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WNBA: Fisher’s Parker Benching Was A Calculated Message To His Leader

Fisher isn't basketball dumb, he's not throwing games. He just needs the old Parker back.

Candace Parker is a WNBA legend. She transcended the game long ago and her celebrity rose three-fold when she became the first full-time woman on “Players Only” and a lead analyst for Turner Sports

In the LA Sparks’ WNBA playoff-eliminating loss to the Connecticut Sun on Sunday — a 78-56 drubbing — Parker was treated less than legendary by her head coach Derek Fisher and she was obviously distraught during and after the game. 

Elena Della Donne won her second MVP last week, but Parker is still the face of the WNBA because of her television presence and the fact that she is usually holding court and impeccably representing women in a room full of male testosterone and egotistical former NBA players. 

In Fisher’s defense, Parker was hobbled by a foul hamstring that she injured during the first quarter of the Sparks’ preseason game on May 11 in Phoenix. She left the game immediately and missed the first seven games of the regular season.

That combined with the wear and tear of a full season as an NBA analyst may have led to Parker producing the lowest scoring average of her career (11.2 ppg). It seems like she never got going this season. 

Still, it’s hard to believe that Fisher would bench one of the greatest players in WNBA history down the stretch of a playoff elimination game. Parker is built for moments like that. 

It’s like Phil Jackson benching Kobe Bryant during the last two quarters of Game 7. It’s kind of ridiculous. Who’s the better option?  Benching Parker didn’t help the team because the Sparks still got smacked. 

If Kobe was ever benched he would surely react something like this.

WNBA Twitter fingers, who acknowledge Candace Parker as a must-see WNBA player, were not impressed with Fisher’s decision and supported Parker’s frustrations with the situation. 

I won’t be so quick to judge Fisher.  Parker is known to be stubborn and egotistical at times, but all legendary competitors and astute students of the game usually are. There are also some sectors of the WNBA world that claim to have a problem with her “attitude” and aggression, though I don’t share those beliefs.

She’s always been a warrior on the court and represented the WNBA as well as anyone. She’s an ambassador of the league and brings visibility to women’s sports every time her face hits the TNT screen during NBA season. She’s as recognizable as any WNBA player and it perplexes me how certain sectors of the WNBA machine has treated one of its biggest and best assets over the years.

Parker’s been snubbed from recent Olympic teams and criticized at times by WNBA media types. Let’s not forget the way she was attacked when she left the league to have her daughter one season after winning the ROY award. 

According to a 2009 SI article, “The reaction was mixed when news broke of her pregnancy in January. Fans grumbled on message boards about Parker’s selfishness and worried about her changing priorities. WNBA commissioner Donna Orender told the New York Times, ‘Candace can be a very usable symbol of how you can have a family and a career.”

I don’t know her personally nor am I privy to the dynamics of her relationship with Fisher, but we do know that this goes deeper than him just thinking another player was a better option than the former WNBA MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game MVP, ESPY Award Winner and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist. There had to be some tension between the two leading up to this point and losing aways magnifies warts.

Fisher says specifically that in benching Parker, he was looking for “energy” “physicality” “a spark” which are intangibles that Parker has built her legendary career upon.

If you know Candace Parker and the intensity and leadership and physicality she brings to the game, Fisher’s comments don’t add up. It’s something deeper than that.

Maybe Parker and Fisher have been bumping heads all season. Maybe Fisher thinks Parker has gotten a big ego and noticed a lack of commitment after her TV duties. A lack of passion for the game. 

There’s more to the story and maybe over time, we will find out what truly caused her benching. There was something that she was doing that Fisher didn’t like and he used the last 11 minutes of a game in a season that was slipping away, to prove a point to his Future Hall of Fame player. 

This will probably blow over by next season and it will either inspire Parker to rededicate herself to the sport, request a trade or maybe even hang up her kix and devote all of her “energy” to her burgeoning television career.

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