Candace Parker was 14 years old when Allen Iverson diced up Jason Kidd, outshined Kobe Bryant and seized the MVP award of the 2001 NBA All-Star Game. It was the kind of fireworks show that sparks the imagination of a young fan, the kind of memory that endures for a lifetime.
“It was the comeback by the East,” Parker recalls, mentally replaying the famous fourth quarter of that game, “and Allen Iverson put the team on his back. And they were going back and forth, battling Kobe. And Allen Iverson did the little layup under his arm.”
It would be another four years before Parker starred at Tennessee, five years before she’d become the first woman to dunk in the NCAA tournament, seven years before she’d become the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft and 17 years before she’d become a full-time analyst for Turner Sports, making history all along the way. But that dazzling Iverson moment stuck, and resonates even more now, as Parker prepares to call the 2023 All-Star Game as an analyst for TNT—the first woman to do so.
The game will be played at Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena on Feb. 19.
“I’m a fan first and foremost of the NBA and especially the All-Star Game,” says Parker, a two-time WNBA champion and two-time MVP. “And so I think the fan of the game, and the childhood Candace is—I have to pinch myself to believe that I’m doing it, and that I’m able to have a courtside seat to see the best players in the world.”
Turner Sports is announcing the full broadcast team today, with Brian Anderson calling the game, flanked by Parker and Reggie Miller as analysts. It will be Anderson’s first All-Star Game, Miller’s 16th. Dennis Scott will be the sideline reporter.
Parker, 36, launched her TV career in 2018 with Turner Sports, appearing on TNT, NBA TV and March Madness broadcasts. In ’20, she became part of the new Inside the NBA Tuesday studio show, alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and host Adam Lefkoe. (Wade has since been replaced by Jamal Crawford.) A 15-year veteran in the WNBA, Parker signed last week with the Las Vegas Aces.
Parker reflected on her pioneering role, the Kyrie Irving trade and several other topics in a phone conversation with Sports Illustrated on Monday evening. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SI: We’ve seen a lot of firsts for women in the NBA in recent years—in the coaching ranks, the officiating staff and the broadcast booth—to the point where maybe it’s not even a huge deal anymore? Which would be a good thing. That said, what does it mean to you, knowing you’ll be the first woman to call the NBA All-Star Game?
Candace Parker: Well, I know how much watching SportsCenter and seeing Robin Roberts talk about sports meant to me. And I would hope that there’s somebody in this world that is going to watch the All-Star Game and either hope to play in it or hope to call it. And so if we can reach more people, in terms of seeing themselves in the broadcast crew or seeing themselves on the court, whatever it is, I think we’re doing our job. It’s a huge honor to be able to do that and hopefully to inspire others to take that step, and understand that it’s beneficial to have a diversity of thought and diversity of people that are covering games.
SI: You’ve been part of TNT and NBA TV since 2018, and part of the Inside the NBA on Tuesday crew for three years now. Do you still get any backlash?
CP: We live in a world where, especially with social media, that negativity is never going to go away. It’s one of those things, where if somebody’s not saying something, then you’re doing stuff wrong. It’s just about continuing to do what I love and do the best I can and continue to be a student of the game, and everything else will take care of itself. The game of basketball and covering the game of basketball has changed. People are resistant to change, and that’s O.K. You just have to do the best job you can do.
SI: The league added another fun new wrinkle for the 2023 All-Star Game—a playground-style draft just before tip-off, with the two captains (LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo) picking their teams on live TV. How do you like the concept?
CP: It’s crazy. It just brings more excitement as a fan. I think this is great for fans. But obviously, as a player, you don’t want to be the last one. So I think in future years, if they continue this, similar to how they do in the NHL, the last pick gets a car (laughing). Because that sucks. It sucks to be the last pick. It sucks to be the last pick on the playground. It sucks to be the last pick on the biggest stage. And there’s no time to calm down and decompress.
SI: You and Shaq have developed a unique dynamic on the Tuesday studio show. I think fans enjoy the occasional clashes, especially when you’re sort of calling him out or checking him. How has that rapport evolved, and how would you describe it?
CP: The more that we’re able to be on set and learn about each other, I think the more chemistry you’re gonna have. But also it’s off camera, where we’re able to talk basketball in the green room and our philosophies and things like that. There’s definitely a mutual respect there. And I think that’s what makes it so great. You know, I don’t take myself too seriously, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. So I think it makes for a good combination.
SI: For sure, Shaq enjoys the debate and likes to have fun on set. But has it ever gotten a little tense?
CP: We’re coming from a place of love. Like, even if he’s mad or if I’m mad, we’re not gonna take it too seriously. We understand that we’re going to disagree about the styles of basketball. Like, I have never been a person that has dominated in the way that he dominated the game. I’ve never been able to just get the ball and turn around and go through somebody and dunk. So of course our viewpoints are going to be different.
SI: The Kyrie Irving trade just became official. Initial thoughts on the Mavericks acquiring him to star alongside Luka Dončić?
CP: Scared money doesn’t make money, right? So we’re looking at [Raptors president] Masai Ujiri and how everybody was commending him [for winning the title after acquiring Kawhi Leonard]. But when he did the trade for Kawhi, everybody was like, What are you doing? It turned out well for them, and it seems like the Mavs are trying to follow the same blueprint. Before this trade, nobody really thought the Mavs were serious contenders for the championship. And now it’s yet to be seen. You look at [Jalen] Brunson, and what he was able to do there [with Dončić]; there was definitely enough basketball for the two of them. So I can only imagine with Kyrie. With that being said, I think it’s going to be some growing pains. I think defensively is going to be the biggest question mark. But offensively it’s going to be magical.
SI: How far does this raise them in the West race?
CP: We’ll see. I do think that they need to make another move before the trade deadline to really be serious contenders. But the West has left the door wide open. So if you’re going to try to win the West through a trade, this is the year to do it.
SI: LeBron James could break the all-time scoring record as soon as Tuesday, Thursday at the latest, with both games on TNT. What stands out most about this moment to you?
CP: I think the biggest thing is that he came into the league, and people didn’t consider him like a scorer. And to see the way that he dominates the game, in different ways, has been super impressive. But then also as an older player in the WNBA, seeing how well he takes care of his body. I mean, he takes care of his body to be able to play the type of minutes and play this type of basketball he’s playing at 38 years old.
SI: You just signed with the Aces. I’m wondering, did the Dearica Hamby story give you any pause? Did you discuss it with team officials at all?
CP: Just in terms of reaching out to WNBPA and hearing that they’re going to do an investigation and figure out what exactly happened and what went down. So to me, that was important that they are looking into it, and they’re going about it in the best way that they can.
SI: You’ll be playing for another pioneer in Becky Hammon (who became the NBA’s first female assistant coach in 2014, with the Spurs). How well do you know each other?
CP: Becky actually played with my wife [Anna Petrakova] on the Russian national team [in 2012]. So the connection is crazy. And so I’ve kind of known Becky through Anna. And when we’d go to San Antonio, we would always go see her at the house. But in terms of [other connections], Chelsea GrayPlum, we’re like best friends and played together in L.A. And then obviously I’ve known A’ja Wilson. I was at Tennessee coming back just to visit when she was on her recruiting visit to Tennessee. Nikki Caldwell is president with the Aces, and she recruited me at Tennessee and was my assistant coach for four years. So there’s connections and relationships there.
SI: Why was Vegas the right choice for you? I know you said on TNT last week that your daughter Lailaa [age 13] made the final call. Was this about family considerations as much as anything? (Parker and her family live in the Los Angeles area.)
CP: A thousand percent. I definitely put it on my list of non-negotiables to start everything. Vegas, just in terms of competing for a championship, which is something that I want to do in Year 16. And number two—not in that order—but my family, being away from them is really hard when Lailaa was in school. And she’s going into high school next year. And I can’t even imagine missing those moments. And so this is the best of both worlds, where it’s a 30-minute flight. I can go to practice at three o’clock and then hop on a flight and make her game at seven. (Lailaa plays both volleyball and basketball.) Off days, I can take her to school. And for those that know me, that’s really, really important to me.