Candace Parker Talks Her ‘Bittersweet' Retirement and Says She’ll Love the Game ‘Forever’ (Exclusive)

The former WNBA star tells PEOPLE how she's keeping her competitive spirit alive with her family post-retirement

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Candace Parker
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Candace Parker

Candace Parker is reflecting on her decorated career in the WNBA.

Parker, 38, announced her retirement from basketball on April 28 in a lengthy Instagram post, and now the three-time WNBA champion tells PEOPLE that her decision feels "bittersweet" as the league's new season tips off on May 14.

"I played 16 years in the WNBA, and this would've been my 17th year," she says. "It's bittersweet."

Parker, who joins WNBA stars Cameron Brink, Dijonai Carrington, Kelsey Plum and Skylar Diggins-Smith as the faces of SKIMS' Fits Everybody underwear campaign, adds, "I love the game of basketball, and I've loved it before I was getting paid to play it, and I'll love it forever."

While she'll no longer be competing on any WNBA courts, Parker says she's found the next best thing to get her competitive juices flowing in retirement — hooping with her family. "I have a basketball hoop at my house, and my family's laughing at me because I'm super competitive, and so I'm the one that's like, 'Let's go outside and let's play,' and all these things," says the mother of two.

Related: Shaquille O'Neal and Newly Retired WNBA Star Candace Parker Tell Each Other 'I Love You' in Sweet Moment

Parker and her wife Anna Petrakova share a son, Airr Larry, 2, and Petrakova is currently pregnant with their second child together. Parker is also mom to Lailaa, 14, from a previous relationship.

Daniel Boczarski/Getty Anna Petrakova and host Candace Parker attend Candace's Ace All-Star Party
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Anna Petrakova and host Candace Parker attend Candace's Ace All-Star Party

"I almost feel bad for my wife because last week we were playing horse, and I'm talking mess to a pregnant lady that's almost about to deliver," Parker jokes. "And I'm like, 'Well, you knew what you were doing when you stepped out here.' It's more so getting the competitive juices out," she shares.

"We play dominoes, we do board games, but it's still not the same as competing in the way that I'm used to."

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In her retirement announcement, Parker said she knew "it was time" to step away from the game despite her love for the sport.

She wrote, "I promised I’d never cheat the game & that I’d leave it in a better place than I came into it. The competitor in me always wants 1 more, but it’s time," alongside a photo of herself as a young child, holding a basketball in her hands.

Related: WNBA's Candace Parker and Wife Anna Petrakova Reveal They're Expecting Baby No. 3 in Draft-Themed Announcement

"My HEART & body knew, but I needed to give my mind time to accept it," she continued before offering her best advice to the current WNBA players.

"Today's players: ENJOY IT," Parker wrote. "No matter how you prepare for it, you won't be ready for the gap it leaves in your soul."

Parker is the first WNBA player to win three championships with three different teams. She won her first ring with the Sparks in 2016. After that, she went to play in her hometown of Chicago, leading the Chicago Sky to a title in 2021 before joining the Las Vegas Aces for a 2023 championship win.

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