ISTANBUL — Candace Parker can’t wait to get to London.
It’s not just because she’ll be playing in her second Olympics or that she’ll get to see the city for the first time. She’s just really excited to be reunited with her 3-year-old daughter Lailaa.
“This Olympics is really for her. It will be a great experience for her to look back at this when she’s old enough,” Parker said. “This time four years ago she wasn’t even a thought and now she’ll be at the Olympics with me. It means a lot for her to be here with me.”
Parker hasn’t seen her daughter since the U.S. women’s basketball team left Washington, D.C., on July 16. It’s the longest the two have been apart since Lailaa was born on May 13, 2009. The two have traveled around the world as Lailaa is always by her side. When Parker plays in Russia in the winter, Lailaa is there. When she goes on the road during the WNBA season, her daughter is around.
“It’s really hard being apart from her,” Parker said. “It was emotional when I said goodbye to her in Washington. She’s getting older and it’s tough but mommy’s got to do her job. She’ll be able to be there for the Olympics.”
The two have talked every other day using an online calling service while the U.S. trained in Manchester, England, and Istanbul.
“It’s cute she told me she missed me and was crying for me,” Parker said. “It is nice getting a little extra sleep and I know she’s in really good hands with Shel and my grand parents.”
Parker will have to wait until Sunday to see her family as her daughter and husband Shelden Williams won’t arrive until then.
U.S. women’s basketball team director Carol Callan joked with Parker that she’d tug on her sleeve from time to time and cry if it helped. Callan is the only other member of the U.S. women’s basketball delegation who is a mother, so she can understand what Parker is going through.
The 26-year-old Parker admits that having a daughter has helped her grow-up quickly.
“You really start to appreciate things more,” Parker said. “I look back to the 2008 Olympics and I was so young, I was 22 years old. I didn’t really stop to take it all in. I know in London I’m going to try and really just enjoy the games. I’ve never been to London before and I want to see Big Ben and the bridges.”
Parker seems to be enjoying herself a lot more on the court lately and that’s because she’s completely healthy for the first time since giving birth. She came back to the Los Angeles Sparks only two months after Lailaa was born.
In 2010, she injured her left shoulder and that caused her to miss the world championships which the U.S. won. Last season, she only played six games before injuring her right knee and missing the remainder of the season.
“I hated being out, but it helped me love the game more,” Parker said. “I can remember my shoulder finally healed and I played overseas and then came back and my knee was hurt.”
Now that she is 100 percent healthy, she’s playing the best basketball of her young career. Parker is averaging 19 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this season.
“She does things that no one else can do,” U.S. Olympic coach Geno Auriemma said. “She has the skills of a guard in a 6-foot-4 body. She’s so dynamic and versatile.”
Parker wanted to show that she’s completely healed and that her body was stronger than ever. So she decided to strip down for ESPN The Magazine’s fourth annual “Body Issue.” She was on one of the six covers.
“I thought it was very tastefully done, that’s why I agreed to do it,” she said. “I think they do a fantastic job displaying your body not in an offensive way, that’s the thing I wanted to show. I worked really hard on my body to get back and get stronger. I thought what a great way to show it.”
If Parker does help the U.S. win a fifth straight gold medal, she will quickly put it around her daughter’s neck. She just hopes that Lailaa appreciates it more than the last time she gave her a medal.
“We were doing a mother-daughter photo shoot and I brought the medal out and she threw it across the yard,” Parker said laughing. “I know she’ll eventually learn how precious they are.”