As someone who has been involved in sports nearly her whole life, Candace Parker understands how important fitness is to upkeep physical and mental health – yet, she also knows how hard it can be to have regular access to fitness facilities. That’s why she is teaming up with Muscle Milk’s “The Lifting Project’’ and the National Fitness Campaign to bring an outdoor fitness court to one city — Los Angeles, Atlanta or Orlando.
“Fitness is not fair in terms of access, and we’ve seen over the years how important it can be in improvement in your individual sport, but also in your health in general,” Parker says. “To be able to provide [a fitness court] to a community that needs it is important to myself and Muscle Milk.”
Parker, who is playing in her first WNBA season with the Las Vegas Aces after playing in both Chicago and Los Angeles, knows that while it’s important to take care of your physical health, mental health is also a priority.
“I’m very fortunate to have my family to use as an escape,” she says. Parker has a daughter, Lailaa, as well as a son, Airr. Part of her decision to sign with the Las Vegas Aces as a free agent prior to the 2023 WNBA season was to be closer to the home she has built with her wife, Anna Petrakova, in Los Angeles. “When I come home, I’m just a mom and a wife – nothing else is expected of me.”
“It’s nice to get away from playing basketball and just do other things.”
When it comes to her physical fitness, Parker usually likes to drink Muscle Milk after practice, since the Aces keep them in their locker room. “My favorite flavor is vanilla,” she laughs. “I’m always stretching, and I like to lift after games – just a quick lift.”
The Aces are hoping to repeat their championship run after winning the 2022 season, and Parker is excited to be a part of an organization that puts an immense amount of energy in from top to bottom. With the free agents the Aces acquired prior to the 2023 season, they were dubbed a “Super Team’’ early on by media and fans– and they’ve proven they deserve that title even just partway into the season. Parker serves as an important veteran presence on an Aces team full of young superstars like A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. She is also reuniting with her former LA Sparks teammate Chelsea Gray – the pair won a WNBA championship together in 2016.
“It’s unique when you step into a position where you’ve played against your coach, it was kind of a ‘wow, I’ve really been around this game a long time,’ epiphany,” Parker says. The Aces are coached by Becky Hammon, a WNBA All-Star herself, who played on the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars until 2014.
“The culture of wanting to get better, the effort the organization puts in, and having an owner that is really excited about the product – it’s inspirational.”
As long as Parker has been involved in women’s basketball, she also has a long future of involvement in the sport. She recently finished her second season as a broadcast analyst on NBA on TNT, becoming a role model for young women interested in sports media to go along with the impact she already has on young basketball players. She likes that there is more “diversity of thought” in sports analysis, and that people can see themselves in the reporters that are covering the game.
“It’s important that we realize it doesn’t matter who is picking up the ball, or who is breaking down the play, sports are sports,” Parker says, “a lot of women are going to be able to break into this field because of the Robin Robertses and Holly Rowes. I was able to break in because of all the other athletes that paved the way.”
Parker knows fans want to hear how players break down the game, and thinks it’s important for sports media to continue to include current and former athletes in coverage. She’s also building lasting connections with her NBA on TNT coworkers, including NBA Champion Shaquille O’Neal (or Shaq), who came to sit courtside at a recent Aces game.
“He’s super supportive. He gets on your nerves, but you love him – he’s just that big brother,” Parker laughs. “I really enjoy working with him, so it was great to see him. Obviously he’s Shaq, so everyone was excited to see him.”
When she thinks of the future of women’s basketball, Parker knows that each generation of hoopers has a different impact on the sport as a whole – and has done its part to make the WNBA the longest-standing women’s sports league in U.S. history.
“We didn’t walk into a broken product. The previous generation, like Lisa Leslie and Cynthia Cooper, did their part to push the game forward, and the generation before that did their part. It says a lot about the stability and staying power [of the WNBA],” Parker says.
For herself, she knows that fans watching her since she was in high school and through each step of her career has built lasting interest. Now, it’s even easier to follow and support players right from their roots – and it’s helped grow the game to new levels.
“Visibility has been a key part of what the WNBA has continued to do,” Parker says. “We’re taking an interest in individual players and their stories. You’re able to follow someone, like Paige Bueckers say, from the grassroots.”
It’s the same reason she thinks people have followed her throughout her career – all the way from Naperville Central High School to the Las Vegas Aces – and she hopes the incoming generation continues to find more ways to grow the game further.
Basketball as a whole is growing like never before, which is why access to fitness is incredibly important. Through The Lifting Project, the winning community will get a free, accessible outdoor fitness facility where they can work out with few barriers. The courts will be reachable through public transit and pedestrian trails, and have equipment to provide full-body workouts in just seven minutes. The finalist cities of LA, Atlanta and Orlando were chosen by Muscle Milk and the National Fitness Campaign after researching to find places where they could address the greatest need based on population density and the need for accessible fitness.
Now, the winning city will be chosen by a public vote, on The Lifting Project’s website. Voting opens June 27 and will stay open until July 7. Voters themselves will be entered to win prizes for participating. The winning community’s new fitness center will be opened this fall.
You can vote to choose which of the three cities will get a community fitness court by visiting The Lifting Project’s website, and follow along on Muscle Milk’s Instagram and Twitter to see the results of the vote.