I was introduced to basketball around 2009–2010. That was the year that the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series. I vaguely recall watching that game seven. I remember that time because I accidentally stumbling across the Lakers vs Utah Jazz game.
Accidentally only because I was not supposed to be awake at that time. It was a Friday night and like was the norm during that period my parents went out and left my sister and I at home with a babysitter. We had a plan. We knew if we wanted to stay up, we would give her the television in the living room for twenty minutes. During that time she would watch African Magic, if you know you know. She would fall asleep and we could do what we wanted after that. The plan was simple.
Due to that plan, most Friday nights I would either watch some late-night movie or basketball. However, I never truly loved basketball until the 2012 Olympics in London. If you are a basketball fan, you’ll remember that USA men’s team. It included Kobe, Lebron, Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and so many others. However, for me, it was the women’s team that I actually enjoyed watching.
That team included the likes of our heroine Maya Moore, Simone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi. But it also had my personal favourite player, Candace Parker. I do not know whether young Nadim had a crush but all I know is I woke up one morning and I looked forward to watching Candace Parker play basketball. As a result, I became a Los Angeles Sparks fan. That was until this week when as a free agent, Candace Parker left the Sparks to return home to the Chicago Sun.
I am very happy for her. However, it will bring an end to one of my favourite duos, which is Parker and Nneka Ogwumike.
Parker was drafted first overall in 2008. However, she had a torn meniscus, so the Sparks had the number one draft pick again in 2012. They used that pick to draft Ogwumike.
Since 2012, both have won MVPs. Parker won it in 2013 to go along with her first one in 2008, while Ogwumike won it in 2016. If you are wondering whether Parker won the MVP in her rookie season, you would be correct. Only her, Wilt Chamberlain, and Wes Unseld have done this.
I will let you guys in on a secret. If you do anything in basketball that puts you on a list with Wilt, you are doing something right. Parker and Ogwumike also won their only championship against Maya Moore’s Minnesota Lynx in what is considered to be the greatest finals of all time.
On the court, Parker and Ogwumike have built a strong partnership. A relationship that is built on mutual respect of each other’s game, a bond over chipotle, and an understanding that they needed each other to get where they wanted to go. Ogwumike often mentions that because they played the same position, Parker could have tried to assert her dominance over her. Instead Parker embraced her as the older of the two.
Parker has always been a tough person. In an article, she wrote about Ogwumike, Parker said that she helped her become a more vulnerable person. Ogwumike would often remind Parker that they know she can do everything, but she had to let others help her. Parker won a championship in school with two dislocated shoulders and even came back five weeks after giving birth to play with the Sparks. Based on that, it is easy to understand why Parker would do things by herself. However, Ogwumike helped Parker realise that using her support system was not a weakness.
Ogwumike, who is a Stanford graduate, is one of the smartest people in the WNBA on and off the court. She is currently in the second term of her position as the President of the Players Association. She is also about a year removed from spearheading the negotiations of the new collective bargaining agreement, taking the lead in the fight for better pay.
Ogwumike always lets it be known that she ran unopposed. Parker believes it was because everybody in the league knew she was the perfect candidate. Ogwumike is the eldest of four basketball-playing sisters. Chiney, the second sister, is also a WNBA All-Star and plays with the Sparks. She recently became the first black woman to host a radio show on ESPN. The third sister Erika is about to enter her second season with the Minnesota Lynx and the youngest sister, Olivia, is currently playing basketball at Rice University. Talk about basketball greatness.
It is sad that they will no longer play together. Parker will head home to Chicago essentially because the Sparks chose Ogwumike over her. This means that Chicago, who have been improving over the last few years are now contenders for the championship because even at 34, Parker has been playing at a high level. Ogwumike on the other hand has re-signed with the Sparks and she will now look to carry the franchise icon tag that the great Lisa Leslie left for Parker and who has now left it to her. Parker’s move is also the ultimate reminder that there is nothing like free agency in the NBA and WNBA.