‘We got you, Candace’

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

With four words on social media, the Las Vegas Aces gave Candace Parker something she had never had in 15 seasons in the WNBA – her own locker with her name on it.

Candace Parker, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, finally will have a locker that she doesn’t have to pack up after practice and a place that is always available to work out on her own.

Parker, who is entering her 16th season in the WNBA, signed as a free agent with Las Vegas after 13 years in Los Angeles and two in Chicago. A two-time national title winner at Tennessee, two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time WNBA MVP and two-time WNBA champion, Parker is one of the best players on the planet – and the accommodations, until now, couldn’t match what she had in college.

With the 2023 season about to get underway in May, the Aces opened a 64,000-square-foot practice facility and team headquarters in Henderson, Nevada. According to the Aces, it is “the first time in the 27-year history of the WNBA that a facility of this kind has been built solely for use by a WNBA team.”

It’s about time.

Las Vegas Aces practice facility. (Las Vegas Aces)

Parker spoke last week on a podcast by NBA player Draymond Green, whose face looked stunned when she said: “I have not had a locker in my entire career. I have not had a locker that has my name on it … I’ve fought so hard to bring the WNBA along that I’ve never had a practice facility where I could just go get shots up at night, so my thing is that I deserve that. … I worked and have been a part of growing the WNBA.”

The Aces responded by copying the quote and posting a photo of her locker on social media with the words. “We got you, Candace.”

Screenshot of Las Vegas Aces’ post to Candace Parker.

The Aces are owned by Mark Davis, who also owns the Las Vegas Raiders, and he has committed to making the franchise a first-class operation from hiring former Lady Vol Nikki (Caldwell) Fargas as team president to Becky Hammon, a former WNBA player and assistant coach in the NBA, as head coach. Hammon, in her first season in 2022, led the Aces to the WNBA championship, the first rookie coach to ever do so.

Hammon has emerged as a candidate for head coach of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and with training camp for WNBA teams now underway, she naturally was asked about the rumors. Hammon’s response: “I’m not commenting on Toronto. This is all about the Aces. And I won’t take one moment away from these women to talk about them boys.”

The Aces’ facility project, which was overseen by CAA ICON and its women-led team of Julie Amacker and Shannon Miller, is state of the art with TVs inside each locker and an interface that allows every piece of technology within the building to be operated and controlled on any device including phones, iPads and laptops. The treatment and recovery areas have hot and cold plunge pools, hydro tread, infrared sauna and cryotherapy.

Jordan Horston in training camp. (Seattle Storm)

It also should be noted that the Seattle Storm – the team that drafted former Lady Vol Jordan Horston last month in the first round – broke ground in the spring on a practice and team compound that will be called the Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance with two courts, locker room and lounge, along with medical, strength, conditioning and nutrition facilities. It is set to open in 2024.

The Storm are owned by Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau, the only all-female ownership group in the WNBA.

There’s a pattern here. When women get involved, good things happen for other women. And when men support women – like Davis, who has added former NFL quarterback Tom Brady as a minority owner – it sends an additional signal that women’s sports matter. Period.

WNBA teams do have locker rooms in their home arena – the New York Liberty, for example, have dedicated space in the Barclays Center – but teams usually don’t practice or conduct workouts there because the arenas are multi-use and host multiple events. Pratt Pavilion, which opened in 2007, was built specifically so the Lady Vols and Vols had access to basketball courts at any time because Thompson-Boling Arena also hosts other events year-round, and the court has to be pulled up and the baskets rolled out. Professional basketball teams usually have practice facilities that are just for players and team personnel – thus the ability to get to the court at any time.

Parker spent most of her senior season at Tennessee inside Pratt Pavilion working on her game. She finally has an equivalent space as a pro.

Parker likely has one or two professional seasons left in her career. She joins a stacked Aces team that is favored to repeat as WNBA champions. While her playing days are drawing to a close, Horston’s are just beginning. Thanks to ownership like the Storm, Horston should have her own locker and practice court within a year.

Horston met with the media this week via Zoom a couple of days after training camp opened in Seattle. Before she left Tennessee a week ago, she stopped by Pratt Pavilion to tell coach Kellie Harper goodbye.

Jordan Horston and Kellie Harper hug in April, the day before Horston left for Seattle (Tennessee Athletics)

“I didn’t want to go,” Horston said. “It was really hard, but I had to. I’ve got to spread my wings and fly. She means so much to me. She’s been a great role model in my life for four years. It was sad. It was bittersweet, but it’s that time. I’ve got to grow up and apply the things that she taught me.

“It was a see you later. It wasn’t a goodbye.”

Speaking of Harper, this space last week outlined here how to sign up for Adult Fan Camp on May 10 – attendees must be 18 and up – and take the court with the head coach and the Lady Vols. Some folks asked to be sideline spectators and still get the tours and autographs and that option is now available here for $75.

Remember, the money supports female athletes through the Lady Vol Boost (Her) Club. Clearly, there’s more work to be done for women.

Maria M. Cornelius has been writing about the Lady Vols since 1998 for various publications. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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