Candace Parker chose to leave the Chicago Sky for the same reason she joined the team in 2021 — to go home.
The Naperville native and two-time WNBA champion on Saturday announced her decision to sign with the Las Vegas Aces as a free agent. In an Instagram post, she cited her family as her primary decision for returning closer to the West Coast.
“My family is my reason and my purpose,” Parker, 36, wrote. “They have given me the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced and continue to show me new levels of love and devotion I never knew existed. … While Chicago will always be my home, my family’s home is on the west coast.”
Parker will sign a one-year contract with the Aces when free agents are cleared to sign beginning Wednesday, according to ESPN.
When Parker came home to Chicago in 2021 after spending the first 13 seasons of her career with the Los Angeles Sparks, she unlocked the final piece of a championship-seeking puzzle alongside stars Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper. After leading an unlikely 16-16 team to a WNBA title in 2021, Parker returned to cement a franchise-record 26-win season in 2022.
Parker wowed her hometown crowd, earning back-to-back All-Star appearances in her two seasons with the Sky. She is a seven-time All-Star and two-time WNBA MVP.
“When I made the decision to go to Chicago in 2021, I made the decision to go home and be with my family in the place where it all began,” Parker wrote. “I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball.”
Although Parker achieved her ultimate goal in Chicago, her homecoming also came with sacrifice. Her 13-year-old daughter, Lailaa, and 1-year-old son, Airr, live with her wife, former Russian player Anna Petrakova, full time in Los Angeles. Lailaa will start high school in California this fall, a turning point that Parker said she couldn’t allow herself to miss.
Parker cited the distance — and a refusal to miss her daughter’s volleyball games, school dances and other irreplaceable moments — as the catalyst for her decision to sign with the Aces.
Parker will join an Aces team facing scrutiny after the team was put under investigation by the WNBA Players Association following accusations of discrimination by former forward Dearica Hamby.
After being traded to the Sparks last week, Hamby posted on Instagram that she accused members of the Aces front office and coaching staff of bullying, intimidation and discrimination following her second pregnancy.
“Being traded is a part of the business,” Hamby wrote. “Being lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against is not. I have had my character and work ethic attacked. … The unprofessional and unethical way that I have been treated has been traumatizing. To be treated this way by an organization, BY WOMEN who are mothers, who have claimed to ‘be in these shoes,’ who preach family, chemistry, and women’s empowerment is disappointing and leaves me sick to my stomach.
“We fought for provisions that would finally support and protect player parents. This cannot now be used against me.”
According to a Chicago Sun-Times report , Parker’s meeting with the Aces took place the day after Hamby’s post.
While details of the deal are unknow, the maximum contract Parker could sign with the Aces would be just more than $183,000. The Aces would need to trade a bench player to free additional salary-cap space. Parker’s income through her WNBA salary is supplemented by sponsorship arrangements with Adidas and her broadcasting role with TNT, which might have been a factor in accepting the reduced salary.
The Sky, meanwhile, now face a challenging free-agency period that could decimate a roster coming off the winningest season in franchise history. As a free agent, longtime captain Courtney Vandersloot has been tied to both the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty. Her wife and co-captain, Allie Quigley, has been rumored to be mulling retirement since she elected not to play abroad during the WNBA offseason for the first time in her career.
Center Emma Meesseman and backup guard Julie Allemand are also uncertain to re-sign with the Sky while Azurá Stevens continues to garner interest throughout the league as a versatile stretch big. The loss of Parker leaves a gaping hole in the frontcourt, making the Sky’s negotiations with Stevens a priority.
“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Sky coach/general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”
For Chicago, Parker’s two years symbolized the realization of a decadeslong battle for a foothold in the WNBA.
The team fielded generational players — Vandersloot, Quigley, Copper, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles — and flirted with playoff runs. But before Parker’s arrival, the Sky never fulfilled their potential.
To achieve the milestones the last two seasons with one of Chicago’s own only added to the poignancy of Parker’s run here.
“I’m forever appreciative of everyone in Chicago — our fans, teammates, coaches, and ownership,” Parker wrote. “But more than the past two seasons, I’m thankful to the city that raised me, the childhood friends I still have to this day, the teachers I still am learning from, and the moments in time that will forever be in my heart.”
Chicago Tribune reporter Shakeia Taylor contributed.