September 18, 2019

NNeka Ogwumike, Madame President

How Nneka Ogwumike Became Madame President, the Face of WNBA Players  by Sean Hurd from The Undefeated

It doesn’t help that her game isn’t flashy — it’s all about efficiency. Of the 144 players in the WNBA, Ogwumike ranks second behind Elena Delle Donne in career player efficiency rating (25.83). And she ranks fifth all-time in WNBA history. But the Los Angeles Sparks forward offers another explanation for her lack of mentions: It’s hard to talk about someone if you can’t pronounce her name.
“My name is not easy to say,” Ogwumike, 29, said. “A lot of people recognize that it’s not an easy name or it’s maybe a name from a different place. I think I have an easily stereotypical name. That’s fine, I really don’t care.” Nnemkadi “Nneka” Ogwumike (pronounced NEH-kuh Oh-gwoo-MIH-kay) doesn’t roll off American tongues with the same ease as, say, Sue Bird, Maya Moore or Tina Charles. Perhaps it’s why the names of big-time talents such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hakeem Olajuwon are often interchanged with monikers such as “The Greek Freak” and “Hakeem the Dream.”
She wasn’t the kid who dribbled a basketball in the halls. She didn’t grow up watching the game, although she went to Houston Comets games growing up when her mom, who is an educator, received tickets through the school. And she didn’t attend a collegiate program rife with NCAA championships. She reps Stanford’s “Nerd Nation” with pride.
The idea of being overlooked is not a new concept for Ogwumike. It’s something she said she got a taste of in high school but truly recognized while playing at Stanford. “There were times when I would perform better than other players that were playing college basketball and nothing would be said,” she recalled. “It didn’t matter to me, but I heard it enough to realize I’m just one of those players where I just have to work hard no matter what.”
While she may not receive the level of recognition her resume warrants, her hard work is certainly paying off in the WNBA: She will lead the Sparks into the WNBA playoffs as the No. 3 seed on Sunday. Then, as president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), Ogwumike and her executive committee will represent all 144 players as they, along with WNBPA director of operations Terri Jackson, negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the league after the season.
 The agreement is undoubtedly one of the WNBA’s most important steppingstones in its 23-year history, the next chapter in the fight for pay equity in women’s sports. And Ogwumike is the person the players have chosen to be the face of the fight.
Watch. Learn. Lead.
That’s the formula Ogwumike has used to topple obstacles, according to her sister and Sparks teammate Chiney Ogwumike. It’s the blueprint she has leaned on during her playing career dating to her days at Stanford.
When Ogwumike arrived on “The Farm” as a freshman, she entered the Cardinal program as one of the top recruits in the country. But when she stepped on the floor at Maples Pavilion, adjusting to the style of collegiate play didn’t come naturally. Ogwumike relied on her athleticism in high school against inferior competition. Against college-level players, though, athleticism alone wouldn’t be enough.
“At the beginning, working with her in practice, I’d be like, ‘Nneka, what’s your go-to move?’ ” said Stanford assistant coach Kate Paye, who recruited Ogwumike to Palo Alto. “And she’d say, ‘I don’t know, they would throw it up to me and I just put it in the basket.’ ” Whether it was adjusting to a new system, new teammates or the rigor of a Stanford education, Ogwumike struggled.
As her freshman season continued, Ogwumike began asking questions — a lot of questions. Her raised index finger became a frequent sight on the Stanford practice floor, so much so that Ogwumike earned the nickname “Question Queen.” Ogwumike wasn’t satisfied with understanding only what she was doing on the floor, she wanted to know why she was doing it. “Nneka was not the first Stanford player to ask a lot of questions, but she might have asked the most. It was pretty funny,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who coached Ogwumike from 2008 to 2012. “They were always good questions.”
Ogwumike would finish her Stanford career as a three-time All-American and the second all-time leading scorer in program history. In 2012, the Sparks drafted her with the No. 1 overall pick.
“Nneka has always been a learner,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “When she is involved with the game, she wants to know everything about it. That’s how it’s always been since she fell in love with the game. That’s just the type of thinker that she is.”
It’s no wonder, then, that the players of the WNBA turned to the “league nerd” to lead them into the future.
In recent years, the WNBA has watched as other female pro sports have commanded the pay equity conversation. The U.S. women’s national hockey team and, more recently, the women’s national soccer team have both challenged their respective governing bodies as they fight for pay equality.
WNBA players have been unafraid to shine a light on the conditions they face while playing in the league, setting the tone for these upcoming negotiations. Ogwumike, however, didn’t exactly plan to be in this spot as the face of the league at its most integral inflection point to date. “To be very honest, I wasn’t really going for [president],” Ogwumike said.
In 2016, as a vice president of the executive committee, Ogwumike said she was still learning about unions and their impact. She credits WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, who led the negotiation of the 2016 CBA as president of the WNBPA, for persuading her to run for the position.
“Tamika pulled me aside and said that I should,” said Ogwumike, who was the only remaining active player on the executive committee at the time. “It was befitting of me to step into that role.”
She began to do research, gather different perspectives, learn about negotiations from other sports leagues as well as further her knowledge of the WNBA’s business model, all the while looking to Jackson, whom Ogwumike described as the Players Association’s “eyes and ears, everything.” “That’s the Stanford student in her. She does her homework,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “Even at practice now, everyone calls her ‘Madam President’ because she is that efficient in what she does.”
Ogwumike has advocated for increased participation in the months leading up to negotiations. As the executive committee begins preparing proposals and counterproposals, she is encouraging all players to read the current CBA to better inform themselves about the changes they want to see. “[Nneka] definitely offers a lot of information: perspectives, talking points, viewpoints,” said Chelsea Gray, Ogwumike’s teammate and a player rep on the WNBPA. “It’s kind of like a one band, one sound type of deal. She really plays into that and really speaks to us.”
“We’re really trying to get player engagement as much as we can, because obviously it involves us,” Ogwumike said. “It affects us. Everyone wants to see great change that will lead to the progression of the league.”

The primary issue taken up with players is increased pay. In the WNBA, the maximum base salary is $117,500. “Obviously, we want to get paid our value, and that starts with looking to increase the salary now,” Ogwumike said.

“It’s a structural issue,” she added. “I think that’s something that can easily be resolved by both attending to the mechanisms of the league and then also the suggestions and the contributions of the players. No matter how great the product is, if you don’t have an appropriate business model, the product is never going to thrive as much as you want it to.”
Across the table from Ogwumike in negotiation will sit recently appointed WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Engelbert, who assumed the league’s top post in July, is the former CEO of Deloitte and was a college basketball player at Lehigh. Ogwumike and the executive committee met with Engelbert at All-Star Weekend, a meeting Ogwumike described as positive.
Ogwumike and the executive committee have outlined three priorities as they approach the beginning of their negotiation. Besides salary compensation, there is also player experience (i.e., travel and accommodations), and health and safety. Within those priorities lie a handful of line items ranging from domestic violence policies to player marketing.
There is always the possibility that both sides won’t come to an agreement before the start of the next season. Players such as seven-time All-Star Tina Charles said they’d consider sitting out should the sides fail to reach an agreement. Last July, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said players wouldn’t be able to achieve pay equity without a strike.
While Ogwumike acknowledged the possibility of a player strike as being a “reality to some degree,” it is not something she, or the executive committee, is hoping for or expecting. “We want to play,” Ogwumike said.
The reality for Ogwumike is, despite the improvements she hopes to help shepherd into the league, she and many other league vets may not be able to experience the full fruits of their advocacy in the long term. Despite that, the gravity of what’s at stake for future generations of both women’s basketball and women’s sports at large is not lost on her.
“I think about it impacting all sports, all women in sports,” Ogwumike said. “Not only are we hoping that it inspires other women, we’re hoping that it inspires other people to invest in women’s sports.”
If there’s any doubt about Ogwumike’s ability to tackle a challenge, her track record speaks for itself. “She’s watched, she’s learned from Tamika Catchings, who was the president before, and now she’s the leader,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “Look at her on the floor. She’s watched, she’s learned, and now she’s an MVP and a champion. That’s just her M.O. She attacks everything to the best of her ability. …
“I think she’s going to lead us into the best position possible as WNBA players.”

    September 6, 2019

    Alanna Smith successful surgery

    Alanna Smith surgery successful, expected to miss remaining WNBA season              from The Pick and Roll

    The Phoenix Mercury released an announcement on Alanna Smith on Sunday, confirming that the forward had undergone surgery on her ankle, and that the operation was successful. There was no explanation detailing the extent of the injury.

    Smith, who was drafted  8th in the 2019 WNBA draft, had been sidelined with the ankle injury since the beginning of August. She is expected to take three months post-surgery to recover, which will see her miss the remainder of the WNBA season. The 6'4" forward played 18 games for the Mercury this season, averaging 1.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 7.5 minutes of play, and a season high 7 points scored in a loss against the Minnesota Lynx in early June.

    She will miss the FIBA Asian championship with the Opals, the Australian women's national team. Also, according to her agent Alanna was drafted 2nd in the WKBL (South Korea) and was epected to play for the Shanhan Bank S-Birds. That league gets underway in November.


    August 19, 2019

    Susan (King) Borchardt (2005): The Star who Once gave Lindsey Whalen Fits

    Susan (King) Borchardt (2005): The Star who Once gave Lindsey Whalen Fits

    By Sloan Martin – The Athletic
    In the late ‘90s, Lindsay Whalen wasn’t the only Minnesota girls’ basketball player drawing attention from major colleges.
    So when the first-year University of Minnesota women’s basketball head coach was asked who from her past she loved competing against, she chose the guard who beat her out for the Miss Basketball award their senior year in 2000.“For sure Susan King,” Whalen said. “She was awesome. I loved that matchup because she was so good. She was so good in high school. She was good in college.”
    The two have reconnected over the years since high school because both have found their own successful paths in basketball. Whalen went on to win the most games in WNBA history and four championships; Susan King Borchardt is a strength and conditioning coach — officially a sports performance consultant — who works with multiple elite WNBA athletes including Sue Bird, who’s playing at a high level at age 38. The point guards battled in the now-defunct Missota Conference for five years. Borchardt joined the Academy of Holy Angels varsity team as a seventh grader. Whalen played for the Hutchinson Tigers starting in eighth grade. They even competed on the tennis court, but never directly because Borchardt recalls she played singles and Whalen doubles.
    Basketball started for Borchardt when she would tag along with her father, Gary King, who played at Nebraska-Kearney, to open gyms. She started officially playing in third grade and joined a travel team.
    “Really a lot of my basketball playing came from playing with my brothers and going to their practices,” she said. “That was a lot of it growing up was playing with the boys and that made me tough and that made me strong in a way, and I think that really benefitted me as I moved on.” 
    Borchardt loved to score — her go-to a pull-up jump shot — but she cherished defense and was often guarding the opposing team’s best player. She dedicated herself to the sport, shooting baskets before school every day since eighth grade. “To this day I think, ‘You’re not going to outwork me,’” she said.
    Borchardt says Whalen missing a chunk of her senior season with an ankle injury played a role in her winning Miss Basketball, but Borchardt had a phenomenal high school career: 35 points per game her senior year, named a 2000 First Team All-American by both the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and USA Today, USA Today Minnesota Player of the Year and the Star Tribune Player of the Year as a senior, and she won a bronze medal with the 1998 USA Junior National Team at the World Youth Games in Moscow.
    Borchardt also ranks in the top 20 in Minnesota girls high school basketball history in free-throw percentage (80.5), points (3,037), steals (626), field-goal percentage (44.0), and she’s one of three dozen girls all-time to score at least 50 points in a game, which she did as a senior. It was so apparent what talent she was going to turn out to be, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer started recruiting her as an eighth grader.
    Whalen earned quite a few accolades herself, and certainly drew attention at Hutchinson as her career advanced, but Borchardt, because of her statistics and playing in the Metro night after night, had more eyes on her in high school. She knew back then, though, how special of a player Whalen was.
    “People didn’t quite know about her and I’m not sure exactly why, but I feel like when you’re a player and you like to defend people, you know who the real challenges are,” Borchardt said.
    “She was the one, you always knew when you played against her that you were really going to have to work hard and get after it, not to stop her but just try to contain her. I guarded her every game we played. I was always her defender but it was always a huge challenge, but a fun one. All the way up you look forward to playing against the players who are good and who push you. She was definitely that person in that conference.”
    Borchardt remembers how gyms were packed to see them their senior year. “Our last year, all of our games, there was a bunch of people,” Borchardt said. “I was like, this is really awesome, not just for us but for the little girls sitting in the front row. How cool to see this.”
    Those matchups helped prepare Borchardt for continuing her career at Stanford (she graduated fifth in her class at Holy Angels with a 4.18 GPA) under VanDerveer. She had a cup of coffee in the WNBA, signing a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Lynx and playing three games in 2005 before getting waived, but injuries ultimately derailed her playing career.
    Her freshman year she was starting for the Cardinal and remembers the excitement of playing against Tennessee and head coach Pat Summitt in December 2000.  
    “It was going exactly how your dream freshman year would start, and that’s how it started for me,” she said.Then she tore the ACL in her right knee, rehabbed for nine months and returned. Just five games after she started playing again, the cadaver graft of a deceased person’s Achilles that doctors had inserted into her knee failed.
    “It doesn’t take in one out of 100,000 people or something like that but I happened to be that one and, so then I had to do that all again,” she said. “Basically I went from starting to not playing basketball for two-plus years.”
    Borchardt was able to put together a solid final two years at Stanford and her 46.9 percent 3-point shooting in her senior season ranks fourth in Cardinal single-season history. But she ended up going through nine surgeries on that right knee.
    By the time she was wrapping up her college career in Palo Alto, she married Curtis Borchardt, a fellow Stanford basketball player and a 7-foot center who was selected No. 18 in the 2002 NBA draft. At one point they were each playing in the NBA and WNBA simultaneously, he for the Jazz and her for the Lynx.
    For seven years the couple lived overseas in Spain and France for Curtis’s career. It was there that Borchardt started getting experience on the training side after getting her Stanford degree in psychology.
    “I started training for the team my husband was playing for,” she said. “So I got started with men and loved it. It was a natural fit I think because I grew up around my brothers and my brothers’ teams and I loved it.”
    After a stop at her alma mater, Susan took a job with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, allowing her to forge relationships in the league. Meanwhile, Curtis transitioned to his second career, wrapping up his doctorate in physical therapy last spring. The family of six now lives in Portland, Oregon.
    Both Borchardts dealt with injuries in their playing careers — “We met in the training room at Stanford, which is very appropriate,” she says — and have found a way to extend their basketball careers in a different way.
    “The whole sports performance thing, even as a player that was my niche,” she said. “I’m only 5-foot-6 but I always felt like ‘I’m going to be in great shape so I can pressure you all game and I can go longer than you.’ That was my niche. I felt like I had an interest in that area. I thought, let’s try this. I went back and got my certifications and got my master’s and … it’s been a really good fit for me.”
    Besides Bird, Borchardt’s training clientele includes WNBA MVPs Nneka Ogwumike and Breanna Stewart. Working as a consultant instead of for a team helps her balance family life and work.
    “The game, I love it, it’s been a part of my life from early on,” she said. “Even if I’m not playing, it still feels like I’m a part of some of these elite players’ journeys and that’s a really cool and special thing.”
    Both Borchardt and Whalen, once teen basketball “rivals” who are following their love of the sport to long, fulfilling careers, were genuinely excited for the other’s journeys in interviews. Borchardt doesn’t live in Minnesota anymore, but she remains appreciative of the roots the women share.
    “It’s so cool to see someone take what they’ve got and run with it and it’s not just the fact that it’s her and the university she played for, it’s the whole state,” Borchardt said. “It’s unbelievable that she’s back (at the U of M).
    “Bottom line: it’s so cool to see her doing all these amazing things and I’m so proud of her and excited for the state.”

      July 30, 2019

      Mikaela ('15) Returns to Court

      Mikaela Ruef  ('15) Returns to Court
       from the "Pick and Roll"; author unknown

      IT IS 4pm on a Saturday night at the Cornubia Park Sports Centre, Queensland. Mikaela Ruef stands in the middle of the court in her brand new Logan Thunder kit, ready to work. The 6’3 American comes into the huddle with her new teammates, focused on the task at hand. And then, emotions strike her like a burst of adrenaline, and she struggles to hold it in. For 28 year old Ruef, the journey has been a long one, filled with tears, struggles and hard work; one she refers to as the longest and darkest year of her life. For Mikaela Ruef, this shot is a second chance – a case of good things coming to those that wait.

      The buzzer sounds, and the first ball goes up in front of the faithful home crowd as this group of women take on the Mackay Meteorettes in a clash that means more than just a possible win.
      This game marks her return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that had taken the sport she loves away for the twelve months prior, an injury that is plaguing players across the sport. Ruef reflected on this as we sat in a quiet suburban café in Springwood, Queensland.

      “To be honest, I was super nervous heading into that first game,” Ruef said. “My biggest worry was that I could go out there and land funny or come down from a layup and redo that injury. Even throughout that game I was really nervous to roll into the paint, because I didn’t want to run into somebody or get blindsided.”

      For her, this is putting everything on the line to prove she still has so much to offer the sport she loves. Ruef has risen from the ashes, like a phoenix reborn on the burning path of recovery, but the memory of that injury still vividly haunts her. “I was landing and running down the court on a fast break when the point guard threw it to me in traffic, so I tried to stop and go up for a layup. As soon as my foot hit the floor, my knee just caved in as my body crumbled to the ground,” she said. “I felt it pop back into place. I thought at that point that it may have been nothing but I couldn’t walk so I knew what had happened.”

      Ruef was playing in Toulouse, southwest of France back then, and opted to have surgery locally, before heading home for recovery in Dayton, Ohio, where the famous Wright brothers pioneered aviation. Just like the famous duo, Ruef was preparing herself to take flight once more.
      Despite a career that has included experience in top tier leagues, including three seasons with three WNBL teams – Sydney Uni Flames, Adelaide Lightning and the Canberra Capitals – along with time in Launceston and France, Ruef knows she has much to prove with this return.

      “The recovery process is never a straightforward path. It has major setbacks but when you get back, it is like ‘wow, I did all that work’ and you feel great about it. It made me a better person and really made me cherish basketball so much more being out for that long,” she added. “I just want to show everybody what I can do when I am fully healthy and my body is feeling this great.” For Ruef, this shot in the Queensland Basketball League has been an audition for a WNBL spot – a return to the highest tier women’s league in Australia. The determination in her eyes was clear, as the focus grows like a wildfire from this chance she has been given.

      Ruef now leads the state league in average rebounds (19.44) as well as total season rebounds (331). It’s a skill she is proud of having stamped herself as a dominant leader in. She has been player of the week on 2 occasions.

      Note: The Queensland Basketball League is the state’s premier semi-professional basketball competition, running from May to September each year. Since its beginnings in 1986 as the State Basketball League, the QBL has seen some of the country’s top basketball athletes move through its ranks in both the women’s and men’s competitions. Highly regarded in the country as one of the best state league competitions, each year the QBL attracts a number of elite players to the competition, including Australian representative athletes, NBL and WNBL players, and players from US colleges and other international competitions.


        July 18, 2019

        Rosalyn Gold Onwude ('10) - Women Making Black History

        Rosalyn Gold-Onwude ('10) Is Going Places — and She's Taking Women of Color With Her
        from POPSUGAR by Britt Stephens
          Rosalyn Gold-Onwude had a pretty eventful year in 2018. The 31-year-old basketball analyst landed an international deal with Turner Sports after spending three seasons as the Golden State Warriors' sideline reporter for NBC Bay Area. On Jan. 15, 2018, just two days before we spoke on the phone, she stood outside the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room, reporting on a disturbance between members of the Clippers and the Houston Rockets. Despite the tension, her on-camera report for Inside the NBA resulted in a hilarious moment between commentators Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal that soon went viral.

          "After I did that report, I got a call from a number I didn't know," she told me. "Turns out it's Charles Barkley saying how funny the whole thing was and thanking me for my work."

          Phone calls from basketball legends are just one of the perks of being a worldwide sports journalist, but Ros — as she is affectionately known — remains humble. "It's been very cool," she said of the new gig, which she says has given her "a chance to learn the league and the game at a higher level."

          The level at which Gold-Onwude knows the game is hardly low. Born in Queens, NY, to a Nigerian father and a Russian-Jewish mother, she began playing basketball when she was just 4 years old. She went on to accept a sports scholarship to Stanford University, where she made three consecutive trips to the Final Four and was honored as the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
          After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in sociology in 2010, she took a job with Tesla Motors — but her heart was always with the game. She chased broadcasting jobs on the side and worked for Pac-12 Networks, the WNBA, and the NBA Development League before joining the Warriors as a sideline reporter.

          "It was like a rocket ship," Gold-Onwude says of the team's meteoric rise to greatness. As Golden State went on to compete in three straight NBA Finals (and take home two championship titles), her fame skyrocketed, too. Ask anyone: Gold-Onwude is basically a Bay Area treasure.

          The energy, passion, and confidence that she brings to her job have made her a beloved figure among NBA fans. While she recognizes the importance that her role plays in the representation of women of color in white male-dominated spaces, Gold-Onwude is quick to credit other high-profile black journalists like Cari Champion, Sage Steele, Jemele Hill, and Stephanie Ready as inspiring women who have "trailblazed ahead" of her. "I'm thankful that there's already a path paved," she said. "I'm just trying to make my moves and find my own voice within this world."

          She's also hoping to help those less fortunate find a voice, too. Recently, Gold-Onwude partnered with Qubed Education to launch a $1 million scholarship program in her name for disadvantaged youth who want to pursue careers in sports. It's something incredibly important to her; she espouses the values that sports have given her, like overcoming adversity, developing confidence, and being part of a team. Sports not only gave Gold-Onwude a college education and a career, but they've also been a beacon of light during some especially dark days.

          On screen with TNT and NBA TV, Gold-Onwude is unabashedly herself — relatable, funny, and down to earth — and as someone who comes from a family of basketball fanatics but can't do a layup to save my life, I was thrilled to talk to her. Though it's hard not to be intimidated by her success (she covered men's basketball at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and has an Emmy, for God's sake), her friendly and easygoing demeanor put me right at ease, and her words of wisdom gave me chills. Here, we talk about playing the game, growing up without giving up, and finding balance when "ball is life."

          Britt Stephens: I first want to say congratulations on everything that's happening for you. I'm sure it's been a crazy few months as you've gone from covering one team to now covering the NBA as a whole. What has been the most exciting thing about the change?

          Rosalyn Gold-Onwude: I enjoy the stories and, having been a player, I enjoy the athletes [and] their journeys. So I've been enjoying getting to know new players that I only saw from a distance and getting to cover the league as a whole. Every day at work, I'm literally surrounded by legends of the game and of broadcasting. I also enjoy the interactions I'm having. I've been pleasantly surprised [at] just how many guys have paid attention. Either they have said, "Hey, I remember you from when you played in college," or, "Hey, congratulations. I'm happy for you." There's a lot of support and encouragement within the league, and I've been really touched by that.

          BS: Sports broadcasting seems like such a natural transition for athletes across all sports; what inspired you to make that move, and how has it informed your life as a former athlete?

          RGO: I was really fortunate that I was given the game of basketball at the age of 4 by my mom. She introduced me to the game. And knowingly or not, it's really become a vehicle in my life. When people say, "Ball is life," I chuckle, but it's true: basketball has been my whole life. It has continued to give to me. Basketball provided me an athletic scholarship to college. It's given me great teammates and great experiences on the court. It's given me a career that I love. It's given me many of my closest friends. [Making] the shift from playing to broadcasting was a way to stay close to the game that I love. Not everybody is going to continue on to be a pro athlete, but you can still have a career close to the game you're passionate about. I think it's important for young people to understand that you can still have your passions and be close to them in other creative job fields.

          BS: You started broadcasting as a side hustle while you were at Tesla, and you turned it into a full-fledged career. Tell me about how you did that and what challenges you may have faced.

          RGO: Well, broadcasting is the entertainment industry, right? It's a really competitive business. You don't just say, "I want to be a broadcaster" and get a full-time job. You don't even get a part-time job, for the most part. I played basketball at a high level. However, I'm not one of the Maya Moores or Cynthia Coopers of the game. My first role in broadcasting started in the analyst and color-commentator role, and it's probably the best thing that's happened for me because I [could] really talk about and break down the game. That was more helpful than I even knew.

          BS: You started broadcasting as a side hustle while you were at Tesla, and you turned it into a full-fledged career. Tell me about how you did that and what challenges you may have faced.

          RGO: Well, broadcasting is the entertainment industry, right? It's a really competitive business. You don't just say, "I want to be a broadcaster" and get a full-time job. You don't even get a part-time job, for the most part. I played basketball at a high level. However, I'm not one of the Maya Moores or Cynthia Coopers of the game. My first role in broadcasting started in the analyst and color-commentator role, and it's probably the best thing that's happened for me because I [could] really talk about and break down the game. That was more helpful than I even knew.

          I had five gigs with ESPN around women's college basketball. I think you're paid less than $1,000 for each gig, so I needed a full-time job. I got both my bachelor's and my master's at Stanford, and Tesla was recruiting from Stanford. I had an opportunity to work for them and moonlight with the broadcasting gigs that I had. I told [Tesla] that I was still in this "figuring it out" space, so they were very flexible with me.

          BS: That new graduate life is not always the easiest.

          RGO: I'll share something I haven't shared before: that first year out of school was actually the worst year of my life. I left the comfort of having a basketball team caring [for me], and my long-term relationship ended — suddenly [I was] trying to figure out who I was alone. I didn't necessarily know which way I wanted to go with my career: should I play ball, should I do broadcasting, should I get a corporate job? At home, my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and dementia; she had lost her job, and we lost our apartment. My sister was going through her own problems and had to find her own path, [and] my dad had just moved to Nigeria, so he was across the world setting up his life there. It was a really hard time in my life, and it all happened at the same time. But I think what happened was a blessing in some ways. It made me tough in a way I never had to be tough.

          I didn't have any other options if things didn't get figured out in my professional life. There was a lot of anxiety, ambiguity, and uncertainty. So I took the Tesla job and chased other odd jobs in broadcasting: I was writing for the Stanford football recruiting website, teaching a public speaking course, and coaching my landlord's daughter's basketball team so that I could get half off the rent! Eventually, I was able to piece enough odd jobs together that I was almost able to call it a very low salary. I left Tesla and chased this broadcasting dream full-time. It was very humbling, sometimes embarrassing. I felt I was being selfish by pursuing my dream, especially given how much pressure there was at home. I definitely thought about giving up broadcasting.

          I think a real crossroads in my career was The Pink Room, which was a digital show I created with a friend — we called it that because we filmed it out of my bedroom. We covered women's basketball, and we did a couple episodes and then pitched it to the Pac-12 Conference, which I played in while at Stanford. They said, "This is cool. Can you do this for the conference for all 12 teams? We can't pay you this year, but it can help you get your foot in the door." So we did it: we pulled all-nighters, drove two hours to get there and come back and put this thing together, and we did it each week for 12 teams.

          The next year, Pac-12 Networks started, and I got a contract from them. That was the first time I could definitively say, "I have a salary, and I'm a full-time broadcaster." From there, I was able to continue to build into not only women's college, but men's college too — then WNBA, then NBA Development League, and then, finally, into the NBA with the Warriors.

          BS: Something that really resonated with me was when you said you felt a level of selfishness about following your dreams. When you have some hard stuff going on at home, you always kind of feel that battle: do I live my own life or do the "responsible thing" and serve the needs of my family?

          It seems like at some point the light bulb goes off, and you decide, "I'm going to take this road because this is what's going to make me happy." I know how stressful that can be, but how ultimately freeing it is after you come to that agreement with yourself. I think so many people — especially those in creative fields — have that galvanizing moment in their lives.

          RGO: Exactly. I think for me it was a really quick shift from being a girl in college with a support system to having all of my support systems pulled right from under me — the comfort of a college basketball team, and the comfort of a relationship (my boyfriend was older than me and kind of led the way), and the comfort of having a home to go to and [my] mom being the mother figure — and suddenly realizing, "I'm the person who's in charge." I didn't have money or any real-world experience, [so] I had to learn quick. I was thrust into a position where I had to figure out lawyers, social work, and places my mom could go. Literally, we were homeless. I had to find shelters; I had to find communities for women in need — and eventually, as we figured out her diagnosis, places that could help those with dementia.

          Even while pursuing what I wanted to, I was always shouldering a responsibility. I'm not going to try to act like I'm some superhero; I definitely think that at my lowest point is where I found a fire and said, "Come on. We're going to double the effort." And if it didn't work out, I might have ended up in something else a little bit more "responsible." There's a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that my dad had on our wall — he really loved MLK — and it's like, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort . . ."
          BS: ". . . But where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I think that quote is basically considered a black spiritual. It came up in my house a lot growing up as well.RGO: Thank you! You know what the meaning is. It is such an important quote to live by. If I were to give advice to anyone that wants to be in broadcasting, but also to any young black women, it's that. There will be a lot of rejection, especially in the entertainment business or a creative space. And in those moments, what helped me was responding with resilience and being resourceful — telling myself, "Let's find a new way to try to get there, all right?" Networking and staying with it and continuing to hustle and work hard. Once doors start to open, they often continue to. It's just getting over that initial hump. It's like a four-minute mile: once you break it, you can really do it.
          BS: You've been able to open all these doors and carve out a path for yourself, and something I admire about you is that you seem to be very much yourself on camera. But the field that you're in is very white male-dominated, and those kinds of workplaces can often be frustrating for women of color. As a black woman in sports journalism, have you felt pressure to change your hair, your style, or the way you speak?

          RGO: One of the things we're burdened with [as black women] is having to prove to people what we're not or [showing] people we belong or that we're good enough. These are things that our male or white counterparts likely aren't having to think about; they can just come in and deliver and expect to be accepted and know that their contribution is valuable. What we have to overcome are those moments of low confidence, and especially as women — you can see it over and over through the fight for equal pay or even the #MeToo movement — not being sure of what our value is. The system has taught us that it would cause trouble to demand more.
          I know who I am. I know where I'm from. Whenever I take a step forward, I understand I'm representing just by being there. I hope people are looking at the subtleties, because it's all intentional. When I wear an outfit that has Ankara fabric or is from Nigeria, or when I put my hair in cornrows, it's definitely to show we're accepted here, and unapologetically so. Not only are black women doing it; we're going to do it at a fashionable, fabulous high level, and it's going to be popping [laughter]. I'm just being me and sharing the journey with everyone else.
          I always think, "Who am I representing? What am I representing?" and try to deliver my own personal style. I try to be myself in a few ways: it's always been important to me not to have "reporter voice." I want to talk the way I really talk to my friends. I hope when you listen to me, you hear someone that sounds relatable. I hope you're hearing the joy and the energy that I carry when I talk about the game. I try to dress with color and vibrance and patterns that represent my culture and who I am as a person — and not just as a black woman, but as a mixed-race African woman. There's not just one acceptable hairstyle for professionalism. You can have braids; you can have protective styles; you can have twists; you can change it up.

          I think playing sports helped me. I think all people should play sports; it's especially helpful for minority groups. Let's not even talk about becoming a pro; let's not even talk about going to college on a scholarship — there are so many valuable lessons in life that you take from it. You deal with overcoming adversity, teamwork, and developing confidence. Because of that, I've already pushed myself at a young age to get outside of my comfort zone; I've already dealt with eating humble pie, I've already dealt with having to buy into something bigger than myself, and I've already dealt with things not going my way. I come to work prepared, and I know what I'm talking about, and I think that the athletes and coaches respect that. I'm thankful to have worked for great networks — NBC Sports, Pac-12 Networks, and now Turner — that very much support people being themselves. I've worked within organizations that have allowed that.
          BS: Well, I have chills right now. It's really cool to hear that it's intentional and that you are aware of the black women and little black girls watching you. There is a lack of black female representation in a lot of industries — and while there are some shifts happening, I think that black women are looking to those in the spotlight to be champions for the rest of us. It sounds like you feel a sense of responsibility to do that in your job.

          RGO: There are many people that want to do [my] job and plenty that would do it for free. That's why every day I come to work, I do not allow myself a bad day or a bad attitude. I try to remind myself how blessed I am to have this opportunity: to come in and study basketball, study strategy, and study stories, and then share them with the public. I try to remind myself that my job is about helping people relax and have joy or have fun around a sporting event. And I try to remember the human aspect of it — the humans that are watching it, and also the very human people that are playing it.

          I've always been taught that I'm representing something bigger than myself. It was always important to my father how we represented our home and our family. Many Nigerian kids can speak to the fact that their Nigerian parents always wanted them to do well. Academics were also very important to my mother, and she was the one really pushing basketball [on me]. From there, [Stanford Hall of Fame Coach] Tara VanDerveer constantly reminded us, "You don't just represent yourself. You represent the name on the jersey. You're representing a whole university."

          Now, as a professional with more experience and maturity, it's no longer "Don't mess this up" or "Don't be a knucklehead," it's "Let's grab this by the horns and walk with a purpose so that you can leave a trail others can follow." I feel like I'm just beginning.
          BS: I want to talk about the scholarship program that you're working on, because I think it's so important. How did you get involved, and how do you hope to provide     
          RGO: Chris Strachan started Kick'n It For a Cause, which is a nonprofit that utilizes sneaker culture as a vehicle to break down social barriers. I got to know Chris because he's really cool with [Warriors point guard] Stephen Curry; when I was covering the Warriors, Chris would be around building his program and the community and also doing his sneaker blogging. He saw how my profile was growing from the local to the national level, and he approached me with an opportunity to become a part of a scholarship program with Columbia University, Qubed Education, and Kick'n It For a Cause.

          The program helps underserved youth pursue careers in the sports industry and is giving up to $1 million in scholarship money, and some of it will be under my name. My scholarship will be focusing on finding young women who love sports — especially in minority groups — and empowering them and giving them the resources to learn and pursue what they care about. I also want to be very much hands-on — giving them the opportunity to speak with me, shadow me, learn from my experiences, and gain their own resources. In addition to the scholarship money, students will receive an Ivy League completion certificate [from Columbia] and get an insider view of what this industry is about. We want a hands-on experience where they can also come away with something practical, and we're targeting those that need it most. I'm excited about it! 
          BS: When it comes to all of the things you've accomplished so far, what are you most proud of right now? RGO: I think the highlight of my career so far has been working at the Rio Olympics. I was covering the Olympics on the international level for NBC, which was the biggest stage for men's basketball. That is really rare, especially for a 29-year-old black woman, to do. It was a huge deal for me, and I think it also changed the seriousness with which I was taken in this industry. I was also able to build relationships with the top players and coaches, and it's still helping me today in my current job. It really was a very beneficial experience. I'd say that's the highlight.

          BS: I'd agree that's something to be proud of. Is there anything else?

          RGO: Covering the Warriors' surge to greatness — I feel proud that I was able to improve fast enough to keep up with them! I feel that I gave it my best shot and covered it with the grace that it deserved, and I was very fortunate, very lucky, and very blessed to be a fly on the wall for all of that. In general, I would say that I'm proud of the fact that I've never had to compromise myself or take shortcuts; I worked hard, and I'm proud that I didn't give up. In those moments when I was embarrassed and scared and had no money, I'm glad that I decided in that moment to give it a shot again, to stay with it. I very much believe it's possible to be successful without playing dirty or trying to cut other people down so you can get higher. I didn't give up my flavor or any of the things that make Ros, Ros.
          BS: I love that. Your job obviously requires so much travel and networking, and just a lot of general hustle and bustle. What do you do to stay sane amid all the craziness? RGO: Well, I've always been pretty good at balance. People often look at my Instagram, and they're like, "Girl, how are you doing this?" [Laughter.] But something that I've learned through all of this is that if you don't make time for the things that are important to you, you will not do them. And while I am pursuing a career, I've never wanted to be the woman that looks up and suddenly realizes she didn't have any of the other things. I want a family. I want to have a social life. I want to have friends. And I think time management and good prioritization help me be able to do that. There are times when I have less sleep than others, but I make sure to mix in dinners with friends or time for family or a vacation or "Hey, let's get that Groupon for a massage."

          You can't work so hard that you put yourself into the ground. A healthy mind, body, and spirit is very important, and I put a real emphasis on holistic success. I don't only think I'm successful if my career is going well. I've had to stop and reassess my workouts and how I'm eating and how healthy I'm being with food and exercise, especially with all the travel. I've had to check myself, like, "Hey, I've been on the road a lot. I've been working a lot. Have I been on a date? Am I being healthy in my love life?" I do those check-ins regularly. I pray regularly. I think balance is very key, and that's something I've been good at: balance.       

          BS: It's good to hear that you're doing those check-ins. So, speaking of balance, I have a few rapid-fire questions.

          RGO: All right!

          BS: Twitter or Instagram?

          RGO: Oh, that's so hard [laughter] . . . Twitter. It's so entertaining sometimes, oh my God. And shout-out to NBA Twitter too, because it has been fantastic as of late.

          BS: I might already know the answer to this, but East Coast or West Coast?

          RGO: I'm always the East Coast gal. I'm from New York, but the West Coast is very important to me, too.

          BS: Fair. OK . . . ideal vacation?

          RGO: Anywhere with a beach. I am a beach baby. I could start at the beach at 8 a.m. and stay until the sun goes down. You could find me on the beach, sleeping on a blanket.

          BS: Last TV show you've binge-watched?

          RGO: American Horror Story, every season. That was really good. Also, before that, probably Stranger Things. I watched it in a day. I have watched The Office, Atlanta, and, of course, Insecure. I'm going backwards. The most recent was American Horror Story. I just have to say, I have watched every single season of The Office, like, 10 times. I watch the whole thing from start to finish, and as soon as it gets to the last episode of the last season, I just start it over again. The Office is my happy place. It's just such a funny, happy, sweet, smart, great comedy, and I love it.

          BS: I feel like everyone should have a happy-place show — even if you have it on in the background while you're doing other stuff, you just feel better with it being on.

          RGO: Yes! I know every line, I know exactly what they're going to say [laughter]. What's yours?

          BS: Sex and the City and Scrubs. I know the lines back and forth for both. Sometimes I'm only half paying attention, but I'm just like, "This is making me so happy right now." OK, last one: what song gets you hyped every time you hear it?

          RGO: I've been on a real Sabrina Claudio kick recently. "Unravel Me" and "Belong to You" are on repeat in my house, but that's a recent thing. SZA is on repeat as well, and Wizkid. All time, who I always rock with? I'm a Kanye stan, and of course I love Beyoncé.

          BS: We're on the same page. It was such a joy to talk to you, and it's really great to see where you are and how far you've come. As a black woman in her 30s, it is very inspiring to see you doing what you're doing and representing. So just keep going for all of us.

          RGO: You too, girl! We're in this together.