Candace Parker started playing basketball in Russia for the same reason as many WNBA stars: the pay is better. But her trips to the authoritarian nation wound up being about more than padding her bank account.
It’s where she met her wife.
Parker opened up about her personal life and marriage in a recent interview with Time. The WNBA legend talked about her late-night chats with Anna Petrakova, a former Olympic basketball player from Russia with whom she was teammates, and their unexpected romance.
The couple publicly came out last December on their two-year wedding anniversary. Parker says her 13-year-old daughter, Lailaa, was one of the biggest reasons why.
“I always tell my daughter to be herself,” she said. “I always tell my daughter to be proud of who she is. And I always tell my daughter to speak for herself and speak up for those that she loves. And I can’t say that to her if I’m not doing it myself. ... That was a step we had to take. But we had to take it on our own terms.”
One of the reasons for their covert wedding was Petrakova’s status as a Russian citizen. They were worried she’d face discrimination and blowback living under Vladimir Putin’s vehemently anti-LGBTQ regime.
Parker, who was previously married to former NBA forward Sheldon Williams, says she never pictured herself in a gay relationship, and ditto for Petrakova. One kiss changed their thinking.
“We literally denied it to ourselves for three years I think,” said Petrakova. “Then we just finally accepted it. That was a long, hard process.”
Their surprise romance is a reminder that life is a journey full of unexpected turns. Despite their initial trepidation, they stayed true to themselves, and listened to their hearts.
Parker proposed to Petrakova on a vacation they took to Mexico in 2019, with an assist from her daughter. Surrounded by about 15 friends and family on an afternoon boat trip, Lailaa presented Petrakova with a cake that contained a four-word question: “Will you marry us?”
Their family has grown from three to four, with the arrival of their son, Airr Larry Petrakov Parker, in February.
“I hope I was able to open up the door of conversations,” she said. “And open up the door of how valuable it is to have support.”
Parker will have quite the cheering squad when she aims for her second straight WNBA championship this postseason with the Chicago Sky. And now, they can all be in the open.
Read the full interview here, in which Parker addresses Brittney Griner’s detention, and more.