most importantly, Parker will have more time than ever to spend with the people who helped make her into the success she is today, including family from Naperville into the city limits, that should be beneficial for her daughter as she grows up in her teen years.
As a two-time MVP, WNBA Finals MVP and reigning WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, having the chance to come home with multiple prime years left as a possibility is a grand opportunity for Parker to widen and strengthen an already amazing legacy. Still near the height of her career, she not only helps the Sky with this move but her entire league, re-distributing her elite talent and tightening the grip of women’s basketball on Chicago fans.
A new chapter in the Windy City awaits Candace Parker, few things can spark the imagination like a return home.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media