LAS VEGAS — In 2018, when Las Vegas became the new home for a WNBA franchise, and the Aces were born, legends of the game were impressed upon stepping off an airplane and seeing marketing in the airport.
Candace Parker, who was with the Los Angeles Sparks at the time, not only was impressed with the immediate impact she saw around the city but also with the energy she felt after being held to 7 points and 6 rebounds in a 94-78 loss to the Aces.
“This is a great town for this franchise and Las Vegas is a perfect fit for our league,” Parker told me when I asked her about the marriage between the city and the WNBA.
Five years later, Parker is bringing two rings and a couple of MVP trophies to the city she was impressed by as the newest member of the defending WNBA champion Aces.
Parker joins a stacked roster, including the same A’ja Wilson who once wrote about one of her idols as a young girl doing a book report.
As Parker was enjoying her first WNBA MVP trophy as a rookie in 2008, Wilson was 11, growing up in South Carolina.
During a 1-on-1 interview in 2021, Wilson said she grew up idolizing the likes of Parker and Lisa Leslie. It was because of the former Sparks greats her love for basketball grew stronger.
Now, the frontcourt tandem is in a position to make the Aces brand of basketball stronger.
Parker also reunites with point guard Chelsea Gray, as the two won the 2016 WNBA championship when they were in Los Angeles. Plus, Gray and her wife are godparents to Parker’s son Airr.
“Las Vegas met all my needs from a basketball standpoint, and from a family standpoint as well,” said Parker, who signed with Las Vegas in free agency after playing two seasons in Chicago, where she won her second title in 2021.
Along with the fondness for the fanbase’s energy, Wilson and Gray, the relationships the 36-year-old has with other members of the teams factored in making a decision that could see one of the game’s greatest players retire in Las Vegas.
Aces president Nikki Fargas was an assistant coach who recruited Parker to play at Tennessee. Parker’s wife played on the Russian national team with Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon.
Hammon said Parker’s skills, basketball IQ, vision on the court, and ability to make things happen – much like Wilson – and championship culture and mentality made it a no-brainer to add the future Hall of Famer to the roster.
“It’s nice to actually be on her team instead of having to play against her or coach against her,” Hammon said. “It’s going to be nice to have her in the same color jersey and then you know, going into the offseason, looking at the pieces that we felt like we needed to fill in order to defend our title – she fits the piece.”
Parker similarly agreed with Hammon, saying it’ll be nice to play with an Aces team that gave her headaches with their overall firepower thanks to an ability to space the court. Now, as she’s been informed and with what Hammon indicated, Parker will be part of a system she will be expected to serve different roles depending on what is needed during each game.
“The evolution of what is needed game to game, part of what I want to bring is to fill that need. If it’s defensive rebounding, if it’s facilitating, playmaking, scoring, whatever it is,” said Parker, who’s averaged 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds during her well-decorated career. “I’m very excited to be a part of that organization and to be able to learn and evolve and grow with some of the best players in the game.”