Thanks, Dad, for Believing in Me Before I Did

There I was, standing outside in the middle of a concrete court in the hot sun. All alone, I started to walk across the grass to get the basketball that had gotten me in this predicament. Why hadn't I chosen to go to the closer park? Sure, the rim was a little bent and the court was on a slant but it was a lot closer to my house. I had seen this same story repeat far too many times: Son asks Dad to help him with basketball, both proceed to park, dad frustrates son, son kicks ball and dad leaves son to walk all the way home. Except this story goes a little differently: father leaves daughter. In my fresh pair of Tracy McGrady Adidas shoes, I began that same "walk of shame" home that my brothers took so many times before me.

The third child and only girl, born to Larry and Sara Parker, I grew up idolizing my older brothers. Anthony and Marcus were my heroes and I tried to do everything they did. They once went shirtless to the park to play tennis. I was the three-year-old tag-a-long sister with bows and ribbons in my hair and was as bare chested as they were. Mom and dad always pushed us to be the best that we could be. As cliché as that sounds, it's the truth. My parents never treated me any differently because I was a girl. I was held to the same expectations and the same standards as my brothers.

My dad was my first coach and drove me extremely hard from a very young age. So much so that his nickname around the suburban streets of Naperville, Illinois was "Joe Jackson." But instead of practicing my singing and dance moves, I honed my speed and quickness for the first time on a soccer field. Along with the constant of orange slices and juice boxes, there was my dad pacing the sidelines of the soccer field. This same scenario carried on all the way through middle school and AAU basketball; my dad on the sidelines not only encouraging me, but pushing me to be great. He never pushed my brothers or I out of his own desires, he knew we wanted to be great and he was there to help us achieve our goals and guide us along. Often times he played tough guy and sometimes the bad guy because he knew eventually I would reap the benefits and see results. My dad saw greatness and believed in me before I ever did.

From my first dunk at 14 years old to my second NCAA Championship at the University of Tennessee, my intense training with my dad was always to credit. From day one, my dad put me through the same regimen as he put my brothers. I was expected to be as tough as they were, complete the same drills that they did and practice just as many jump shots. The only difference was on the days that I felt like I couldn't compare with my brothers, my dad told me otherwise. Joe Jackson turned into Daddy, inspiring me to keep going and teaching me that failure is simply a reason to work harder. On my best days, such as when I was a junior in high school coming off a 42-point performance and near triple-double, my dad was there to tell me I haven't arrived yet and bring me back to reality. Today I know that there is still work to be done, but along the way my I am achieving my dreams.

In July 2009, I spoke at a court dedication thanking my family, friends and all those that influenced me and helped me along my journey. Who would have thought, the same court that I walked home from so many years ago, would one day not bear the name of one of my brothers, but mine, "Candace Parker Court." Thank you mom and dad for always encouraging me to be great and never allowing the excuse, "but I'm a girl."