LOS ANGELES — She was showered, dressed and ready for work. A few purposeful strides and Candace Parker would have been out of the house and on her way to Staples Center, where her team, the Los Angeles Sparks, was playing the Seattle Storm.
Parker, the star power forward who remains on maternity leave, had assured her bosses that she would be there to help market the team. But every time she reached for her keys, the cries of her infant daughter, Lailaa, pulled her back.
Lailaa, who was born May 13, had been agitated for two days after her first round of vaccinations.
Lisa Leslie, one of five mothers playing for the Sparks, had warned Parker that every new mother has her meltdown moment. This was shaping up as Parker’s.
She ended up staying home so she and her husband, Shelden Williams, a forward with the Minnesota Timberwolves, could double team their teary daughter. A scheduled interview, which was supposed to take place before the game, was instead conducted over the telephone at halftime of the Sparks’ 82-55 victory against the Storm on Sunday.
After apologizing for her absence, Parker said: “Lailaa’s been such a happy baby up until now. She’s been easily soothed. So for her to be so whiny, I just didn’t feel like I could leave her.”
Within the organization, Parker’s no-show prompted some hand-wringing. Even on maternity leave, Parker, the highest-profile player in the W.N.B.A., is invaluable to the league. Seated in street clothes at the end of the bench, she is a living, breathing promo, a reminder of what fans have to look forward to if they keep watching.
Beyond that, some people privately wondered if Parker’s torn allegiances were a harbinger of her road ahead as she attempts a daunting juggling act. As the summer progresses, Parker’s dual — and, some might say, dueling — roles as Lailaa’s mother and the marquee star of the W.N.B.A. are certain to challenge her physical and emotional range.
Last week, a month and a half after giving birth, she returned to the gym and shot jumpers for 30 minutes. On Tuesday, she practiced with her teammates for the first time. She will remain on maternity leave until she is activated.
When Parker’s teammate Tina Thompson gave birth to a son in May 2005, she was back in the Houston lineup in July. Parker is eyeing a similar timetable. She could return on, if not before, July 29, when the Sparks (3-5) play at Chicago, where she and her husband grew up.
“If I’m ready two weeks from now, great,” Parker said in a broadcast interview Tuesday that appeared on the W.N.B.A.’s Web site. “If I’m ready tomorrow, great. It’s just kind of we’re going to play it by ear.”
There are a dozen mothers playing in the league, but Parker, the reigning W.N.B.A. rookie of the year and most valuable player, is a trailblazer in one respect. Unlike Leslie and Thompson, she did not put motherhood on hold until after she had ushered her professional basketball career into its second decade.
Parker, 23, is determined to buck the conventional wisdom that women can fulfill their potential as professional athletes and as parents as long as they tackle their lives like a to-do list, crossing one item off before starting on the next.
“I’m always the type of person that wants to prove people wrong,” she said. “I just want to come back and show that you can be even stronger than before.”
Leslie, who took the 2007 season off after the birth of her daughter, has been a priceless resource for Parker. “We’ve shared so many things,” Leslie said, citing topics like nursing schedules, traveling with a child to away games and accepting that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
Parker, who has experimented with bringing Lailaa to practice, recently hired a nanny. It is someone she has known for a while, and she is certain that will ease much of her discomfort when leaving Lailaa. She also does not lack for family members volunteering their services.
Two weeks after giving birth, Parker met with her doctor to discuss an exercise regimen. So far she has had no physical setbacks. But as Sunday demonstrated, there are emotional obstacles. Parker’s husband advised against reading too much into one trying day.
“Obviously, it’s natural for the mother of the child to be with the child when the child is in distress,” Williams said. “We had an issue with it when Lailaa had her shots, but that was the first time she had been that way.”
Once Parker has returned from maternity leave, he said, “I don’t see this being an issue at all.”
Williams said he has been surprised by the patience Parker has shown with the baby. “She’s slow to get frustrated,” he said, then joked, “With me, she gets frustrated real quick.”
Parker has not played a competitive game in nearly 10 months. The plan, she said, is to ease back into action. “It’ll probably be more of a spurt thing until I get my timing down and things like that,” she said.
Parker recently had a talk with Carla Christofferson, the Sparks’ 41-year-old co-owner. It was a conversation neither would have been able to conceive of at this time last year.
Christofferson, a few weeks from delivering her first child, a boy, gleefully reported that the baby had dropped in her abdomen, and she took that as a sign that labor was mercifully near.
Parker smiled and told her not to count on it. She believed the same thing, but it was another three weeks before her labor was induced. “It’s so funny,” Parker said. “Everything goes so fast for the people who aren’t pregnant, but when you’re the one expecting, it goes so slow.”
The opposite is true with maternity leave. It is going by so fast for Parker, but so slow for those around her who love to watch her play.