Candace Parker is not on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Let's read that again: Candace Parker is not on the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
One of the most talented players on the planet and a transcendent athlete who can play multiple positions didn't make the cut for the U.S. Olympics in Rio this summer. A few red herrings have been tossed out to send fans down a rabbit hole, including:
Shoe conflicts. Parker is Adidas; Nike is the Olympic sponsor. But that has nothing to do with the decision. Parker would be decked out in Nike apparel for the Olympics and is one of the most recognizable and accomplished athletes in the world. Nike doesn't make this call. The USA Basketball committee does. Nike gets in the slipstream; it doesn't ford the water.
Youth movement. That only seemed to apply at one position, power forward, and not the guard spots where Sue Bird, who will be 36 this year, and the soon-to-be 34-year-old Diana Taurasi were put on the roster.
Health and availability. Parker missed half of last season in the WNBA to get healthy. She then averaged 19.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocks per game for the Los Angeles Sparks. Taurasi missed the entire WNBA season. Parker missed USA Basketball's three-day training camp in Connecticut last February because she was competing overseas - as were Charles and Fowles. The other three were selected to the team.
Tina Thompson, a former Olympian tweeted this:
My face when I found out Candace Parker isn't on the USA Team! Smh...unbelievable how 1 person can diminish decades of work! #teamCP— Tina Thompson (@IamTinaThompson) April 26, 2016
It's an interesting tweet because the committee is made up of five representatives, Carol Callan of USA Basketball; WNBA appointees Renee Brown, Dan Hughes and Chris Sienko; and athlete representative Katie Smith.
The "one" is an apparent reference to UConn's Geno Auriemma, the Olympic coach. While the committee maintains it makes the decision, the head coach has considerable input. And a servile committee did exactly what the head coach wanted.
The USA Basketball committee relinquished its responsibility to the sport, the team and its fans - and probably NBC, which already had Parker promotions airing in the rotation. ESPN's Mechelle Voepel called it: Bad call, USA Basketball.
While basketball fans, especially Lady Vol fans, directed considerable and deserved ire at Auriemma, the real culprit is a committee that genuflects to the head coach - along with most of the national media.
There is no justification for this decision. None whatsoever. And it puts fans who want to unite for the USA team in the uncomfortable position of pitting players against each other. Did Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus or Angel McCoughtry deserve the spot over Parker? To be blunt, no.
Sue Favor, a tireless advocate for basketball at all levels at this website, tweeted this: All the politics have made me pretty indifferent to this team now, I must say ... Never felt like this before.
That is not who USA Basketball should be alienating right now - and Favor has a lot of company across the country.
The reverberations washed overseas, too. Brendan Joyce, the coach of the Australia Opals, said Parker was one of the top three players in the world.
"I think everybody would be surprised if they left her out of the team," Joyce said on the eve of the announcement. "I think she is in the top three players in the world and with her versatility, she has been a defensive nightmare for us."
Joyce, we knew it was coming, but feel free to remain astonished. You had no way of knowing the politics that were in play.
Callan offered this statement to the media: "This was an incredibly difficult decision for our selection committee, but also we selected what we feel will give us the best chance to win our sixth straight gold medal."
Well, of course.
The pool of players for the Olympic team - for that matter, how was Nneka Ogwumike omitted? - is so deep that a team without Parker can still win a gold medal. Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings remains on the team, as does Maya Moore, and reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner will make their debuts.
Anything less than a gold medal for the United States would be a monumental upset. The U.S. Olympic team is stacked with talent. But sending a team to Rio without Parker is an indefensible position.
Another first-timer, Breanna Stewart, the top pick in the WNBA draft, is one of five players from UConn to make the cut. A college coach using the U.S. National Team as a recruiting tool is not a surprise. Pat Summitt didn't do it, but there are no more like her in the women's game now - and a paucity willing to have her back.
Consider this quote, "the recruiting tool of all recruiting tools," and that was an article about the men's Olympic team.
The surprise is a USA Basketball committee that aids and abets the process.
The current team also doesn't deserve the backlash. They are all excellent players in their right and have outstanding basketball resumes. However, the committee cast a pall upon its own announcement day - complete with national fanfare on NBC's TODAY Show - with an understandable focus on who wasn't on the roster.
This was a commission of omission. It smacks of personal bias and pettiness - and that traces to Auriemma and an obsequious committee.
Parker, of course, remained above the fray with these tweets that expressed disappointment, wished the team good luck and said she was looking forward to the WNBA season:
I was surprised & disappointed to be left off the 2016 USA Olympic Team. But I wish all the members of the team GOODLUCK in Rio. #Gold— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) April 26, 2016
Thanks for the support I look forward to the upcoming WNBA season. #Sparks— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) April 26, 2016
Magic Johnson, who is part of the Sparks' ownership group, was more direct in expressing his disappointment and assessment of Parker's stature in the game:
I'm very disappointed @Candace_Parker wasn't selected to the USA Basketball Women's Olympic Team.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2016
I feel @Candace_Parker is the best all around women's basketball player in the world!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 26, 2016
The committee failed. It failed the fans. It failed the sport.
But most of all the committee failed Candace Parker.
(Editor's note: After the story was posted, Thompson tweeted this -- her subsequent tweet was in response to someone saying it wasn't a "good look for an aspiring college coach," apparently unaware that Thompson already is a college coach. We will gladly add the identity of the intended one, if it's not Auriemma.)
Maria M. Cornelius covers the Lady Vols for InsideTennessee.com. She has a book coming out in fall 2016 titled, "The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt."