Candace Parker couldn’t contain it anymore.
In a year that saw her excluded from Team USA’s Rio Olympic roster and this season’s all-WNBA first and second teams, as well as the death of her mentor and college coach, Pat Summitt, winning the first WNBA title of her nine-year career Thursday night was the tipping point.
Named the WNBA Finals MVP after the Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Minnesota Lynx, 77-76, in Game 5, Parker spoke with ESPN’s Holly Rowe. She could only muster one phrase while fighting back tears.
“This is for Pat,” Parker said tearfully. “This is for Pat.”
Summitt, the legendary Tennessee Volunteers coach who led the women’s team to 18 Final Four appearances, died in June at the age of 64 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Parker scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Sparks captured their first title since 2002. The two-time WNBA MVP averaged 17.2 points during the Finals.
After the game, Sparks Coach Brian Agler began his news conference by playing Tennessee’s fight song, “Rocky Top,” from a phone, eliciting tears and a hug from Parker.
“I’ve never been around somebody that has been critiqued so hard, and I’ve not ever been around anybody that I’m more happy for than Candace,” Agler said.