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I always say I want to be like the Magic Johnson of women's team sports.
Welcome to the Just Women's Sports podcast, where we talk to the biggest athletes in the world about the untold stories behind their success. I'm Kelly O'Hara and my guest today is Candace Parker. Candace is one of the greatest basketball players to ever set foot on the court. Her first year in the pros, she was both Rookie of the Year and league MVP. A two time Olympic gold medalist. Candice led the Los Angeles Sparks to the twenty sixteen WNBA title and was named the finals MVP off the court.
The future Hall of Famer is a respected basketball commentator as well as the mother.
Candace, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. So we're going to start from the beginning. We're going to go back to little Candace days. You come from a basketball family, but you didn't actually start really playing it until eighth grade. And up until that point, you were playing soccer. Really? So what was. Give me give me a rundown on that.
What was that about?
I was the biggest soccer fan and player, and I will say it here. My parents completely crushed my dream because they told me that I was going to be over six foot and they were like, you're not going to be able to play soccer, but you could have an amazing at soccer.
Yeah, well, tell that to my parents. You know, I love soccer.
That's what I played. You know, that was my only sport, really, until I was like 12 or 13 years old. And the ninety six Olympics really kind of shaped my sports. I guess I was the biggest Mia Hamm fan. I was, you know, the Atlanta Games was the Magnificent Seven with Dominique Moceanu and Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller. I mean, I had a balance beam outside flipping and trying to be like them. So I grew up and like that 96 Olympics is when it really was when I started, like idolizing female athletes as role models.
That's actually exactly the same as I was, but I wasn't a big soccer fan, I played it. But the ninety six Olympics gymnastic team was my first memory of seeing female athletes on TV and representing their country. And that changed my whole outlook on life. I was like, oh, I'm going to do that one day. And I was watching gymnastics, you know, I had no idea it was going to be in soccer, but. So how did you end up in basketball?
Your parents are just like you're going to be too tall. We're putting a basketball.
There is like a basketball in my crib. Ever since I was young, I went to my first game at two weeks old. My brothers are 11 and eight years older than me, OK? And so I spent my entire childhood, like at a few tournaments, eating my snack, taking naps at games, playing behind the bleachers, like my moment was during halftime of my brother's a few games. And it was like me running out on the court and people being like, oh wow.
She can kind of play a little bit like that was my moment to shine.
But you weren't playing yet. It's really weird because when we were growing up, I mean, I played Vibha, but why? Basketball was like, you know, you practiced on Thursday for an hour and then you came and played on Saturday and everybody was just trying to have fun. But honestly, my brother got drafted when I was 11 and that kind of opened my eyes to like, that's cool. Like he got drafted into the NBA. I was there on the couch when he got picked.
I was there watching him work out with my dad and all the cool things that came with that. And so kind of just kind of made my wheels turn a little bit like I was like, this is kind of cool.
So and they really impacted your mindset. Yes, it did and impacted my mindset. And I started when you start making sacrifices for your sport and that's when you know it's real. And that started happening in like seventh, eighth grade. Whereas instead of going to the mall or going to play miniature golf or go karting with my friends, I went to the park and I went to the gym. And on Saturdays, I'd wake up and be like, Dad, when are we going when are we going to gym?
So we could go to the gym on Saturday. And that's when I kind of fell in love with the process of of playing basketball. That's awesome. Did you tell your brother at that point like, oh, I want to do what you're doing? Or was it kind of just like, oh, no, it was like a little light switch in your mind. I want to do this. I want to follow in your footsteps.
Kind of I tell him all the time that. Like being the little sister, everything my brothers did or were doing was like the coolest thing I could ever think of.
Like I remember when they started driving, when they dunked, when they went to college, I thought it was so cool. And then you get to that stage, you're like, I mean, it's cool.
But I you know, you gotta love driving. You didn't love me.
Mean, I love driving, but I just thought of them as so much cooler.
And my brothers always tell me it's because I'm not cool, but like I wanted to play basketball because they did and I wanted to do everything they did. And so it just seemed like it was right. Yeah. I mean, so you go from getting into basketball, seriously middle school, and then you end up having not only a dominant but a historic high school career. You won multiple state titles, just about every national player of the year award, not once, but twice.
So was it that light switch that propelled you into that? Or do you think you just you found your calling, this was what you were meant to do? I'm such an individual that thrives on challenges. And ever since I was little, I think it's like the little child, the youngest child in me. Like anything you tell me I can't do, I'm going to try to do it ten times harder to the point where, like, my family kind of like pulls those strings.
And that's kind of how it was. I remember in eighth grade, my junior high coach was like, you know, I think you could be like top ten in the state. I was like top ten, like in the state, like, yeah, I think that's all we did was in you.
You couldn't believe that he was saying that you could be top ten or you like giving him a side eye because you're like not going to be number one. Yes, I was getting my side. I like I'm I'm about to be number one. And it was the same thing with, you know, my dad threw me a tennis ball and he was like, you know, Anthony and Marcus, they dunked a tennis ball at twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old.
I just don't know if you can do it. And I spent that entire summer like jumping, practicing and volleyball. I remember practicing my footwork to try to do that. So it was just kind of like and it annoys me because I know my family is doing it even to this day, but I still cannot help it because as soon as you say I can't do something like I'm going to try everything in in in me to do it totally. I feel you were cut from the same cloth.
When did you realize you had you had what it takes to be not top ten, but number one, we were at our gym on a Saturday and we always went to this fitness center and worked out my dad and myself. And we were joking around after a workout.
And I took the ball and I went up and I tried to dunk because my brother's dunked at sixteen. So my whole goal my entire life was to enter high school and dunk before my brothers did, you know, period. And then also in a game so that we finished a workout and I just went up and just hit off the back of the room and my dad looked at me. I was like, do that again. I was like, well, I've gotten a volleyball down.
He's like you. You've dunked a volleyball. He's like, you haven't done the ball. Well, I'm like, yes, I have.
And I got up and I remember him showing me the footwork to go up and dunk in my hands are big enough. And so I just went up and got it. And then that was when I was like, yeah, I really want to do this. Like, this is it. You get so much adrenaline and joy from, like those type of just wins, you know, like it's like every practice you have a win of some sort. And so it just was like in me.
But. So you were sixteen. I was 14 when when I was 14 and then 15 and a game, and I thought I was long and lanky.
And just what would your brother say? My brothers didn't believe my dad. And, you know, at that time, there's not like camera phones where you can be like, see? So I had to wait till Christmas for them to come home. So when they came home for Christmas, my brother was actually in the stands when I dunk the first time in a game. And that was the first time he ever saw me done. And so he couldn't believe it.
And it's like a video of him, like jumping up and down in the background with him and his his wife. And it was so special to be able to kind of share that with them because we joke with each other, but we're so supportive and they're always in my corner. So it's yeah, it's really cool. And you can talk to your brothers like, you know, I tell their kids to ask their dads when they don't and then, you know, they love it.
They can never get that back. They can never beat you down to be the first the youngest to dunk. That's awesome. So. You start dunking in high school, you realize that you're not going to just be top 10, you're going to be No. One coming out of high school, you end up at Tennessee, which I feel like shaped you and your career so much. And obviously the biggest part of that was, was Pat Summitt. She's been a huge influence on your life.
So take me back to the beginning of that relationship. How did you recruit you to Tennessee? Was there a specific pitch? Did she just show you her rings, like what she would she do? Honestly, it's so weird. My first recruiting letter from Tennessee was volleyball, really? And I got the mail. I went out and I will never forget this because my dad was like, Pat Summitt doesn't want you.
Like, you know, another challenge, dad, my dad. You want to make sure that.
Yes, he did. And so I went out to the mailbox and I come running in with them with a letter, like a dad, like I made it, you know, Pat Summitt wrote me a letter and I open it up and it's volleyball.
And when I tell you it, let him tell this story. It's hilarious, my mom as well. But it was just my parents really wanted me to play for somebody that was powerful on the court and did her job, but also a role model off the court. And Coach Summit was one of those people that was so influential in so many people's lives. And I realize it now more than I did then, how important it is to have somebody in your corner, to have somebody show you and teach you about life.
And then now, as a mother, I would have sent my daughter there, too. It was the expectations. It was the discipline. She walked the walk and she was just a great representation of what my my dad wanted me and what my mom wanted me to be. And so it was just it wasn't the easiest decision. I can't say that I didn't consider Duke or Texas or DePaul or Maryland, but it was the correct decision for sure.
Probably one of the best decisions of your life, would you say? I would say is one of the best decisions in my life. I don't know where I'd be right now individually. I think I'd be a pretty good basketball player, but as an individual, as a person, I think there's so much that I learned and just that amount of time and then also just after. So she's she's known, like you said, for being incredibly tough as a coach, you know, in the heat of competition practices, games, all those things.
But she's also so loved by all of her players. So what what was her secret to striking that balance, do you think?
You know, so I'll tell you this story and then, you know, I don't know her secret, but I just know how our relationship was. My freshman year was really hard. I tore my school my senior year and I came back in five months from ACL surgery. Don't even ask me why I'm done, but I played my senior year. I was happy, whatever. So I get to Tennessee and they're like, we don't play on swollen knees.
That's not what we do here. So I get an MRI. They're like, OK, it's going to be six weeks or three months, and I'm like, oh, please don't be three months. You know, your freshman year you're ready to play or show the world this is what it's what it is. Whatever. I get a surgery and everybody's crying. My mom, my dad, Pat Holly, assistant coach. So the doctor comes over to me and they're delaying the process, delaying the process.
I'm asking they're like, no, we want you to, like, really wake up. So you understand. And the doctor was like, your knee is really messed up. Like, I don't know if you're going to be able to play. I don't know if you're gonna be able to play again. You know, whatever and, you know, Coach Summitt grabbed my hand, it was like, do you trust me? And I was like, you know, Yeah, I trust you.
She's like, we're going to get through this together. And when I tell you, my freshman year was one of the hardest years just because I had to redshirt that year, I had an exploratory surgery that actually ended up working out, had a total knee reconstruction. My parents got divorced that year and her door was always opened. And it wasn't like a forced conversation. It was one of those things where it's like her door was open and she was like, come do your homework.
In my office, there was no like, you have to talk just to know that that she was there. And I think it's that stuff that I remember more so than on the court, if it makes sense, because I think she's tough 100 percent. But just to have that relationship with all of your players and to be able to reach them in different ways and to know what pushes their buttons and you know what they need, I think it it really takes a special person to be able to do that for sure.
I was just thinking, I mean, that's that's a character quality that not a lot of people have to be able to create trust and belief in somebody. And just like and just. Yeah, just trust like support. Just know that you're fully supported all the time, even though they're going to push you. But I love that story of that. Her door is always open. But it wasn't like a pushy thing. It was just I've got you.
You're far from home. You know, this is new environment. You're in a tough situation. You're going through hard times. But she opened that to you and I guess to all of her players, which is like pretty special.
I don't feel like many coaches can do that.
And it's it's one of those things where. Everybody knows her as a coach that you can take what she says and write an entire book, I mean, the quotes that come out of her mouth are unbelievable.
But she listened. And I think we forget so much in leadership that you have to listen. And I always say this and people laugh, but I'm like, honestly, Coach Summitt set me up for failure because when I went on from Tennessee, I thought coaches did that. Like I thought that was automatic, like because I had my dad as a coach. I had a really cool high school coach, Pat Summitt. And then I get to the pros and overseas and the Olympics and it's like.
Some don't listen like they don't ever want to hear what you think you're just supposed to do what they say and it's like, I don't know how you operate, but I am a communicator and I feel like everybody wants to take ownership and, you know, to be able to have some sort of voice and whatever. I mean, you know, where some of the greatest that what we do. And so to just completely be silenced to me is a disservice to the team.
And so Coach Summitt, I mean, boy, like, if you talk about empowering players, she did that for sure.
Do you have a good Coach Summitt quote for everybody? Anything? Oh, man.
So we had the definite dozen principals and every year before the start of the season, she would assign, you know, to two people, usually one person, one of the principals, or every single year. I got handle success as you handle failure. And for so long, I was just like, OK, I know you're trying to make a point by giving this to me every single year, and I get it. But I was looking at it like she thought I just was like, you know, needed to be brought down to reality.
Like, that's how I looked at it. So I was like, humble yourself, humble yourself before you, humble others. And like, I was doing all these clothes and she's like, you still don't get it. And I was like, what? She's like when you miss a shot, you put your head down. She's like, but when you make a shot, it's next play. She's like, that has to be the mentality that you have, like put in the time the results should matter.
And I never looked at handle success as you handle failure because everybody assumes it's like a negative, that you need to be humble. But really it is like not being so hard on yourself and you aren't successful or you miss a shot or you're not having a great game. That's so good. I love that.
So you got that every year or almost every single year? I got that. And then finally, my senior year, I'm like, you could have told me this answer my freshman year, like, you wasted four years not telling me why you kept giving me this quote of me putting my experience.
But she wanted you to really get it. I got it.
You got well, you two had an incredibly successful run together back to back NCAA championships, back to back NCAA tournament, most outstanding player awards, back to back National Player of the Year awards. And looking back, what does it mean to have been on the last two title teams that Coach Summitt coached? It's nuts because I think when you're going through it, you don't think of it that way. It's one of those things where. I look back and I wish I would have been a little bit more present, and I think everybody has those wishes when they don't experience when they experience something and they know that that's the last time or it's super special.
But I think she she knew how special our group is and she knew that we love her and that I love her. And, you know, to be a part of that, I mean, that's something that. Yes. Do I wish she would have gotten more after we left for sure. But to be able to go back and have those memories, I think it's I mean, we go back and watch a game sometimes and I'm on the peloton, I'll pop in a YouTube game or whatever, and it's so great to see.
Have fun and you don't even realize it in college, you know, you're just playing, but how much fun it actually is and how great of an experience it is, totally agree with you. It's so true. You don't realize that you're so you're so caught up in the stress and the pressure and wanting to win and then you don't even realize what you have ahead of you and what you have right in front of you. At the moment, I feel like I feel like my professional career has taught me how to enjoy the journey and not get too stressed out about what's right in front of you.
Just enjoy it. And you look up and it's, you know, it's crazy. Like time literally has wings 100 percent. It really does. And you don't realize it at the time because it's like freshman year. Let me get to my sophomore year, then sophomore year. It's like I'm an upperclassman now. Junior year.
OK, then you're like, whoa, wait a second. This is my last year and. You know, I think it's a gift and a curse because I think we are who we are because we always are like, what's next? Totally and what can we achieve next and what's our goal? But then in the meantime, you kind of lose sight of being present. So I think it definitely is a balance. Yeah. So you you obviously crushed your college career and you ended up like you said, you ruptured your freshman year, played sophomore, junior, senior, but really it was freshman, sophomore, junior.
If you're looking at it in terms of eligibility, you said you were going to go to the draft in 2008 and you end up getting drafted first. Was that something you like? I I'm ready to go pro. I've done what I've done here. I'm ready for the next chapter. I was I was ready and it was a decision that I think was right, I walked in senior night, so I was able to experience that and and celebrate, you know, playing for Tennessee.
So I just felt like the timing was right. And we won back to back national championships. I was going out with the class that I came in with. I had a degree and it was just time for me to to move on. And I was very appreciative of the years Tennessee gave me, but I was definitely ready. Yeah. I mean, you clearly were ready because you come out, you get dropped to number one, and then you end up getting Rookie of the Year and you're also league MVP in your first season.
And WNBA is famous for being one of the hardest leagues in the world for a rookie to to crack and to be successful. And so why do you think your transition was so successful from college to pro? I played USA Basketball with the senior national team ever since I was a freshman in college. And with that came a lot of experience of playing against, you know, players that were experienced that were some of the best in the world. And so, you know.
To have that opportunity, I think, really helped me and prepared me. I also believe that playing alongside Lisa Leslie, one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball, I mean, help me tremendously. Because at some point, how long were you playing with USA Basketball before you turn? I played with USA Basketball three years before I.
I turned pro and it helped me a lot because I was playing against, I mean, all of the best in the entire world. I remember going out there and my first USA Basketball senior national team, I was guarding Lauren Jackson like, you know, it's just like, well, all right. Welcome to the big leagues.
I guess there's no time to break anything in. So it was just like that's you know, that was my experience. And it was just kind of one of those things where it was like, get to take it in stride. I was playing on a great team. I know a lot of rookies come into the league and they lose for their first couple of years because their team isn't good. That's why they got the number one pick. And for me, it was just Lisa had her daughter the year before, so she set out Sparks had a bad record.
So I got on a great team. That's awesome.
So. You also leaving college, you sign a lot of big endorsement deals, Adidas, Gatorade. Where do you feel like you're ready for that adjustment period? Like for me, when I left college, I had no interest in I was just like put me on a team. I don't I don't even do I need an agent, that sort of thing. But you came out of college and blew up off the court as well. Rightfully so, considering your success on the court.
But how did you like how did you deal with all the business decisions of becoming a professional athlete? I leaned on my family a lot. There is not much time, a lot of people don't know this, but when I was in college, you won the national championship and literally my hair still smelled like champagne, which where I was twenty one.
I was about to say, what are you drink? Twenty one. And we won the national championship, especially in Tampa with your family.
I had champagne, you know, all that. My hair still smelled like alcohol the next day, like I had to get up and try to take a shower and wash my hair and get ready for the draft like we get drafted the very next day. So I had to kind of handle the agent and all that stuff before the final four because it's just so tight. And so I my family helped me a lot. My brothers, my mom, my dad, they all helped me make the best decision for me.
And I had a great agent and he he represented me and had everything lined up. There's a short time between when the draft is and when the season starts. And so it was just kind of honestly, looking back, I don't even know how. Like it was just back and forth and you have this and then you got to. Now I got to pack up my apartment in college and say goodbye to people that I've been with for four years.
And it was a whirlwind for sure.
Yeah, but so exciting. I remember that. And I was not I mean, I didn't I wasn't signing with Gatorade by any means, but I just remember being like, I have no interest in this. But you clearly crushed it. And then like I said, you backed it up on the court. So when you went into that season, were you did you put those expectations on yourself of like, I want to be rookie of the year?
Like, was that in your mind or were you just out there trying to be as successful as possible? Did you want to be like were you thinking, oh, I want to be MVP?
I have something to prove I went into this season, like, I just want to win. I kept saying about the Triple Crown to win an NCAA championship, to win Olympic gold medal and to win a championship in one year would be insane.
And that was my mentality, and when I walked in there and said that Michael Cooper was our head coach with the L.A. Sparks and he was like, no, you need to go for a of your MVP. I was like, what? He's like, I'll be disappointed in you if you do not get Rookie of the Year an MVP. Like that's what you should that's should be your mentality. And, you know, they were tough. I mean, ah, my rookie season coupe was like that Pat Riley mentality.
So we practice two times a day for 21 straight days. I will never forget how my body felt. I mean, we worked for so that season was by far not easy at all. But, you know, we we had a chance and I'm still salty about losing that year.
But anyway. But you got a gold medal out of it. Got a gold medal, we won the Olympics in 20, and it's unbelievable when I look back on that year, just because I got pregnant with my daughter that fall and I was actually at the Olympics. So to stand on the podium and get a gold medal pregnant with my daughter, I did not know. And then to win Rookie of the Year, an MVP pregnant with my daughter, you know, she looks at pictures to this day and is like, get like we won.
Like, that's I was in there. I'm in this picture.
And it's so cool to to be able to look back and say that. So you you have Laila your second, you're going into your second season, WNBA, and then your third and fourth season in the league. You had a series of injuries, kept you out of play. How hard was that to have such a phenomenal first year in the league and then kind of come up on these obstacles? And I mean, just hard times in general?
I've had seven knee surgeries and I've had one shoulder surgery.
And I remember when I got hurt in college, Coach Summitt made me go talk to one of the sports psychologists, one of those.
And I was in there like rolling my eyes, like, I don't need this. And then it really, like, made me think as you turn into. Like, why me and you look at the other side and there's so many people that can't play. Because of injuries. And I can it's just a little bit more difficult. So instead of looking at all those that didn't have injuries and never had a problem and never had anything, that was really an obstacle, look at it the other way, like how many people couldn't play or how many people had surgery and their knees didn't hold up or didn't have the care that I did.
And so when I started flipping the switch that way, it made it a little easier. I was so sick of rehab that year. I had my daughter, then I had shoulder surgery. And then I had I came back from shoulder surgery, completely healthy, and I banged knees in our early game.
It was like the sixth or seventh game of the year. I broke my knee like it was just like I was.
The bad news bears, right? But I just kept at it. And people around me just continue to motivate me. And it really I will say, I think basketball career would have been a lot better, obviously, without injuries. But again, as a person, I just don't just a lot. Yeah. Know, so it's definitely scars, but it taught me a lot in life, so.
Twenty ten, we got to talk about Russia, because Russia playing overseas is like a big thing for WNBA players. A lot of people don't know how common it is that you guys go abroad. So what went into your decision to head to Russia? So weird. I was supposed to go right after my rookie season. I had signed to play any Katzenberg actually signed it at the Olympics to play that summer. And then I got pregnant with my daughter and.
It was like, all right, so can we delay this thing till next year? And so they agreed to delay until the following year. So it was me in December with a five month old baby. We took 12 suitcases over to Russia because I was like, but that's beside the point, but I think it was I mean, it was a huge step to take a, you know, five, six month old baby overseas.
I mean, to this environment in America, you don't hear much positive about Russia, but honestly, it ended up being one of the best experiences we've had. My mom came with me to help me with my daughter, and I got involved in the culture. My daughter's first school was there.
She spoke a little Russian. Why? It ended up being like a really good experience. And fortunately, I was there.
I was able to be there for like six years. So it was it was a great experience.
What what was the like why was it such a good experience? Just because it was different? It was new. Yeah, I was there six years and I played for one of the best clubs in Europe. And we had drivers. We had amazing apartments. We had we flew private. So a very different experience than playing in the WNBA. One hundred percent, like I call, everybody's like, what's your off season job?
And like the WNBA, that's I mean, how you feed your children and take care of your families overseas.
Yeah. So why why is there so much money in Russian women's basketball?
Rich owners like they have no idea. I mean, you don't you don't ask questions. I just.
Yeah, just make sure it's in the account that gets here this month, OK?
No, they honestly use it as kind of like a bragging talking point at dinner. We had one of the richest men in. Russia and companies that owned our team, so we would have parties and by the fourth year, it's like the first year you're like, oh my gosh, these parties are unbelievable.
And then by the fourth year, like another party can we like and I'm saying like top of the line vodka and dancers and music and all this stuff, and it's just like. It really was a great experience. The funny thing is, is like Laila was a kid there and so she would go to playgrounds and all the kids would look. And, you know, at first I think we got offended because as African-Americans traveling are like, oh, they're staring at her because she's black and like, whatever.
And no, they just had never seen a black kid before.
So they all come over and this one kid tries to get up enough words and says, I love your hair. And he's like, can I touch it? And I was like, one time.
So he touches her hair and then they run and play.
And it's just like it's so cool to see that. Like, we're really not that different. Like, really, you know, we love we have kids, we have a family, we have friends. We like to have fun. And that's like every culture. That's so it's really cool. Yeah. Does Laila still could she speak a little bit of Russian as she tried. She is not that kid I was trying to get her to.
And, you know, I can understand I can speak a little bit to you, but I can understand, like I can get by. It's been funny when I'm on an elevator and like, somebody says something about me and I'm like, oh, it's not very nice.
Like when I get off it, but yeah, that's awesome. All right. So good vodka, nice kids, dancers, great vodka. Yeah, exactly. So jumping ahead to 2016, another big year for you. Controversially, you're left off of the Olympic team. It's a decision a lot of people question. And then on top of that, Coach Summitt passes away during the WNBA season. From that moment, you dedicate the season to her and you go on to win your first WNBA title, your finals MVP.
I feel like this is like kind of a Hollywood movie, like sad, but like so wonderful in the end. And so just walk me through that year and just everything that that happened. I mean, I feel like that's kind of a loaded question, but it was definitely an emotional year, I think, just personally as well as professionally. But I have a really dope circle. I honestly do. And I think it's in those times that you don't waver because, you know, you have people that are supporting you and behind you and love you and care for you and want what's best for you.
I had to go back to my roots, and that's kind of when I developed the mantra of like calm as a superpower, because there's a lot of things that I think. Should have been a certain way. Should have been this should have been that, but it's like because I didn't throw a fit, because I didn't act crazy, I look back at that like I'm not the fool that year, you know, but then also.
Coach Summitt. Meant and means so much to me and so much to me as a basketball player, and so I just don't think it's coincidence that I got my first WNBA championship like I knew she was watching. It's crazy. And then the day she passed, we had a game that night and I remember.
Trying to figure out how is going to get the. I would say just the inspiration to play, I mean, I think, you know, when somebody passes away, you want to honor them, but it's like sometimes you just don't have the energy. You know, you're just so overwhelmed and emotional and things like that and.
So that night, I just was like, let's, you know, I'm just going to go out there and play for her. And I ended up getting the most amount of rebounds that I got all season. And I could hear her every time, like Parker, go to the ball park or go to the boards, because that's all she talked to me about in college, was just rebounding, rebounding, rebounding on all that.
So that night, it was just like there's all these things that, yes, there's somewhat in my control, but it just happened that way. And so I just I kind of look back for it and I have a lot of gratitude. Just because you realize so many things when you when you go through a trying time like that, for sure. I mean, yeah, it's you you said it perfectly. And at the end WNBA final, you the confetti streaming down, you look up, I watch this and I almost heard crying before we got on here.
And you said, this is for Pat. And it was such a powerful moment. I might get emotional now, but like. What was it like to reach the pinnacle that you hadn't reached yet? Given all that had happened, like, what did that mean to you? I just knew she was there and I knew she had something to do with it. She's been so. Influential in my entire life, not just in basketball, the way I parent the type of teammate, the daughter, the friend, the wife, the everything, and I realize, like, you're never really a finished product.
And so it's kind of like all those things came to me at that moment. It was basketball, but it was like more than that and it was more of an achievement. As an individual as well, because I don't know if I could have gone apeshit and just went off and like, you know, I could have totally and could have acted a fool and people probably would have been like, OK, but I wasn't raised that way and I sure wasn't coached that way.
And so I think at that moment, it was just kind of all these things and all these reasons why I wanted to yell. It was like she was right again, like I got what I wanted. Our team won the championship.
It was almost like, I hear you, Pat, like this is for you for sure. Yeah. That's so special and it's so true. I mean, I feel like it's like you can when you hit hard times and when basically when shit hits the fan, like you can easily have an excuse to go off the rails. And I feel like that's happened to me a couple of times, probably not publicly, but like then you realize like, no, this isn't the person I am.
Like, this is about resiliency and that's how I was raised. And that's like you said, that's how I was coached. And I mean, that's a testament to you and the people. Like you said, you have a tight circle and that's that's pretty special.
Can you say any more on the Olympic decision? Was that something that was kind of out of left field or did you kind of have a feeling like, oh, I'm not not going to be on the squad this year? How did you handle that? It's interesting because it never occurred to me at all that I would be left off the team just because, one, I'm one of those like performance based people and like the training camp that I gave up time because I was going overseas.
And, you know, with women's basketball, it's like it's a tight schedule. So if you want us to do three weeks of training camp and we're going overseas, that's three weeks away from home. That's three weeks not being in America. That's three weeks before I got to travel and time away from my daughter and all that, so we went on a training camp to Spain and Italy and I played some of the best basketball I think I played.
I mean, I almost had a triple double one game. Like, it was just it was great. You know, it's I'm one of those like, if you say something like say, you know, if you say something, mean it and back it up and do what you say. And so that's kind of how it was like I played well, so why wouldn't I? It wasn't a question. So then I knew that I wasn't crazy when Caracal and I had a basketball court and was like, you know, we have so much respect for you.
We want to give you the opportunity to say, you know, you're pulling out of the Olympics. And I was like, oh, no, I'm not doing that. So you guys cut me. Yeah. Wow, this is a conversation.
And so this is how one of the you know, this is and listen, I respect everybody that's on the team. This has to do with that. But at the same time, it's like tell it like it is. Tell it like it is. Like if you think that, you know, it's not about talent, it's about this, whatever, then say it. Don't say that I'm not good enough to be on the Olympic team. And then I kind of came to the decision to the next year, you know, I got a letter and I got a call and like, you can come to training camp and all that stuff.
And I'm like. You know, I'm trying to set an example for my daughter in terms of like if somebody doesn't treat you the way that you feel like you should be treated or disrespect to you in a way, then I'm going to go back and say I'm going to give up my time again. I'm going to like I got two gold medals. I'm cool. Like, my grandkids can have them, you know, like they have something to remember me by, I guess.
But at some point it was just like, I'm done. I'm not about to go through this again. And so I respect the fact that that's how you've approached it. And, hey, you got your WNBA title that year.
So I came out on top.
All right. So social advocacy get into this just a little bit. So the WNBA as a league is at the forefront of so many important conversations today around racial justice, gender equality. Why do you think this league attracts so many confident, outspoken players?
Because we're the majority of the minority, as I say to the other day, and I love that we're we're 80 percent African-American, we're women, so we're one hundred percent women.
That's one thing that you can count as an African-American.
We come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, you name it. And that's the minority in the world, but the majority in our league. And with that being said, I think it goes with like we really take this seriously of leaving the game better than we came into it.
And I don't know if it's just talk like it's action. A lot of people can talk about stuff. And you're saying you don't know if right now it's just talk, it's actually action. Are you saying, no, we're putting action together this talk. It's going to be action. We're a league that has been at the forefront when it wasn't necessarily cool to to speak out and to to put your neck on the line.
And so I do believe we have to because if we don't, I mean, who's going to?
That's how I feel about things.
It's like when I first turned pro, I looked around and I was like, oh, somebody else will do it. No. For the ones who have to do it, what do you think needs to happen to get more people or more women in leadership positions? Because right now. What you're saying is the minority, which is the majority, the majority of the league, which is the minority in this country, isn't reflected in leadership positions in WNBA.
So how does that happen? What do you think needs to happen? Well, for me, there's a lot of it's layered, it's complex. And I'm a huge believer. And I don't know if you've done the Harvard implicit bias test, but it's honestly shocking because I am one of the biggest feminists that women could do anything men can do and did it.
It's like there's this these implicit bias that we have that are in us. And it starts from a very, very, very young age. And I have so much hope for this young generation of young girls and young boys because they've grown up and they've seen a variety of people in different roles. And in order for us to honestly see people and see who they truly are and to to speak about equality or even nearing that one, you have to be able to read about it and you have to see it.
And it has to be represented and has to be represented in different roles. You know, the long standing joke of like not the joke, but the riddle is like a son is brought into the emergency room. It's not as dad the doctor. Oh, yeah. Gosh, I can't operate. Who is this? And people are like stuck by it. And I'm like, it's the mom. Like, why can't the mom be a doctor? Like, how is this hard?
But it's true, that type of stuff. Visibility is so important. Visibility is so important. I think it's that. But it's also people holding their organizations accountable. I don't necessarily know how we get to a point of a diverse table, but if you don't respect the person, you're never going to hire them. Like if you don't see them in a role, you're never going to hire. I mean, you know, like if in 20, 30 years you have a corporation in START and somebody put soccer on their resume or something like that immediately, you're probably going to be attracted to that.
You're going to be like, oh, that's an interest. Like, OK, where did you go to school? Like, where are you from type of thing. And that's what it is. Honestly, you hire the people that have the same interests, the same background, the same education. And so right now we're kind of in a cycle in our country that that's what's happening. And so I do believe in having scholarships, having action plans with organizations of the amount of people that they have to at least interview.
The challenges that I face individually. When you're speaking with somebody that you're not comfortable with or doesn't look like you, you're not yourself, you know. And so when you walk in as an African-American or as a person of color or as a woman into a boardroom.
Of all white males, and you're expected to have an amazing interview with no jokes, no celebrities, no change to I mean, what are we hearing? What are we what is our own ground here? Has that happened to you? It's really funny. I have this story. We were on the shop with LeBron show, so I was sitting there. First of all, Jon Stewart is like my hero. I watched him on The Daily Show every single day.
So he was sitting next to me. It was Draymond Green and it was LeBron. And they were sitting there and talking about they're like, do you know how hard it is to be a black man and walk into a boardroom meeting your only black man? And I was like, So I'm the only female like, I appreciate you all. Thank you for including the female voice and African-American voice. I get it. But like, yes, hell yeah.
That's my work environment. But I think it's important for us to establish like, I'm not trying to be like one of the guys, like, that's my goal. I want to be one of the players. And I established that early AT&T was like, my goal is not to like be a dude with y'all. Like, that's not my goal, but also like we're going to have a respect. And fortunately, like, I've had teammates that that have that and it's just trying to encourage others to kind of break through and challenge those norms and to help other people out.
I mean, I think as women, we we're taught there's only one slot, so we don't really help each other out. And it's not our fault. I think it's the system's fault. But we've got to do more of that. And just speaking with you, you clearly have a big picture mindset. And where does this come from? Because do you feel like you've learned this, like even just hearing you talk now about, you know, being the only only female or only African-American female to walk into a boardroom of all white males?
Do you feel like you have, through your career gained the confidence to know, like, I'm going to bring exactly what I bring to the table. I'm not going to try to assimilate myself to what you guys want me to be like? Where does that has that always been there? Do you feel like you've learned that through your professional career? It's so interesting. My dad, he worked in Chicago, so he'd take the train every morning downtown Chicago, and he insisted on us living in the suburbs.
So my mom, myself, my brothers, we all lived in the suburbs. We went to Naperville Central, which was voted. The number two place to raise a kid in the United States like neighborhood was awesome. But I was always like one of two black kids in the class. And then in the summer, I would go into the city and I would play on my A team and I would be it'd be all black kids and maybe one one white white kid.
I played overseas in Russia, where you're the only English speaker played in China, where I'm the only black. So I feel like it's experience. It's like my entire life I've been forced to be in these rooms and to operate. And when you're in that and you're uncomfortable, you become comfortable because you realize, like you can connect with somebody through something. You just got to find it. And I think as you talk to different people, you realize, like, our values are pretty much the same.
Like our desires, our ones, our needs. Are pretty much the same. And, you know, I think that's from going overseas, that's from, you know, being the only it's from going to the park and being the only girl playing on the court soccer, the tallest one out there. So I stick out like a sore thumb, like it's just that's how it was. And it's about adjusting, but it's also being confident in who you are.
And I'm very thankful my parents raised me to be proud of who I who I am and proud of the size of my feet and don't hunched over because you're tall, everything. So I was that was definitely something through experience, but also what I was taught for sure.
All right. We have to repeat questions that we hit. And the first one is they say work hard, get lucky. How much of your success is predicated on luck?
I am a big believer that if you work hard enough, then the luck will come, because if you don't work hard, you're not going to be in a position to have luck. So I think some of my career for sure is luck. But I mean, in essence, like we kind of hit the lottery in terms of just being here on Earth. And I know I'm going to big, big scale of things, but like I'm six for like, that's pretty cool.
Big feet, big hands can jump a little bit. So that's pretty lucky. I didn't really work for that. But the other stuff definitely worked for.
It's like a weird we have a percentage but a percentage I would say it's probably like 90, 10.
I'm asking everybody percentage because I want to like, what's your percentage.
Oh I'm probably like 80, 20. OK, I would say it because I think I mean, I think I agree with what you said on if you get lucky and you have been working hard, the luck isn't going to pan out anything. You've got to be ready for when that luck strikes and be able to take opportunity and make most of it OK. Last question. Your living legend, a future Hall of Famer, someone who has done and seen it all.
Where do you want to go next and how do you keep pushing? I would like to be I always say I want to be like the Magic Johnson of women's team sports, like I want to be an entrepreneur. I'd like to be versatile and different things, whether it be entertainment, whether it be business, television. But I definitely want to be able to play with my kids. I think that's the biggest thing, is just to be able to watch them grow up and play and be a part and be present.
So I think those are my my two main. I mean, things I don't want to live in Hawaii for a year. Does that count? Can I say that? Which which island? Oh, my gosh, Maui. I really I've never gotten Maui. I'll come visit you in Hawaii. Is that allow you to do that?
Yes. This has been incredible. Thank you so much for sharing everything and for who you are and what you've done and what you're going to continue to do to keep pushing and keep keep fighting the good fight. I really thank you so much. You're awesome. I wish you the best of luck as well. Please stay safe in the bubble. Yeah, I'll come. I'll come see you in Maui in a couple of years. Please. Thanks so much for listening to the show this week.
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Our show is co-produced for Justman Sports and Boom integrated a division of John Marshall Media. Big thanks to our executive producers Hayley Rose and Adrian Glover and Robin Lynn, John Murray and Sydney Sharda. Research Postproduction is by Jen Grossman, Applecross special thanks to Jesse Leary, Sarah Storm and Hayley Gunfire. I'm Kelly O'Hara and you've been listening to the Just Women Sports Podcast. See you next week.