Babcock McGraw: Parker back on court and fired up
Vacationing at the beach, attending family birthday parties and doing everyday mom things like picking up her daughter from school were the added bonuses for Candace Parker.
She got to do all of those things, things she normally can't do when she's working, during the months she stayed away from basketball.
Parker also got the one thing she sought most: a rejuvenated body.
"I really needed this," Parker said last week. "My body was a mess."
Parker, the former Naperville Central star who is in her eighth season with the Los Angeles Sparks and is one of the best players in WNBA history, decided to sit out the first half of the 2015 season to give her overworked and aching body some much needed rest.
It's a decision that other high-profile WNBA players, who tend to spend their entire off-seasons playing overseas in order to maximize their earning potential, will likely be weighing as well. In fact, Diana Taurasi, the Phoenix Mercury guard who was the most valuable player of the WNBA Finals last season, is sitting out the entire 2015 season this summer, paid to do so by the team she plays for in Russia during the WNBA's off-season.
"This is a discussion that will continue to happen," said Parker, who returned to the Sparks after the league's late-July all-star break.
In front of family and old friends from her high school days, Parker played in her second game of the season on Friday at Allstate Arena. She certainly seemed rejuvenated, to the tune of a game-high 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in the Sparks' 88-77 win over the Chicago Sky.
"I feel good," Parker said after the game. "The time away from the game...I grew to miss it. But it was good because I was able to get my body in order.
"I decided last October to sit out. I had (knee) surgery in September and my body wasn't good. Honestly, it wasn't. I came to the decision that it was best for me to take a break physically and mentally. I needed to take a break. If I couldn't be my best out there physically, if I couldn't be my best out there mentally, then I didn't need to be out there."
Parker's schedule typically includes WNBA basketball from May until September, overseas basketball in Russia from October until March or April, and then various obligations with the U.S. National team sprinkled in between.
"I want to play in the 2016 Olympics," said Parker, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. "And when I was trying to make my decision in October, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to go overseas, play in the WNBA (this summer), go back overseas, and then be ready for the Olympics (and the WNBA) next summer.
"It (sitting out part of the WNBA season in 2015) was a difficult decision. But it was the best decision for me."
After rehabbing her knee last fall, Parker went back to play in Russia because the money is significantly better there and, as she says, "that's where you take care of your family."
When she was done in Russia, Parker returned to Los Angeles and powered down. She worked out on her own, but she did not go to Sparks training camp, and did not attend any practices. She stayed away.
"I took a complete break, and it was nice," Parker said. "Honestly, I've never been able to do what I've wanted to do in the summer. I was able to go work out, work on my body, and not from a point of being in a rehab situation, I was actually working to get better. I was able to get stronger, leaner.
"I was also able to be a mom. I picked up my daughter (6-year-old Lailaa) every day from school, went to my brother's 40th birthday party, I went on vacation with my family. We went to Punta Cana. It was stuff like that that I've never been able to do."
One thing Parker wants to continue to do is play basketball, for as long as possible. In the interest of self-preservation, she's evaluating everything and is open to taking breaks not only from the WNBA, but from her overseas team as well.
"You get to a point in your career where you really don't want to have to go overseas," Parker said. "And there might be other (breaks). I think there will also be (other WNBA players) who take a summer off here or there.
"It's something to talk about. I don't have all the answers, I just know what's best for myself. I did it this year, and I don't regret it."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw