This is a major step in inclusivity for women in sports.
Candace Parker is making history as the first WNBA player to be featured on the NBA 2K game cover, Bloomberg reports.
Parker is one of the most notable WNBA stars of this generation. A two-time league MVP, six-time All-Star, WNBA champion, and two-time Olympic gold medalist is no stranger to accolades. In addition to her accomplishments on the court, she also holds several endorsement deals, including with Kellogg Company, JBL Audio, and Adidas. Despite the strides she's made, she still feels like women athletes have a long way to go in terms of being acknowledged, represented, and paid on the level of their male counterparts.
To support the inclusivity of women in sports, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the company that owns NBA 2K, has announced that their September cover will feature Parker. The moment is historical, this being the first time that the popular game will showcase a woman athlete.
"It's a step in the right direction. Being able to see women on the cover, visible in leadership positions, it helps not just in sport but also just in the boardroom, in business or everything," Parker said.
The moment has been two decades in the making with NBA 2K adding women players just three years ago. The studio has been working around the clock to add new features to its WNBA gameplay, including a mode that allows users to direct a WNBA team, create their players and guide them through their careers. Parker is working alongside developers to help them better understand the WNBA, including nuances like differences in how the sport was played in various eras and how offenses are run differently than in men's basketball.
The 35-year-old played 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, coming over to the Chicago Sky this season. Her cover is a special edition, marking the 25th anniversary of the WNBA. The league is looking to attract more fans, sponsors, exposure, and financial backing, struggling to keep up with the 50-year head start older leagues like the NBA had. However, the lag in women's team sports isn't unique to basketball, not a single women's team across any sports being listed by Forbes as a valuable franchise.
The WNBA is working to make progress, recently signing a collective bargaining agreement to triple the maximum salary for top players to almost $130,000 for the first time. Still, it doesn't compete with the top male athletes' salaries. Parker has ideas about how the league can expand, including building generational fans by focusing on building pipelines for young girls, ensuring that players are empowered to assist with decision making, and growing the 12 player rosters. Despite the slow progress, Parker says that it still shouldn't stop brands from partnering with more women athletes who are proven to sell.
"It's been a long time since I've taken marketing, but I took it in college, and the first thing was you definitely have to know your consumers, and women buy -- within the household women are the ones that purchase," Parker said.
She hopes her cover is the start of more lucrative deals between brands and women superstars. NBA 2K boasts nearly 2.3 million gamers daily, with the latest version selling more than 10 million copies. Their eSports league is also thriving, entering its fourth season with 23 teams across the U.S. Competition. Parker's 25th Anniversary edition cover will be released in conjunction with NBA All-Star Luka Doncic, who will grace the standard version. MVP Kevin Durant and retired players Dirk Nowitzki and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be featured on the NBA's 75th Anniversary Edition.
Parker recalled her gaming days as a kid and how excited she was to play games from EA, Midway, NBA Jam, and NBA Street. She vividly remembered how when her brother Anthony Parker was traded to the 76ers in the 90s, how she wished she could put him on her team and play with him in the game. Now, her nephew will get to live out her dream, subbing Parker onto his team and playing with her in his game.
"Fast forward, and now my nephew is like the first in line to get 2K, so he can play with his aunt. It's full circle," Parker said.
Congratulations, Candace! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Joe Scarnici/Getty Images/Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.