Sparks star Candace Parker, the WNBA rookie of the year and most valuable player last season who also won an Olympic gold medal and led the Tennessee Lady Vols to another title, is pregnant.
Parker, who is married to Sacramento Kings forward Shelden Williams, confirmed the news Wednesday. In a statement, Parker said, "We feel blessed." Her agent, Mary Ford, said Parker would have no further comment -- for now.
No due date was disclosed, but Sparks General Manager Penny Toler says she thinks Parker can return well before the season ends.
"All in all," Toler said, "things line up well for us. . . . We don't start practice until May 17. And I preface this by assuming everything goes totally smoothly, Candace could return as early as mid-June."
Toler said her understanding is that Parker is expecting the baby in early May. The Sparks' first regular-season game is at Staples Center on June 6; 12 of their last 18 games are at home.
Giving birth and returning to the court in the same year is not unprecedented. Former Houston Comets star Tina Thompson gave birth to son Dyllan on May 5, 2005, and appeared in a game July 21. In 1997, Sheryl Swoopes gave birth to son Jordan on June 25 and was in a game Aug. 7.
Parker isn't the first Sparks star to get pregnant. Lisa Leslie missed the 2007 season to give birth to her daughter Lauren Lockwood. Her pregnancy was announced on the same day in 2006 that the Sparks were officially sold to Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson.
Goodman said that when she heard the news, "My first reaction was to just shake my head. We're inured to this by now so I guess I thought, 'Oh, yeah, she's having a baby. Yeah, of course.' Then Carla and I sent her a text message. It's hard for me to think of anything bad about having a child."
Leslie said she understood when some suggested she was letting down her team, and sport, by having a pregnancy affect her season.
"There is a certain order to having a baby," she said. "First to be married. Then it is up to the couple to decide. Your job is second. . . . I planned accordingly as best I could. I took everyone into consideration, Team USA, the fans, the Sparks, and it was a tough decision. I gave a lot to basketball and then, when I was 35 and married, it was time to plan a family. I did what was best for me. Candace and her husband are doing what's best for them."
Commissioner Donna Orender said Parker's pregnancy has no negatives for the WNBA, despite the way the still-struggling league has focused much of its marketing on the Sparks forward.
"It's a very personal decision," Orender said. "She's a phenomenal athlete who should rejoice in this next stage of her life. We all have the right to make personal decisions."