Nneka Ogwumike not only wants to make the Los Angeles Sparks a championship contender again, but also to get the community excited about women's basketball and other sports.
The former WNBA MVP re-signed with the Sparks last week, continuing her career with the franchise that drafted her No. 1 in 2012.
“The Sparks are a basketball team, a team that wins and wins with greatness and competitiveness," Ogwumike said on a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “A team that gets people excited about basketball and sports. A team that is culturally relevant. A team that changes things for women in sport.”
Ogwumike will once again team up with her sister Chiney, who also re-signed with the Sparks last week.
“Understanding where Chiney is in her career, where I am in my career, there’s certainly more years behind us than in front of us,” said Ogwumike, who won the MVP in 2016. “For us to be in a situation where we’re on a team, the pieces are kind of coming together, I would say that was certainly signifying that something was really getting assembled here.”
Ogwumike, who is President of the WNBA Players Union, loved seeing the headlines about free agents signing in New York and Las Vegas this offseason. She took a different strategy with the Sparks.
“A lot of players leaving different places to go to one place. But my approach is, who wants to play here, as opposed to, where do I want to go?” Ogwumike said. “So a lot of my communications and a lot of how I conduct myself in free agency, whether it’s for me or to get other players, it’s not about, ‘Hey, let’s go build this team, let’s come here.’ It’s just like, ‘Hey, this is what we’re about. If you’re for it, come through.’ And if not, everything’s not for everybody.”
Ogwumike took less than the maximum salary to help the Sparks fit under the cap. She said general manager Karen Bryant and new coach Curt Miller fought with her on the numbers. She told them, "wherever you need my number to be to get who we need to get, let’s just do that.”
Bryant admired Ogwumike from afar when she was with the Seattle Storm.
“She has the combination of the focus and work ethic and discipline and the fortitude,” Bryant said. "In her case, it’s matched with a really unique sense of grace, warmth and empathy. That is what puts her in really rare air. She cares about the why as much as she cares about the who as much as she cares about the how.
“She’s an elite player, she’s the conssumate pro, she’s an inspirational leader and she’s a global ambassador.”
The Sparks, an original WNBA franchise, have won three championships, most recently in 2016. But Los Angeles has struggled the last two seasons, going 12-20 and 13-23. The Sparks missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98.
Ogwumike has averaged 16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during her career with the Sparks.
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