Jul. 15, 2015
Candace And Nneka: The L.A. Sparks' Dynamic Duo
By Michael Roberson, For The African-American Athlete
In the midst of the MLB Playoffs and days before the beginning of the NBA Season, Candace Parker and Nnemkadi "Nneka" Ogwumike carried the Los Angeles Sparks to the WNBA's 20th Anniversary World Championship, 77-76, over the reigning titlist, Minnesota Lynx, October 20, 2016.
Both Women came from elite college basketball programs, and learned from legendary Hall of Fame coaches.
Parker played at the University of Tennessee, under the tutelage of the Late Great Pat Summitt, to whom she immediately dedicated the championship to, in a tearful/emotional on-court post game interview.
Ogwumike was a star hooper at the scholarly Stanford University, coached by the highly accomplished Tara VanDerveer, and actually played half of her four-year matriculation with her younger sister, and fellow WNBA star, Chiney, of the Connecticut Sun.
Candace came onto the national scene in 2004, when she, as an All-American prep star out of Chicagoland, beat the boys in the McDonald's All-American Game Slam Dunk Championship.
With all that worldwide popularity, she was able to take her talents to Knoxville, Tennessee (UT Volunteers). As a Lady Vol, Parker was set to play for the well renowned Coach Pat Summitt; however, that scenario would have to be deferred for a year, because she was classified as a 'Redshirt,' due to a previous knee injury and subsequent surgery.
Over the next three years Parker managed to amass two National Championships ('07 and '08), Player of the Year, as well as other awards, while averaging nearly 19 points and nine rebounds. Parker left UT with a year of eligibility remaining on her scholarship.
Candace was drafted No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2008 WNBA Draft. Not only did she live up to her draft status, but achieved a rarity, by garnering the expected Rookie of the Year Award, but also Most Valuable Player honors. A feat only accomplished by Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld, of the counterpart NBA.
During that special year, Parker also earned an Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing, as a member of Team USA.
Candace continued her great play for many more seasons, while becoming a mom, adding another gold medal in London 2012, and another MVP trophy in 2013, but the elusive WNBA crown was still out of her grasp.
Nneka Ogwumike was also selected first overall by the Sparks in the 2012 WNBA Draft, after a stellar career at "NERD" University, as she, her sister, and former teammates affectionately named the home of the Cardinal, in the Bay Area.
Ogwumike also won the Rookie of the Year award as the top pick of the league. She was instantaneously an impact player, and gave Parker that boost she so needed.
Nneka was a high school All-American in the Houston Area, then headed west to Palo Alto, and transferred her dominant playing style to the PAC 12, as well as nationwide and the rest of the NCAA.
Her relentless work ethic to improve as an All-Star in the WNBA culminated in 2016, when the Stanford grad earned the prestigious award of Most Valuable Player.
With all the newfound accolades, there was an apparent "changing of the guard" between Parker and Ogwumike, although Parker still had a proverbial chip on her shoulder all season long.
Not being able to get her third gold medal in Rio, because she was left off of the States' Squad, fueled her fire throughout the season and especially the Playoffs.
When it came down to the Finals against the perennial power Minnesota Lynx and superstar, Maya Moore, Candace proved she was still an elite player by earning the series MVP award, although Nneka gathered the KEY rebound and scored the game/Finals-winning basket, to seal the title.
During Ogwumike's post game exuberance, she gave praise to her elder teammate by dedicating the championship to Parker, as Candace had done for her beloved college coach.
Whether or not this the beginning of a dynasty for the Sparks, or just a one shot deal, it definitely took the cliched monkey off of the 30-year-old Parker's back, while elevating Ogwumike to a higher echelon in the present WNBA, as well as its two decade history or lore.
The two ballers put the spotlight back on to Southern California basketball scene. With the departure/retirement of Kobe, and the inability of the Clippers to meet or exceed expectations, the Sparks are the Hoop Queens of LA and Staples Center.
(Michael Roberson is a columnist for The African-American Athlete, and co-host of The African-American Athlete Talk Show. He is a graduate of Tennessee State University, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He lives in the Bay Area, where he watches the 'Splash Brothers' rain down threes.)