Lisa Leslie Hits the Mother-Load
Reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Candace Parker made headlines last week when she announced that she and husband Shelden Williams of the Sacramento Kings are expecting their first child this spring.
But Parker is far from the first WNBA star to have her basketball career impacted by pregnancy. In previous seasons, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and more have missed time, and occasionally entire seasons, to start their families.
All-time great Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks, a teammate of Parker's, missed the entire 2007 campaign when she had her first child, Lauren Jolie Lockwood, on July 15.
Leslie spoke with WNBA.com to give us a sense of what Parker is likely going through at this stage, what it means to be a mother in the WNBA and the likely timing and quality of her superstar teammate's return to the court.
Dot-com: What was the first thought you had when you found out Candace Parker was pregnant?
LL: I was very happy for Candace and I was also mad at Candace. ;) I had talked to her two days before and she kind of failed to mention that she had a bun in her oven!
After the story came out, though, she called me and was like, "I'm so sorry! I couldn't tell you!" My feelings were hurt, but I was only mad for about five seconds. "No, I'm so sorry, really! I didn't know what to say!" Aww, it's OK.
But no, I'm really happy for her and Shelden because I'm all about the pursuit of happiness. It's "family first" for me. I love being a mom. And I love basketball, but my career is secondary. There's a certain order to things and I think Candace has things in the proper order. She's married, she's gonna have a baby and she's getting set to start her family.
Candace has given the game of basketball, the WNBA and her fans so much. That's what we do, we give it our all every time we step out on that floor. And part of me is selfish like that too, thinking, "Come on, Candace! Hurry back! We need you out on the court!" But you can't look at it that way. We are women first. We love to play basketball, but the beautiful side of it is that we've also been blessed with the opportunity to bear children.
Dot-com: Did you have any advice for Candace right off the bat?
LL: Yeah, the one thing I told her was that she has to stop worrying about being a people-pleaser all the time. She has to do what's best for her and her family. That has to be her focus.
I mean, I could have had a baby earlier in my career if I'd wanted to. The fact is, it's never a good time to have a child during a basketball career. There's never a "good" time to do it.
We love our fans, believe me. And there are times we feel bad that we're missing out on games and that we're not there for our teammates sometimes when they need us. But it's the same kind of thing if you're in an office job. There's never a question about taking a leave if you're in a job like that. You do what you have to do. You feel bad for your co-workers lots of times, but you have to live your life. You're not doing it to make the fans angry or to spite your team's coaches or owners or anything. You're doing it because you want to live your life. And no one should question that.
I'm of the opinion that everything in the universe happens for a reason. There's no such thing as bad timing. Everything happens when it's supposed to happen, in my opinion.
Dot-com: What do you think is going through Candace's mind right now? I'm sure there's plenty of excitement, but is there also some concern about missing some time in the coming season?
LL: I could never speak for Candace and what she's thinking. But I can only hope that she has no sadness or regrets with regard to the coming season. This is a blessing, the opportunity to have a child, and I'm positive that she and Shelden see it that way. In speaking with her, she's completely happy. She sounds great…
In fact, I'm putting together a little care package to send off to her with some baby products. Gotta make sure that baby has nice skin. :)
Dot-com: Let's talk a bit about the fitness side of having a baby. Obviously pregnancy has a profound affect on the mother's body. How long did it take before you felt you were totally back?
LL: The recovery is a totally different ballgame. The big benefit for Candace, of course, is that she's young and she will be able to recover, probably, faster than a lot of the other moms in this league who had children later in their careers.
But you never know how your child is going to get here. This is something I didn't really think about beforehand. My thought was, "OK, I'll have the baby. And I'm a trooper… so I'll be out a month, then I'll start working out and be back on the court in no time."
But how the birth goes can affect that timetable pretty significantly. Do you have the baby naturally? Is it induced? Do you need a C-section? Well, I had a C-section and let me tell you, that was a total shock. And that changed things for me.
I warned Candace about this possibility… and just told her not to get into the mindset that this is going to be quick and easy and I'll be right back out on the court. You can't control how smoothly everything goes. And given how tall she and Shelden are, they could have a huge baby! ;) So you never know.
For me, even after the C-section, once I came back, I was asking how quickly I could get back up and start walking. The doctor said I could do half a lap around the recovery area. But I did four laps the first day. And I picked up Lauren and was like, "Come on, babe. I have to walk!" Honestly, it was such a relief because I was so tired of being so big. I had to get moving. But most doctors say there should be no serious activity for about six weeks after giving birth. You don't want to tear your stitches.
But after six weeks, I was back at practice with the Sparks. And I knew right off the bat that there was something off. There was something not quite right with my hips. There's just so much movement in basketball, much of it lateral. And the lateral movement was hard to get back. But being able to jump again was just as tough. Of course, I was about 10 years older than Candace. So maybe she'll have less trouble. I hope so.
But I told her, don't worry about basketball. Don't rush back because you feel bad or guilty about not being out there. Take care of yourself. But she'll know what she's capable of and when she's capable of doing it.
And it's tough because there's a lot of pressure out there from a lot of different sides. There was for me, too. I kept thinking, "I love my team! I love my team! I want to be back out there playing with them." And I know that Candace feels the same way. But part of our jobs as teammates and as the organization is to reassure her that it's OK for her to take her time with this. It's her life. And she's a champion, she's a winner. If she can get back out there, she will.
Dot-com: Are you ever able to get back into the same shape as before? Can you be as dominant physically after having a child?
LL: That's definitely something you think about. And to be honest, there were points this season where I was happy to take a backseat to Candace. I was all about Candace. "Go for it! Do what you do! Be your best!" And I took a bit of a step back. I didn't feel like I needed to be what I was before. I just needed to be productive.
Now this coming season, I may need to step my game back up if Candace isn't around to play at the beginning. I don't know. But I need to continue to show the tenacity and fight that I had before, play in the paint, rebound, play defense.
And with Candace being younger and coming off the year she just had, she shouldn't just try to be productive when she comes back. ;) She'll try to get back to where she was before the pregnancy. In fact, she'll try to be even better.
But I think it's perfectly natural after you have a baby to question yourself and your body a little bit more than you had before. But at her age, she won't have to question things as much.
Dot-com: How do you balance being a full-time mother and a professional athlete? Do you ever get a full night of sleep?
LL: Yeah, it's incredibly hard. But you have to focus on getting your rest and eating your vitamins. And maintaining your diet is incredibly important. Drink lots of water. And sleep when the baby sleeps.
But the other huge part is having the right kind of help and support. My husband is awesome with Lauren and I think Shelden will be the same way with their child. Shelden always has a good time playing around with Lauren. He'll be great and helping and supporting Candace, particularly during the summer.
The hardest part, though, is that you never feel like you have time to yourself anymore. And Candace loves to sleep. So I told her that she'd better get as much sleep as she can now, because those days are about to be all over.
It's not about you anymore. I used to get my nails done, my toes done, my hair done every week or before games. But now, you don't have time for any of that.
Dot-com: How do you think having your child has affected you in your basketball career? And if you had the chance to do it all over again, what would you change?
LL: I'd do it exactly the same way. I think that having Lauren has changed me and my perspective. I now know that some things in life just aren't that serious anymore. I never felt like I was a selfish person or anything, but I'm so much more selfless now that I have Lauren. In fact, I think I could stand to be a little bit meaner… especially out on the court. Now I'm helping people up and asking them if they're OK. (Sparks coach Michael) Coop(er) always tells me that I can't lose my edge out there… that I can't be too nice. I want to win, but at the end of the day, I just love people that much more… children, in particular. I'm so much more conscious of the way I am, even out on the court, now that I have a baby.
And I think that Candace will make a similar kind of transition. It'll be less about her and more about her family.
Dot-com: What, if anything, do you think Candace's pregnancy says about the state of the WNBA and about women's sports in general?
LL: Well, I think everything's all good. Our league will be OK. People have to realize that we're women. And people should be embracing the fact that many of us are married with children and have lives outside of basketball. We're career women and just because we play a sport that we love, that doesn't mean we're that much different from other career women.