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She comes from a place of quiet confidence-in herself, in life, in God. "She's already setting new standards," says fellow player Tina Thompson.

Parker knows in the end that everything will be just fine, as it always has been. But Candace is in a sport people don't pay much attention to. It's a vicious circle."WHEN YOU ARE the first, there is no measure. It is your face in the little box, the representation of a complete concept, the manifestation of an idea. "She's opening up doors a female player hasn't been through before.

"You know, because I can't kill her." He laughs a small, hard laugh. He made sure that every time someone was looking for a famous mother for a campaign, she was on the short list. "For Swoopes and for Candace, there is not a very large market out there," he says. And she's pretty, which helps."Neal Pilson, a former head of CBS Sports, also sees trouble ahead for Team Parker.

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."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."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.

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