‘You don’t have to tell your story. Time will.’

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

The first time I saw Candace Parker practice at Tennessee was in February 2005. Knee surgery had delayed her freshman year – more on that in a bit – and the high school phenom and can’t miss college superstar had recovered enough to test the knee on the court.

It’s impossible to determine the greatest Lady Vol basketball player ever, not with a list that includes Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, Bridgette Gordon, Daedra Charles and Holly Warlick, the first Tennessee athlete ever in any sport to have her jersey retired. All six jerseys are in the rafters above “The Summitt.”

Parker had a complete skill set. She could score inside, shoot from the outside, and use her left or right hand for hook shots and layups with no change in form. With most players, it’s easy to tell which is the dominant hand. Her game had fluidity and grace – and power. But it was the passing and ball handling that I had never seen from a player who was 6-4.

Candace Parker leads the break. (UT Athletics)

Parker popularized the position of point forward in women’s basketball. She could lead the break and dish to an open teammate in transition. Guards usually feast on steals when a tall player dribbles more than two or three times. But Parker kept the ball tight to her body and could easily switch hands and spin. Guards would learn to just get back on defense because Parker matched or exceeded their speed.

Her court vision was eye-popping. She ranks seventh all-time in WNBA history with 1,634 assists. The six players ranked ahead of Parker are all guards. She could play all five positions from point guard to center.

“Candace literally changed the game,” said Becky Hammon, head coach of the Las Vegas Aces. “She was the first player in the women’s game who really shattered all the boxes and turned it into position-less basketball in the sense of playing one through five, and being able to play each of them so well on both ends of the floor. She’s kind of a pioneer and GOAT among GOATS in the sense of how she played, because her game specifically changed the way we look at the positions in basketball.”

Hammon’s remarks can be heard in their entirety below.

Parker had been set to play a likely final season for the Aces when she announced last Sunday – the day training camp opened in the WNBA – that she would retire due to a foot that had not healed properly from surgery last summer and would require another operation. That will be the 11th surgery of her basketball career starting with a knee injury in high school and knee, shoulder and foot operations as the years progressed.

“I promised I’d never cheat the game & that I’d leave it in a better place than I came into it,” Parker posted on Instagram. “The competitor in me always wants 1 more, but it’s time. My HEART & body knew, but I needed to give my mind time to accept it.”

The full statement can be read HERE with tributes to her career HERE. Parker’s announcement dominated the news cycle that Sunday.

Jenny Moshak, the now-retired sports medicine chief for the Lady Vols, isn’t on social media. She learned the news by reading an Associated Press story on ESPN. Parker credits Moshak for saving her basketball career by the way she responded when Parker arrived at Tennessee in late August of 2004.

Parker had spent the summer playing for USA Basketball despite a knee that kept swelling. When workouts and pick-up games started in Knoxville in preseason, Moshak noticed the swelling.

“We’re not talking a little bit of swelling, it had a lot of swelling, and that’s not a way a knee should react, even post-injury and post-surgery that she had on the knee in the past,” Moshak said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “That was an indication that something’s not right.”

An MRI and scope revealed the problem. While Parker had torn an ACL while in high school, the ligament was intact. What Parker had was damage to the femoral condyle, which is part of the knee joint and works as a shock absorber. A hole the size of a nickel had to be repaired and the recovery would take six to eight months. Parker’s freshman season ended before it ever started.

Jenny Moshak (UT photo)

Parker’s recovery path proceeded quicker than expected – that would become the story of her career as she returned to basketball less than eight weeks after giving birth to Lailaa in 2009 – and Moshak allowed her to start practicing on a limited basis in February 2005. That was the day I saw Parker on the court in-person and realized afterwards that I had witnessed someone who would change the game.

“First practice back she dunked the basketball,” Moshak said. “This was to test whether she could come back early and be a part of her freshman season. And then the knee told us no even though her skills such as dunking the basketball, told us yes.”

When the knee started swelling again, Moshak shut down the practice experiment. Parker didn’t practice in March and had to watch from the bench in street clothes as Tennessee struggled to score in the Final Four against Michigan State in Indianapolis and lost in 2005.

Parker wanted to play. Moshak and Pat Summitt said no. Could Parker have played? Yes. Could she have damaged the knee even more? Absolutely.

Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike celebrate a win. (UT Athletics)

“To give her the most longevity she could possibly have as a career as a basketball player was not to play her that year,” Moshak said. “And that’s what we did.”

That would work out well for Parker, who played 16 seasons of professional basketball and won two Olympic gold medals after graduating from Tennessee. Parker would come to trust Moshak so much that she asked her to travel overseas with her and provide sports medicine in Russia, where Parker played overseas in the winter months.

“Candace called me and said, ‘I need you,’ ” said Moshak, who left East Tennessee and spent five seasons in Yekaterinburg every year for months until Parker returned to Los Angeles to play for the WNBA team that drafted her No. 1 in 2008.

“She was an amazing athlete to watch. She was an unselfish player because of how well she distributed the ball. She could play one through five. She’s almost a point guard bringing the ball down on the floor or she’s deep in the post for a rebound on the next play.

“It’s this all-encompassing level of skill. The way she carries herself, an ambassador for the game, the skills and talent that she brought to the game, the remarkable statistics that she put into the game, the number of championships she’s won with multiple teams, that’s not easy to do.”

Moshak is impressed by how long Parker managed to play at the sport’s highest level, especially as she balanced family, businesses, broadcasting – and the need to stay in shape and healthy to play for so long.

Lailaa, baby Airr, Candace Parker and Anna Petrakova.

After Parker fully healed her knee at Tennessee, she won two national titles in 2007 and 2008 in what would ultimately be the final ones for Summitt, who died from dementia in 2016.

Parker dislocated her left shoulder in the Elite Eight win over Texas A&M and her availability for the Final Four in 2008 was day to day. Players shared a hotel room on the road, and Parker was paired with freshman Vicki Baugh in Tampa. As Parker rolled over and tried to get out of bed, the shoulder slipped out again. She yelled for Baugh to get Moshak and expected her to use the phone. Instead, Baugh bolted out of the room.

“She was running down the hallway screaming my name, so I came out of the room, and Vicki said, ‘Candace needs you!” Moshak said. “I went to the room and put the shoulder back in.”

Moshak was due to be on Mickey Dearstone’s radio show, so she kept that commitment without revealing what had happened.

“I was just thinking of Candace the whole time, but was trying to answer Mickey’s questions regarding everything,” Moshak said. “Candace and I did rehab that day and she felt stronger after that, and we got cleared by the doctors to play. She understood she had some limitations and just worked through those limitations.”

Parker would earn MVP honors and lead Tennessee to its eighth national title while essentially playing with one good arm. If the shoulder dislocated again, she would be forced to sit. Somehow, the shoulder stayed put.

Parker played 15 seasons with the  Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky and won a WNBA championship with each team. She joined the Aces as a free agent in 2023 and won a third title in a season that was cut short due to a stress fracture in her foot. There will not be a 2024 season.

Candace Parker

“The outstanding thing is she’s obviously much more than just a basketball player,” Moshak said. “She’s an amazing communicator as an analyst with her work with the NBA and the NCAA, and her business decisions have been extremely smart. She said she’s going to own an NBA and WNBA team someday, and I can guarantee you that’s probably going to happen.

“She identifies as so many different things. She’s a mother, which she adores on a daily basis. She’s a wife, which she adores on a daily basis. She does things outside of basketball. The movies that she’s trying to produce, yes, there’s some basketball related but it’s women’s issues and LGBT issues and that Title IX series that she did. Her passion will just go to the next thing that she does. That’s just the way she’s built.”

Parker won her second WNBA championship in her hometown of Chicago for a full circle moment. Superstars can become magnets for criticism – often rooted in jealousy or resentment – and Parker performed every season with outsized expectations. She also blocked out a lot of the noise.

Watch the link below for Parker’s emotional reaction to the 2021 championship. The players have large goggles because they came to the press conference after the locker room celebration with champagne.

“You don’t have to tell your story. Time will.”

What a story Parker has to tell. I am so glad I was there to watch it get started.

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. 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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