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"I want to have major crossover appeal."Ah, yes, crossover, the marketing money shot, the ability to use God-given talent, in this case basketball, as a platform for international celebrity. She found out right before she was to venture overseas to play pro ball during the American off-season-a common practice for the best WNBA players. It will be exciting to have my child share my career and to remember what I was like when I was young." She falls quiet for a few long seconds. So what if Russia and, more important, a slew of U. advertisers were waiting to capitalize on her fresh face and unsullied history? "I didn't start to show until after my commercials were shot."The making of an icon is never easy. A hip male greets her with a simple "Candace," as if she were one of the guys, albeit with flat-ironed hair and pink lipstick.It was rumored that her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, was going to pay in excess of a million dollars for four months' work-an uncommon amount for even the best WNBA players. In her Gatorade spot, she shares time with superstars Jimmie Johnson and Serena Williams, even though her own pro career isn't yet a year old."Everything is clean about her," says Aaron Goodwin, Parker's agent.She will be a bigger Mia Hamm, a more accomplished Danica Patrick. "She was in our 'Me, Myself' campaign," he says of the all-us-girls-are-in-this-together promotion. She has global reach." Gatto says Adidas has been tracking Parker her whole career.Patrick is nowhere near the best in her field, but she doesn't need to be, because she is hot enough to pose for Maxim. She wants to be a champion, too, like Maria Sharapova, who earns upward of million a year-the most of any female athlete-of which only a small fraction comes from playing tennis. "She always fit the brand values: authentic, inspirational."Serena and Venus have moved beyond tennis," he says, "but they are African-Americans in a popular, mostly white sport. AFTER BABY Won just four titles in two years, limited in part by knee injury. JENNIE FINCH, 28, SOFTBALLBEFORE BABY Leading up to Athens in 2004, she allowed four runs in 100 1/3 innings with 208 K's. AFTER BABY Leading up to Beijing, in 2008, allowed eight runs in 118 2/3 innings with 201 K's.Candace doesn't have that advantage."Maybe not, but Marj Snyder, chief program and planning officer at the Women's Sports Foundation, thinks times have changed. And our culture loves its stars, be it Lance Armstrong or the next American Idol. But the one with sparkle is the one who wins out."IN SACRAMENTO LAST fall, before news of the pregnancy and before Shelden's trade to Minnesota, Parker sat courtside as her husband's Kings took on the Lakers. "We're here with the best female basketball player of all time and the face of the future, Candace Parker! AFTER BABY Won NYC Marathon in 2007, then defended crown in 2008 with time of . LISA LESLIE, 36, BASKETBALLBEFORE BABY Was WNBA MVP three times. JOYOUS EVENT Daughter Lauren Jolie born June 15, 2007.True enough, but they also don't lose precious game time and visibility or spark Internet blog wars about the definition of feminism. "We need her on the floor." Cooper knows full well what his team will be missing. George signed Sheryl Swoopes in 1994, before there was a pro league, and he remembers all the questions about whether it was a sound business decision. "But what made Sheryl sing for us was she won the gold medal in Atlanta." Then Swoopes got pregnant, and George ran with the news.
The WNBA's TV ratings finished up 19%, and Parker's jersey is by far the league's best seller."Talent drives attention," says WNBA commissioner Donna Orender.Never mind that she plays in a league that is, shall we say, turnstile-challenged. Parker, says her team, is the total package, an advertiser's dream: attractive yet benign enough to reflect any fantasy projected upon her. This matters; if Parker seems like a down-home gal, a possible friend, then it's a short step to trust, and with trust comes a willingness to buy what Team Parker is selling.