Candace Parker has been selected to be on the cover of NBA2K22, becoming the first female player to receive the honor. It was actually her Los Angeles Sparks teammate and mentor Lisa Leslie who paved the way for women to appear in basketball video games. Before PlayStation 5, 4 and 3, back when NBA2K2 appeared, Leslie appeared in Humungous Entertainment’s Backyard Basketball (2001).
While it was Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves who graced the cover of the original Backyard Basketball, Leslie was in the game, and you could play like her and Garnett.
The stars of Cynthia Cooper in Houston Comets and Sheryl Swoopes both miss the 2001 WNBA season. Cooper retired after the 2000 season as a two-time MVP and four-time champion, before returning in 2003. Swoopes, who was also part of the four championships and the league’s ruling MVP, missed out in 2001 due to a torn ACL. Leslie not only won the 2001 MVP award but also won the MVP final after helping the Sparks win their first title on September 1st. Only one month later, Backyard Basketball was released with her chosen as the only female player (Garnett was the only male player) instead of Cooper and Swoopes.
Cooper and Swoopes are considered the first true faces of the WNBA, but it was Leslie who became the first face of the league for the kids on whom Backyard Basketball was set, including me. Leslie was the first WNBA player I heard and put me in women’s basketball.
My level of investment in the sport gradually increased from there. I remember Diana Taurasi on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Emeka Okafor after their UConn Huskies won the 2004 national men’s and women’s basketball championships. Then I became a fan of Sacramento Monarchs and watched them in the 2006 WNBA final against Detroit Shock. Ever since I watched Parker in the 2007 national championship game that won her Tennessee Lady Volunteers, I’m pretty much in tune with women’s basketball and I started covering the WNBA in 2012.
I started working at Swish Appeal in 2013 and continues to help increase my exposure to women’s basketball. Lisa Leslie appearing in a computer game led to a child growing up to continue a cycle of exposure.
Sports Illustrated‘s decision to see the UConn men and women on the front page as well, ESPNThe coverage of the Monarchs, Shock and Lady Vols and I going to a college that encouraged the coverage of women’s sports also contributed to the cycle. But video games have a unique power. If you play as someone, you really become a fan of it because it helps your team to win. I have no doubt that choosing NBA2K to see Parker on their cover will inspire young girls and boys to become lifelong women basketball fans.
Extremely proud and humble to be the first female cover athlete in the history of @ NBA2K
I am delighted to work with a company that invests in women and bets on us to be successful. I hope there will be many more bad females to follow pic.twitter.com/WJan4YE7Qt
– Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) 14 July 2021