You probably didn’t hear them, but a lot of people screamed “Hallelujah” today when Candace Parker, one of the best basketball player on the planet, said she was going pro. Parker will graduate from the University of Tennessee this spring, and although she has another year of eligibility she’ll opt to play in the WNBA rather wear burnt orange for another season.
The hosannas came from those who’ve tried and tried and tried again to make the WNBA work, to make it matter to more than a small gaggle of fans. In their minds, Parker is The One. She’s the one who’ll make us care, who’ll make us watch, who’ll make little girls across the nation beg to tune into the summer games featuring the world’s best female players.
It almost seems preordained. Parker is the unquestioned face of women’s college basketball. Heck she may be the very face of college basketball. Period. (Is any male player more well known?) She’s one of only six players to dunk at that level (remember when a woman dunking was really a big deal?). In fact as a high-school player she defeated five boys, fellow all-American prepsters, to win a dunk contest. She’s won a national title, played on the U.S. team, and will almost certainly be one of the most high-profile Olympians in Beijing.
Moreover, the cards are aligned to team the 6-4 Parker with the baddest mother-baller out there, Los Angeles center/model/mom Lisa Leslie. The Sparks own the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft and unless LeBron or Kobe gets a sex-change operation, they’ll chose Parker, placing her in the No. 2 media market in the nation.
So, if she’s not The One, then who is?
Candace Parker cannot “save” the WNBA. Just as The Last One – Diana Turasi – couldn’t save it. Nor could Sue Bird, Swin Cash or Theresa Edwards or Sheryl Swoops or Cynthia Cooper or any of the wonderful athletes who have donned WNBA uniforms during the league’s 11 seasons.
I don’t believe in saviors – not in sports, at least. And to think any one athlete can “save” a sport is ludicrous. Not even MJ saved the NBA and today, it’s not just LeBron who’s given the league new life. It’s Chris Paul. It’s Dwight Howard. It’s Deron Williams. It’s Dwayne Wade. It’s Steve Nash. It’s, well, you get the point.
Candace Parker will be great for the WNBA. But the league’s needs more than she can provide.
It needs smart management. It needs smarter marketing. It needs more compelling combatants. It needs rivalries more fans will care about. It needs a bit of luck, too.
The players have done all they can. They simply can’t be Tennessee or UConn or Texas or Duke – schools, like many others, whose indigenous fans support them season in and season out, no matter who’s wearing the uniform. Right now, the WNBA does not have those kinds of fans. At least not yet. And I’m not sure they would even if they opened franchises in Knoxville, Storrs, Austin or Durham.
What they can best hope for is that Candace Parker becomes the league’s tipping point. They can hope that she becomes the face of American pride in Beijing and that her success makes Madison Avenue swoon. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time this item is posted, one of Nike’s minion isn’t already in Knoxville with a fat deal.)
Parker and NBA rookie whiz Kevin Durant (pictured with her below) – They Got Next. They’ve got the game and the charisma to fly behind those players who’ve solidified the foundation. (And she is pretty cute – if not “hot”,” as this site attests.)
For Candace the pivotal question isn’t whether she’s good enough, but this: Will her sweetness (or hotness) be enough?