On February 18 in New Orleans, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Lindsay Whalen stepped onto a court together for the first time in nearly four months.
It was back on Oct. 20, 2016 that Ogwumike sank a put-back jumper with 3.1 seconds to play in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals to give her and Parker their first WNBA title, while thwarting Whalen’s attempt at her fourth championship.
That shot capped off what many will argue – myself included – as the greatest Finals in the 20-year history of the WNBA. Now, four months later, it was once again Ogwumike and Parker taking on Whalen – only this time the stakes were slightly less high as participants in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.
Between playing in the Celebrity Game, attending NBA events, making appearances around the city, enjoying the food and taking in a bit of the Mardi Gras atmosphere, the trio of WNBA stars took some time to reflect on the Finals and what they have been up to during the WNBA offseason.
“It’s been different than the other offseasons, I’ll tell you that,” said Parker with a laugh. “Just because we won and that sour taste in my mouth wasn’t there.”
Parker and the Sparks had suffered numerous playoff disappointments before finally breaking through last October.
“It was surreal honestly, it was surreal,” said the nine-year veteran. “There are no words that can describe the way it felt and how much of a relief it was. And also just looking at the people you did it with. There couldn’t have been a more special team to do it with and to finally [get it done]. If we had won in years past, I don’t think it would have been as special as this because we had such a great group of people.”
Part of that group is Ogwumike, who capped off her remarkable season with one of the most memorable shots in league history. That was just one of a handful of moments that stood out for the 2016 league MVP.
“Obviously that shot, I think Candace’s performance. I would say the series as a whole,” said Ogwumike. “[Alana Beard]’s shot in Game 1, Chelsea [Gray]’s play in the last few games. Game 3 was huge. Out of the series Game 3 was probably my favorite. There are a lot of different memories and I think a lot of people are going to remember that in history as one of the best Finals series between two very amazing teams.”
Of course, Whalen was a member of the “amazing team” that came up just one point short of claiming its fourth WNBA title in just six years.
“Last year was obviously not how we wanted to finish, but it was a great Finals series; it was an all-time classic WNBA Finals,” she said. “It’s one of those things where we obviously wanted to win, but that motivates us for this year and we’re still proud of what we were able to accomplish last season. Give credit to L.A., but we’ll be back and ready to go this season, for sure.”
The Lynx point guard said it “took a while” to get over that Game 5 loss, but the memory of walking off the court in disappointment will fuel them for 2017.
“After a couple weeks, maybe a month, you kind of put it in its place and you’re able to move on and get ready for next season,” she said. “And that’s the most important thing, that’s what we have now.”
Whalen and Parker have chosen not to play overseas this offseason, while Ogwumike – the youngest of the trio – was off to Russia only 10 days after winning the WNBA title.
“I just wanted to rest and recoup my body and get ready for next season,” said Whalen, who has played overseas for 10 years during her professional career.
“I just needed a break,” said Parker. “I just couldn’t go right after the season – mentally, physically, emotionally, everything. … I played this long and I’ve worked as hard as I have to be able to say no and to not go.”
In addition to making it down to New Orleans for NBA All-Star, Parker has taken the opportunity to look explore some life-after-basketball options – including a visit to Kevin Garnett’s Area 21 on TNT’s Inside the NBA.
“It’s so awesome,” she said of her first Area 21 visit. “I love KG. … It’s nice to spend time with him and do things that I want to do after basketball. I haven’t figured out what my career choice is going to be, but I definitely want to be a part of the game. I’m just trying to figure out different avenues that I want to do.”
But Parker’s playing days are far from over, as she and Ogwumike have a title to defend this summer.
“I think you find out kind of who you are in tough situations and also in good situations,” said Parker. “And in this good situation, I’m not going to allow it for me to be complacent. Last season is last season. We’re excited. I know we’re excited to get our rings and raise the banner, but after that it’s a new season, a new year and a new challenge.”
Parker, Ogwumike and the Sparks have a few more weeks to bask in the championship glow before training camps open and the season draws near. Their championship banner will be raised during the season opener on May 13.
And on July 6, the Sparks have their first Finals rematch with Whalen and the rest of the Lynx. The atmosphere surrounding that matchup will definitely have a different feel than the exhibition in New Orleans.