Candace Parker wins WNBA Defensive Player of Year, gets endearing surprise by Chelsea Gray

Cassandra Negley
·5 min read

“Chelsea from Texas Weekly” had a question for the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker, the newly named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Actually it was more of a statement, a fitting end to Parker’s conference call with reporters after her first DPOY award in a 13-year career. It’s an honor she said she places above the two MVP awards (2008, 2013) and her Rookie of the Year (2008).

One that she, and teammates, recognize was a long time coming.

Chelsea Gray surprises Candace Parker after DPOY

“Hey Candace, it’s your point guard here,” said the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray, eliciting big smiles from Parker on the Zoom call with media.

Gray, who is known as the “point gawd” by Parker, congratulated her in a planned moment by the Sparks. It had Parker beaming, laughing and in tears all within the 90 seconds her teammate spoke.

“I think being around you,” Gray said, “you see all the flak and all the people talk and [they] have no idea the capabilities that you’re able to do on both ends of the floor. And I don’t mean to get emotional — ”

“Stop!” Parker interrupted.

“— but you deserve the hell out of this award,” Gray continued. “And you know you can’t take it back, so anytime after this if you get beat middle you know I’m yelling. If you don’t rebound, you get pushed under, I’m going to be yelling.

“I know Lailaa’s proud. I know your family’s proud. I’m glad you’re able to celebrate it with them. And I’m glad to just be your teammate, so congratulations. And don’t get beat middle in the future.”

Parker, 34, averaged a WNBA-best 8.0 defensive rebounds, 1.23 blocked shots (ranking eighth) and 1.18 steals over the 22-game regular season. She was one of five players to average at least one block and one steal per game.

The 6-foot-4 forward/center received 16 votes from a panel of 47 sportswriters and broadcasters. Seattle Storm forward Alysha Clark was second with 11 votes and Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas was third with 10.

Parker reminded of Pat Summitt

Candace Parker in a yellow Sparks jersey holds the basketball up.
Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker said her Defensive Player of the Year award means more than MVP or Rookie of the Year. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Parker said on the Zoom call that rebounding was a larger focus for her this season “just because I realized that we won a championship because of rebounding and we lost a championship because of rebounding.” She got into the mindset of a defensive-driven player, she said.

It has also reminded her of a phrase often used by Pat Summitt, her coach at Tennessee with whom she won two NCAA titles. Summitt used to say “offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.” Summitt, she said, was the first coach to challenge her and say she could be a DPOY.

Parker did all she could for the Sparks in the playoffs, but Los Angeles lost its second-round game to the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun last week. The team finished 15-7 with the No. 3 seed in the postseason.

She led the WNBA in total rebounds in 2020, averaging 9.7 per game, and was in the MVP conversation by averaging 14.7 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 51.0 percent overall and 39.6 percent from 3-point range.

The Sparks were third in defensive rating, allowing 98.8 points on average per 100 possessions.

‘Narrowed focus’ in WNBA bubble

Parker said she didn’t mind being in the WNBA bubble, endearingly called the “wubble,” at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Florida. She was able to bring her 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa, and it allowed her to cut down on commute times in Los Angeles whether it be to the gym, games or practices. There were also no plane rides, which can be a hassle in the WNBA.

“The time I would use normally to commute I just used to take care of my body,” Parker said.

“I really want to take that focus and that time from this year into next year, regardless of whether we’re in the bubble or we’re out,” she added. “Really work on narrowing your focus, because that’s what I think the bubble did to all of us.”

Parker said she watched “The Last Dance” and noted how Dennis Rodman played the game. She prides herself on paying attention to other players’ tendencies to gather rebounds and knows what her strengths are and how to engage them.

“I’ve had to be a little bit smarter my 13th year,” Parker said. “And I don’t know if that should have been the way I was playing all along but just in terms of really studying the opponent and being up-to-date with how the game is played. You’ve got to be a lot smarter and you gotta use less energy I would say. I think that’s what I take from year 13.”

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