Candace Parker, the WNBA's rookie of the year and most valuable player in 2008, will have surgery on her dislocated left shoulder and will be out for the season, dealing a devastating blow to the struggling Sparks.
The surgery will be scheduled "in the next few weeks," a Sparks spokeswoman said Thursday night.
Parker, who is expected to be out for four to six months, had taken herself out of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Lynx, holding her arm and clearly in pain after pulling down a defensive rebound late in the second quarter.
"We can't replace Candace," Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman told The Times on Thursday night. "Nobody can."
The WNBA feels the same pain. Parker, who was averaging 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, has been considered the face of the league. Her jersey has been the No. 1 seller for the last two years and images of her dunking have been part of the WNBA's marketing strategy.
The 24-year-old star out of the University of Tennessee has worn a brace on the shoulder her entire WNBA career, having initially injured it in the regional final of the 2008 NCAA tournament. After leading the Lady Vols over Stanford to give Coach Pat Summitt back-to-back championships, Parker was taken as the No. 1 draft pick by the Sparks and went right to work. She helped get the team to the playoffs that season, working alongside three-time league MVP Lisa Leslie.
But the Sparks, who are 3-7 and near the bottom of the Western Conference, no longer have Leslie, who retired, and have a new coach, Jennifer Gillom. While the team has been found wins hard to come by — their 1-6 start was the worst in franchise history — Parker has been excellent. She was leading the WNBA in scoring and rebounding before re-injuring the shoulder, first last Friday against the Seattle Storm, and again Sunday. An MRI test was done Wednesday.
Parker's teammates, who face Eastern Conference powerhouse Connecticut Sun on Friday night at Staples Center, learned of the surgery Thursday afternoon.
"I don't think they're going to mope too long," Gillom said. "They don't have time for that."
Gillom had no immediate answer about how she would fill the void that Parker's absence creates but said she expects role players will step up, pointing out that Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who averages 5.2 points, scored a season-high 19 after Parker left Sunday's game.
"Sometimes you're not able to see a lot of the players capabilities because they're hidden behind those great players," Gillom said.
Goodman acknowledged the profound impact that losing Parker will have but sees a positive.
"Bad things happen," Goodman said. "Then you have to persevere. She'll be a role model on how to deal with personal adversity."