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Candace Parker announces she's leaving the WNBA after 16 seasons


A legend in women's basketball, Candace Parker, is retiring. Instead of joining the Las Vegas Aces for the first day of training camp, she said on social media that the competitor in her wanted one more season, but, quote, "it's time." Ben Pickman is here with us. He covers the WNBA for The Athletic. Ben, Candace Parker has been wowing sports fans since she won a slam dunk contest in high school. She was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, but after 16 years, is her retirement a surprise? I know she's been dealing with a foot injury.

BEN PICKMAN: I think the timing of the announcement is a little bit of a surprise. As you mentioned, it was the first day of training camp. Teams across the country were filing back and getting back to work. And so to do it when she did and not earlier in the offseason was a little bit of a shock. But this was a player who had dealt with some injuries, as you said. She missed the second half of last season with a foot injury. She said she had 10 surgeries in her retirement post. But then the surprise kind of moved on, and everyone was effusive of her praise, voicing their admiration for Parker, calling her a GOAT and icon, someone who changed the game.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. In her announcement, she said that she had promised to leave the game in a better place. So walk us through some of her highlights that maybe helped fulfill that promise.

PICKMAN: She absolutely did just that. I mean, this is, for starters, a player who was positionless, really. You know, we use that term currently about players who can do a lot of different things. At 6-foot-4, Candace Parker was able to handle the ball, bring it up court like a guard, initiate offense. Courtney Vandersloot, a former teammate of hers with Chicago, told me the thing that jumped out most to her about Parker was Parker's passing ability, that she made things so much easier. So from an on-court perspective, she really was ahead of her time in the way she played. That's really the first thing that changed the game. And so many players, both past and present, really look up to her as a player because of that facet.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, speaking of players in the present, you broke the news to some of the players at the New York Liberty's training camp yesterday. What was their reaction?

PICKMAN: They were stunned, surprised. I mean, Breanna Stewart, who was last year's league MVP, a player who plays a lot like Candace Parker in her ability to be versatile, looked back and was - you know, paused and said, effective immediately? Like, what? Like, she was fully, fully shocked. It's a great video. And then, you know, Stewart and so many others turned and reflected on just the career that she's had. You mentioned it. She had a star career at Tennessee under the Hall of Fame Coach Pat Summitt.

She then joined the WNBA, won rookie of the year her very first year and MVP in the same season. She ended up winning two MVPs. She's the first player and only player in WNBA history to win three different titles - championships - with three different franchises. This is someone who then has an off-court career that's, you know, super successful and prominent, as well, already as a broadcaster. So Candace Parker showed the way, led the way for so many and will continue to do so in the world of women's basketball.

MARTÍNEZ: I remember in 2008, when she was drafted No. 1 overall by the LA Sparks. I was in a sandwich shop in LA, and she was there eating a sandwich. So I went up to her and said hello. I was so nervous. You know, but it's Candace Parker. She had just won a national championship. She was so nice. She said hello back, and then I just slunked (ph) away and ate my sandwich. But it was a great memory because she was such a superstar back then and even today.

PICKMAN: Yeah, and now you will watch her - you go from that experience to watching her on TNT and NBA TV and CBS, where she helps out with the NCAA tournament coverage. You know, she is such a fixture of so many people's lives and will continue to be, even though she is not playing, someone who really - again, an icon, a GOAT, never cheated the game, despite some of the injuries that she had. People were - you know, she will be missed in the world of women's basketball and basketball more broadly.

MARTÍNEZ: Ben Pickman is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the WNBA and women's college basketball. Ben, as always thanks.

PICKMAN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA'S "LOVER/FRIEND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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