February 24, 2021

How One Female Basketball Star, Chiney Ogwumike, Pivoted Into A Lucrative Business Career  Jennifer Palumbo, Forbes



Few WNBA athletes can make seven figures, but they typically play year-round and supplement their WNBA salary with overseas salary.

Chinenye "Chiney" Ogwumike, a Nigerian-American professional women's basketball player, came into the WNBA to become an All-Star, which she has accomplished twice. In between, she had two serious injuries in her first two seasons overseas and had to change her game plan.

That was a blessing in disguise for the current forward for the Los Angeles Sparks. Overcoming adversity on the court was accomplished in parallel with pursuing and creating unique opportunities with her business that has expanded far beyond playing the game.

Fast forward almost seven years from her being the top pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, and Chiney has built a diversified business across broadcast, WNBA, endorsements, speaking engagements and social advocacy. Her career is quickly turning into an empire, strategically built to empower those that come after her. 

In July 2020, ESPN announced they were adding Ogwumike as co-host of the Chiney and Golic Jrshow, with Mike Golic Jr. Ogwumike is the first Black woman and first WNBA player to co-host a national daily ESPN Radio show.

"Once I was in the door, I loved it," she shared. "It was the closest thing to playing a game. Millions of people are watching. You have to be prepared, and most importantly, you have to be yourself."

While many know that Ogwumike is a professionally trained basketball player, few are aware that she is also Stanford educated graduate mentored by Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This prepared her to be an NBA analyst for ESPN and CBA negotiations as a vice-president in the WNBPA.

She is also expanding her scope by talking about all sports (not just basketball) on various platforms. When she made the tough decision to opt-out of the 2020 WNBA season, she used her ingenuity to put together a plan of action regarding the future of her career.

"I approached a contact at ESPN Films," Ogwumike said. "And after some discussion, I'm proud to be the executive producer of an upcoming ESPN Films documentary on the 2020 WNBA season."

The documentary will explore social justice and cover how some in the WNBA took a stand against Atlanta Dream co-owner and Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was critical of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Loeffler owns 49% of the team. Her stance on BLM and her support of Donald Trump prompted players to campaign against their owner openly. Loeffler went on to lose to Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Proving you can have transversal skills, Ogwumike shared that certain lessons from playing basketball can be applied to business. "Shoot your shot and keep shooting! Be prepared and take calculated risks," she stated. "This is especially true the first time I was officially was co-hosting His & Hers and First Take. I literally shot my shot without any real experience. I controlled what I could control and prepped as much as possible. And it went awesome!"

Paving A New Path and Paying it Forward

In 2020, a record 37 women were leading Fortune 500 firms, increasing from last year's record high of 33. Of these women, just three are women of color, and none are Black or Latina. Of C-suite leaders today, 21% are women, and only 1% are Black women.

Considering this data, I asked what it was like to break new ground with ESPN and change perceptions of women of color in leadership roles. "I was grateful to be given a mic, knowing how much representation matters to young girls, especially Black girls, who dream of doing the same,” Ogwumike answered. “I frequently say, 'You cannot see what you cannot be;' as I continue to attain success and stand in positions that a black woman has not often filled, I know I'm changing the perception for future generations. But at the same time, it was a huge reminder of how much work we still have to do."

Adding to the problem is, according to U.S. government data, that the country lost 140,000 jobs last month. Per an analysis by the National Women's Law Center, all of them belonged to women. I asked what advice Ogwumike would have for women looking to change their careers, similar to how she changed hers.

"We have to create our opportunities for each other because we cannot expect that others will," Ogwumike said. "We have to be our own heroes. We also have to think about hiring differently and be more inclusive. My own team includes diversity from my Black woman business manager, Black woman brand strategist, first-generation Mexican-American assistant, Nigerian American makeup artist, and black hairstylist."

Ogwumike also makes sure she finds ways to give back. "In every endorsement contract I sign, I make sure a social advocacy or other give-back components,” she said. “It’s also not just about giving money, but more so about showing up and doing work on the ground.”

In 2014, she launched a fundraising competition open to participation by girls' middle and high school basketball teams across the country. The competition raised money for UNICEF programs focusing on girls' education and empowerment, such as the Girls' Education Project, which aims to give 1 million girls in Nigeria access to quality learning, provide scholarships for female teachers and establish safe spaces for girls. And in 2020, she took a trip with her dad, Peter Ogwumike, to Lagos, Nigeria, to help give athletic apparel and basketballs to local schools, working with Adidas and other partners to help facilitate the donated goods. 

"My goal is to open up doors for others that look like me to pursue in the future," Ogwumike added. "And create direct opportunities for those who look like me."

As we concluded our conversation, Ogwumike shared some final insight. "I have had to play the long game," she said. "Knowing that we have different challenges in showing our value in a male-dominated industry, I chose 'opportunity' over 'compensation' to get in the door. Crush the job and build more significant relationships and authentic brand partnerships. And now, with more teammates than ever before, I am excited for the future and our collective mission to empower each other now—no more waiting!"




    January 22, 2021

    Vanessa Nygard (1998) - Insights and Perspectives on Coaching


    USA Basketball spoke to Vanessa Nygaard to gain her insight and perspective on coaching . 
    Dec 2020

    Currently entering her ninth season at Windward (2012-13 to present), Nygaard has led Windward to a striking 210-40 record during her time there.


    As you embark on a season over maybe the first month or so, what is the focus during that time?
    So, there are regular years, but not this year.

    This year is really unique. Our season actually has been moved to start in March. So, our practices will start in January or February, and I think there are some things to be addressed, some trauma that everyone has gone through over the break. I think that is going to be a really important thing. To get into the season and address that.

    In a regular year, I think what we would look to accomplish at the start of the season as a coaching staff would be first to build trust. There will be new players, and there will be returning players. And so, get them to understand where we’re coming from and start to really understand them, and to set a tone of: we’re together on a journey. Here's where we're going, and we need you. This is how we get there, and this is what I need you to do. Being very clear with them and putting in that time and investment. That means having individual conversations early in the year with the players to build that trust. The second thing I think would be to set some standards for the non-negotiables in our program, which is things that every coach in America knows – show up with a great attitude, have a great effort, be a great teammate. If you can't do those things, you have to go home. And occasionally, a kid does sit out of practice or is sent to the locker room because they can't do one of those. And you just have to do that once or twice, and I think that that sends that message. That's important early on. And then I think, especially as a youth coach and a high school coach, keeping it fun and interesting, because I want them to get a love of the game. I want them to want to come to practice, and I want them to love basketball. As a high school coach, you can really build that passion. You have to think about how you can make it fun every day and how you can keep it interesting. You can't just do the same drills. It should be lots of playing. They all play basketball, because they want to play.

    You mentioned in this year, you will need to address some of the trauma from this past year or so. How will you begin to try and do that?
    I'm fortunate to work at a school where they continue to educate us about these traumas and things, and we talk about trauma-informed coaching and trying to help kids deal with it, and the coaches as well. If you haven't dealt with things, it's hard to help other people around you. But giving them space to talk about it and acknowledging that it's there, and not pretending like it's not there. ‘Oh, wow, this is really hard. How did that affect you?’ And giving them a chance to say, ‘Hey, if they want to do something together, what can we do together to address this?’ So, it's really great to be working at a school, because we do have counselors who are constantly giving us new information.


    What's one of the most important characteristics you work to develop in your athletes?
    You hope that they learn a lot of things that are going to help them in life. But, I would say number one for us is just toughness. I think sometimes people get caught up in being competitive, but I really want the players to learn to be tough, both physically and mentally. And to us, I think it means being resilient and persistent through whatever adversity and challenges come their way. Those are controllable in a game of basketball, right? You know, you have the turnovers, things like that, but a lot of things happen in life that are hard to control, and so having that toughness to stay optimistic through great challenge. And what a great opportunity to work on that right now. We get to work on that every single day we wake up during the pandemic. So really, we want to cultivate toughness. It goes into every single thing that is important for our program.


    What are some factors in terms of developing relationships with your athletes?
    It's trust, trust, trust, trust, right? You have to establish that with everyone in your life, especially your players, and I think I have to earn that and that's with consistency every single day. I have to come with the things that I ask of them. I have to be consistently positive, and I have to be clear about expectations and clear about as a team holding everybody accountable. I can't let one kid slide, because they're talented or something like that. I have to make sure that those things are consistent. And then, we really emphasize just communicating. The more that we communicate, the more that we talk, the better we'll understand. So, the longer I've been a head coach, the more meetings I have with the players. And it can be exhausting as a coach, but we need it. Before the season I meet with the players and their parents, and I meet individually with the players before the season. I meet with the players like three different times for a sit-down meeting during the season. The more that we talk, and they can understand what we need from them, and they can express their frustrations or their challenges. And also, I think it's important to let them express who on the team needs support, to help us with the team. So, it's a constant conversation. The other thing I have developed over time is just real empathy for them as young people and the challenges they have, and then just curiosity. I used to be mad if a kid was late. And now, I'm like, I wonder why that kid was late? I think it's more of an approach. So just having real curiosity about how I can help them. I keep that in the front of my mind. That helps me to understand them better and their challenges.


    In your coaching career, is there a most important lesson that has really hit home for you?
    I was a player, and I love basketball. I love going to basketball practice. And so I thought, what better job than going to basketball practice? I want to win, like everyone else, and so I thought I'd be a coach. I thought my job would be coaching basketball, and I think what I've learned is that my real job is not coaching basketball. My real job is helping people, and solving problems and leading with intention. I have to set a tone. I try to keep those ideas in my head – that my real job is to help people, and my real job is to work on problems, because everyday problems come. I get to solve them. I don't have to solve them. I get to solve them, and that I have to lead, and I have to set that tone constantly. And yeah, that can be exhausting, but that's why you're a coach. I learned that those things are more important than the basketball things. I say to my players all the time, ‘if you want to improve the team, improve yourself,’ and that applies to coaches, too. If you want a better team, you got to be a better coach. You have to just constantly be bought into the idea of growth. I have to keep getting better. Oh, and you need to rebound. If you don't rebound, you'll never win.

     

     

      October 20, 2020

      Milena Flores - How Basketball Taught me to Deal With Failure

      Milena Flores (2000)- How Basketball Taught me to Deal With Failure
      CeotoCeo

      Milena Flores was shy growing up, so her parents enrolled her into the first sport available that was basketball, hoping that playing in a team sport would help her overcome being shy. That nudge from her parents grew into a love and passion for basketball that led Milena to Stanford University and the recognition of being an All Conference Pac-10 player in her junior and senior seasons. She continued her basketball career after graduating playing professionally for two seasons in the WNBA and then transitioning to playing in Europe.

      This experience presented a number of challenges and opportunities for Milena to succeed and fail. A commitment to a daily routine and striving for continual improvement in these high-pressure environments helped her develop resiliency and a mindset for success.

      As Milena began to wind down her professional career, the opportunity to enter coaching emerged as a way to continue in the sport she loved and continued her on a path to learn about leadership. Just being a great player did not guarantee you would be a great coach.

      Milena’s determination as a player helped her develop the leadership concepts that lead to a very successful college coaching career where she helped guide Princeton to six Ivy League Titles and 7 NCAA Tournament appearances.

      The lessons learned in coaching are transferrable to business today as being a great sales person does not mean you will be a great sales manager. Milena talks about the insights into being an effective leader that she learned through basketball and how these same principals can be applied to inspire high performance.

      As the first person in her family to go to college Milena is passionate about teaching young people how to become resilient and fulfill their dreams. Today, Milena focuses her efforts on counseling students how achieve success academically and chart a path to fulfill the goal of going to college.

      Watch this inspirational interview with Milena Flores on how sports and coaching successes and failures provided life lessons to become resilient.



      July 20, 2020

      Kristen Newlin Vatansever shares the balance of motherhood and pro basketball overseas

      by Jenn Hatfield, High Post Hoops

      Last October, four-time WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith publicly criticized her team, the Dallas Wings, for what she called “limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically” during her pregnancy and after her son was born in April 2019.
      “Having no support from your own organization is unfortunate,” she tweeted. “… I played the ENTIRE season pregnant [in 2018]! All star, and led league (top 3-5) in [minutes per game]….didn’t tell a soul.”
      The Wings disputed Diggins-Smith’s allegations, noting that they had paid her full salary and reserved a roster spot for her in 2019 even though the league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the time did not require either. (The league recently announced a new CBA that requires teams to pay players their full salary while they are on pregnancy leave.)
      Halfway around the world, Kristen Newlin Vatansever could relate to Diggins-Smith’s sentiments. “I can certainly understand that,” she told High Post Hoops from Turkey, where she is currently playing. “… [Teams] say they care about the player, but if a player can’t produce on the court, their attitudes change very quickly. … It’s unfortunate because [pregnancy can be] the happiest moment in a player’s life, but we don’t get that reciprocation from what’s supposed to be our family in our teammates and coaches and [general managers].”
      Newlin Vatansever, 34, has played in Turkey since she graduated from Stanford in 2008, including on the Turkish national team for several years as a naturalized citizen. She met and married her husband, Chicago Sky assistant coach Emre Vatansever, while she was playing and he was coaching in Turkey. In November 2018, she gave birth to twins, and thirteen months later, she returned to the court to play for Elazig Il Ozel Idare in the Turkish Women’s Basketball Super League (KBSL).
      Like many couples in professional sports, Newlin Vatansever and her husband had debated when would be the best time to have children, taking into account her basketball career and their schedules, which send the family to Turkey in the winters and Chicago in the summers. She wanted to play professionally for a few more years, and the decision came down to having kids relatively quickly or waiting until retirement. Newlin Vatansever explained her thinking at the time: “Now’s the time where I can try to have a kid and still feel like I’m young enough to come back and play a few more years. If I waited, even a year or two, I would probably feel like I was too old to try to come back.” The couple decided to try to get pregnant at the end of her season in the spring of 2018, and if it did not work out, she would play another season starting in the fall.
      It did work out—“Times two!” Newlin Vatansever said—but Newlin Vatansever had few models for how her career would be affected once she got pregnant. “I know very few teammates [who had children during their playing careers],” she said. “I honestly can think of two at the moment. And one of them was [pregnant] before they were my teammate.” However, those players’ comebacks gave Newlin Vatansever hope that she could follow their paths. “They came back and they were very good still,” she said, “and they were able to have the family and still play and still kind of have it all. So I did have a few examples of that and that’s kind of what we were hoping for.”
      Newlin Vatansever’s pregnancy differed sharply from Diggins-Smith’s in that Newlin Vatansever was a free agent at the time. She had finished a one-year contract with BotaƟ in April 2018 and did not sign a contract for the 2018-19 season after she became pregnant. In the KBSL, there are no maternity leave policies in players’ contracts; pregnant players are typically cut from their teams (and not paid for any remaining games) when they are too far along to continue playing. “Teams started to put [a severance clause] in [my contract] once I got married,” Newlin Vatansever said. “… Before I was married, there was nothing in there about pregnancy.” She added that if she had gotten pregnant before there was relevant language in her contract, her agent and her team would likely have negotiated the same separation from the team.
      In Newlin Vatansever’s experience, most European teams operate similarly to KBSL teams, and very few players have children during their playing careers in Europe. In her estimation, teams’ views on pregnancy differ from how they regard a player who is similarly unable to play due to injury: “They feel like [injury is] unavoidable, but they feel like [a pregnant] player chose to put themselves in this situation where they’re taken off the court.” One of Newlin Vatansever’s teammates got pregnant a few years ago, and she recalled that when the coach told the players the news, “he just said it as a matter of fact. He didn’t smile and say congratulations; he just said, ‘This player’s leaving.’”
      By her own admission, Newlin Vatansever’s pregnancy and comeback were more difficult than she had expected. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, without a doubt,” she said. Having twins made her pregnancy more high-risk than a single birth, and she said that she was limited to “floating in a pool” for the last few months and lost a lot of strength. The delivery was also difficult enough that it took several months for her to recover. After she began training again, “I was so sleep deprived and exhausted … [that] I had to adjust to a new way of training, which was training without energy,” she explained. “… It was definitely notwhat I envisioned [for] me trying to get back … it took a while longer than I wanted for me to get in shape enough to play.”
      The process of finding another Turkish team to play for was also more difficult than she had anticipated, despite her track record of performance in Turkey and the added value she has as a Turkish citizen in a league that limits the number of Americans per team. Many teams were surprised that Newlin Vatansever wanted to play again after having children, and they viewed signing her as a risk. “For some reason, they just weren’t convinced that someone can come back from a twin pregnancy and be able to contribute the way I used to,” she said. Turkey’s economic crisis, which devalued the local currency relative to the U.S. dollar and the euro, also shrunk teams’ budgets—and risk tolerance—significantly because many players are paid in dollars or euros. Vatansever spoke to several coaches in the league on his wife’s behalf, and the couple sent teams videos of her workouts and data on her weight to demonstrate that she was in shape. “Finally we landed on a team that … we convinced enough,” Newlin Vatansever said. “… We feel fortunate that we were able to get [a contract], but we also feel that I was deserving of it because I am back [to] where I was pre-pregnancy.”
      Newlin Vatansever has taken a pay cut this season, which she ascribed partly to the financial crisis and partly to her pregnancy. “Pretty much every player” in the league has taken a small pay cut, she said, but even without the crisis, she believed she would have had to take a pay cut because of the perceived risk of signing her. In 2017, then-33-year-old Mistie Bass made similar comments to ESPN about the difficulty of convincing overseas teams to sign her.
      After all the work Newlin Vatansever and her husband put in to get back in shape and find a team, they soaked up her return to competition. “It was kind of emotional just because my husband and I are the only ones that knew exactly what I had to come back from,” she explained. “… No matter what happens from here on out, the fact that I could get back in shape enough to play again was just kind of spectacular for both of us.” She is still learning how to balance motherhood and a professional basketball career, trading naps between practices for activities with her twins, but she told High Post Hoops that continuing her career “with my kids by my side … [is] just an awesome feeling.”
      Newlin Vatansever believes that pregnancy is not talked about enough in women’s sports and was eager to be interviewed for this story. “Even when Serena Williams, the best athlete in the world, [was pregnant,] it was just still kind of [a] taboo subject almost,” she pointed out. She added that, with some athletes continuing to play into their 40s, it is not always possible for female athletes to wait until retirement to start a family.
      The WNBA’s new CBA makes progress on this front, providing pregnancy and childcare benefits as well as family planning benefits such as adoption, surrogacy, and fertility/infertility treatments. Specifically, it guarantees a pregnant player who is under contract with a WNBA team “one hundred percent (100%) of [her] Base Salary … for the shorter of: (i) the duration of her inability to perform services as a result of her pregnancy; or (ii) the remaining term of her Standard Player Contract.” A player whose contract ends or is terminated during pregnancy will “continue to receive the medical benefits provided for … until the later of the end of the Season in which such Contract was terminated or three months after the birth of her child.”
      Although these provisions do not directly affect Newlin Vatansever, she called them “a crucial step forward” for the WNBA. “The world’s best league should reflect that in pay and treatment,” she said, and the maternity leave and childcare provisions put the WNBA “at the forefront of providing paid leave and support to its players and their families.” She added, “I think the extra stipend to cover egg freezing, surrogacy, and adoption is commendable. This small part in the CBA is a long time coming and should greatly benefit players and their families.”
      Hopefully, other women’s sports leagues domestically and internationally will follow the WNBA’s lead, allowing women like Newlin Vatansever who decide to have children during their playing careers to have job security, benefits, and support from their teams. Newlin Vatansever’s efforts to return to play are laudable, but the lengths she had to go to convince teams that she—an established player in Turkey at the time—was able to perform indicate that there is significant room for improvement.




        July 8, 2020

        Jennifer Azzi after basketball

        After basketball, Jennifer Azzi has career and family at 51


        What’s an extremely rewarding pastime while sheltering at home during a pandemic?Growing tomatoes is a good one. So is cuddling a newborn.
        Jennifer Azzi and her wife, Blair Hardiek, are doing both, though one is decidedly far more profound and important than the budding Brandywines in the newly planted garden below their Mill Valley home.
        Camden Therese Hardiek Azzi was born on the afternoon of April 24, joining 3-year-old brother Macklin in the Hardiek Azzi family. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, it has been a perfect time to relish family bonding.
        “COVID has almost been like a rebirth for us,” Hardiek said, “spending all this time together.”
        It has been that way for many new or growing families. And while bringing a new baby into a world full of uncertainty and anxiety has its challenges, this crisis has also brought a dramatic reassessing of what is truly important in life. And, for most, family has come out on top.
        Azzi, the former Stanford star and University of San Francisco basketball coach, is now associate vice president of development at USF. Hardiek is a global technical director for the NBA Academy women’s program, developing talent around the world and helping young women from other countries land at Division I schools. Between their two jobs, the couple is almost always on the go, traveling the world. But not now.  “This is the longest stretch we’ve been without being on a plane that I can remember,” Azzi said.
        Both were busy working from home during the late weeks of Hardiek’s pregnancy, and they brought their work along to Marin General in case labor took a long time. It didn’t. Hardiek, 35, was surprised to see her contractions coming so close together and let the nurses know the baby was on her way. Camden arrived shortly after.
        Azzi and Hardiek have been married for five years. Macklin, a whirling cyclone of boy energy who enlists every visitor to shoot hoops or help repair his toy tractor, was born in February 2017. He’s a proud big brother to “Baby Sister.” He’s so excited that he can barely contain himself,” Hardiek said.
        For many Bay Area sports fans, Azzi will always be the young girl from Tennessee who helped lead Stanford to its first NCAA title, but she is now 51. No one blinks an eye when men become parents in their 50s, but it is definitely more unusual for women.
        “I don’t really think about it,” Azzi said. “But my athletic career was so long — not that time froze but I played professionally for 13 years. I wasn’t doing things that my peers outside of athletics were doing. Once I was out of the athletic world, I started thinking more about career and family.
        “Also, my late start is being with the right person.”
        Azzi made news in 2016 when, while introducing Warriors president Rick Welts for an Anti-Defamation League award, she announced that she was married to Hardiek. “You just get to the point where it’s so stupid to not be honest,” she said at the time. Still, the news was groundbreaking, coming months after the Supreme Court upheld the legality of same-sex marriage and making Azzi the only “out” Division I coach at the time. (She stepped down from coaching in September of 2016.)
        She now works on developing community relationships for USF. One of her main involvements is the Silk Speaker Series. She has interviewed Steve Kerr and Billie Jean King, among others. Recently, she moderated a Juneteenth online discussion between Stephen Curry and Clarence Jones, the director of USF’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice. She and Curry swapped stories about taking their children to Black Lives Matter protests and important lessons for a new generation. 
        She and Hardiek also run Azzi basketball camps. Because of the coronavirus, they have held just one camp in Sausalito this summer, limited to small groups, following strict COVID-19 protocols with much of the action taking place on outdoor courts.
        Azzi enjoys seeing parents dropping off their kids and their family interactions at pickup, just as she enjoys getting out of the car with Hardiek, Macklin and Camden in a stroller, ready for a day on the courts. “Our little entourage,” she said. “I’m just glad life didn’t pass me by.”



        April 27, 2020

        Nneka interview - Trevor Noah show; Alanna talks Olympic potponement

        Nneka Ogumike: Excellence and Equity



        ………………………………………………………………………………...

        Alanna Smith talks Olympic postponement and WNBA fears
        by HaleyRosen - JustWomensSports.com

        When did you first start to register that the coronavirus was a big deal?

        I think in Australia, because we're pretty isolated from the rest of the world, we were at little behind. We were watching as China and Italy started to report a lot of cases and go into lockdown. And then you guys in the US started to experience a surge. I think that prompted Australia to realize that we needed to make some moves, especially as cases started to pop up. Because there’s not enough materials to test it, we’re making estimates as to how many people have it. You just don’t know, but you know it’s a lot. Nowhere near the same amount as other places, but we’re still actively trying to stop the spread. Social distancing is in effect, and only essential businesses are open. We’re being encouraged to stay indoors. And all of that happened quite fast, maybe in just the past week or two. 
        And at what point did you realize the Olympics might be postponed?
        Once travel bans were being put in place, and people were being discouraged from travelling. That was when I thought, Okay, this is an issue. Not just for basketball but for other sports as well, because people need to travel to qualifiers and such. And then just thinking about sports in general, so many of them involve contact. You’re in close proximity with others, which is super high-risk. So yeah, I had doubts early on to be honest, just thinking about the health and the safety of all the athletes as well as the fans. It didn't seem plausible that they could pull it off.
        What did you think of Australia's decision to opt out prior to the official postponement? How did you think the committee handled everything? 
        It was the right decision, just in terms of the health and safety of everyone. And I think the Australian Olympic Committee did a really good job of keeping us in the loop. They were sending out emails two to three times a week, telling us where to go for support and such. We weren’t left in the dark. We had a pretty good idea of what was going on. So overall I think they did their best in terms of the situation at hand. Obviously, right now everyone has to take it day by day, week by week. 
        But I also know that it was a really, really hard decision to make. You have athletes whose whole lives were dedicated to going to these Olympics. They worked year after year for this moment to be on the world stage, and then to just have it pulled out from under them is really tough. But thankfully, the games aren’t cancelled. They’re still happening, just at a different date.
        What did you think of Australia's decision to opt out prior to the official postponement? How did you think the committee handled everything? 
        It was the right decision, just in terms of the health and safety of everyone. And I think the Australian Olympic Committee did a really good job of keeping us in the loop. They were sending out emails two to three times a week, telling us where to go for support and such. We weren’t left in the dark. We had a pretty good idea of what was going on. So overall I think they did their best in terms of the situation at hand. Obviously, right now everyone has to take it day by day, week by week. 
        But I also know that it was a really, really hard decision to make. You have athletes whose whole lives were dedicated to going to these Olympics. They worked year after year for this moment to be on the world stage, and then to just have it pulled out from under them is really tough. But thankfully, the games aren’t cancelled. They’re still happening, just at a different date.
        And how has all of this affected you personally?
        I mean, I don't have a job. I'm out of work. I play a sport for a living, and it's not possible to do that right now. So like many people, I don’t have any income. And because all the gyms are closed, I can't go and work out, I can't lift, I can't go to a basketball court, I can't shoot. I’ve been left to my own devices, and I have to get creative about working out at home. It hasn’t been that bad, to be honest. There's some fun ways to work out at home. I've got a little bit of equipment, so I'm lucky that I can at least do some typical stuff. It’s really more about staying active, so I’ve been trying to figure out ways to do that while also staying inside. 
        Your teammate, Liz Cambage, was in China in December, where she fell ill with what seems like a bad case of COVID-19. You all played together afterwards. What was that like? 
        When she was telling us about this sickness, we didn't know what it was. And she was 100% fine when we saw her in France. She was fully healthy, she'd gotten the okay from doctors and everything, so we were confident that she was healthy and we were all going to be okay. We didn't really know the full extent of the illness until after France, and then we were like, "Shit." But no Opals have been confirmed positive since, so I think we’re okay. It was a real case of ignorance is bliss, because if we knew then what we know now, there’d have been a lot more stress.  Even though you saw postponement coming, I imagine the uncertainty was tough to deal with. Do you feel like you’re going through it all again with the WNBA now? 
        It was tough, because you put a lot of emotional energy into preparing for something like the Olympics. Plus it was just so close. And personally, I’m recovering from injury, so I’m rehabbing now and was trying to get my body right for the next few months in order to get back to my peak when the games started. Now I’m aiming for the WNBA season, but that’s up in the air as well. We haven’t been told whether it’s going to go ahead or if it’s going to be delayed. 
        You’re in this limbo, honestly, because you’re trying to prepare for the season physically, but you’re also trying to prepare yourself mentally for the chance that it’s either cancelled or delayed. It does mess with your emotions. You have to be pretty tough and just get on with it. Because this stuff is going to happen, and whether you like it or not, you just have to deal with it.
        And unlike the NBA, you fly coach in the WNBA, which means even if you were playing games without fans, you’d still be exposed to crowds on a regular basis if the season went on. 
        Exactly. We’d only have so much control over the environment. We wouldn’t really have the luxury of guaranteed safety, so it’s a whole different thought process behind the WNBA’s decision. We just have to wait and see. 
        What communications have you received from the WNBA regarding a potential delay?
        We receive a lot of emails from the Players’ Associations. Just check-ins, making sure we’re safe, and that if we need anything or have to travel at all, they’re aware of it. They did a really good job of getting people back to their home country who needed to go. It’s similar to what we experienced with the Olympic Committee as well. We get updates pretty often about what’s going on and where people’s thoughts are. But we’re all pretty much waiting week-to-week to see how the situation progresses and to see if the season can still go ahead. 
        What communications have you received from the WNBA regarding a potential delay?
        We receive a lot of emails from the Players’ Associations. Just check-ins, making sure we’re safe, and that if we need anything or have to travel at all, they’re aware of it. They did a really good job of getting people back to their home country who needed to go. It’s similar to what we experienced with the Olympic Committee as well. We get updates pretty often about what’s going on and where people’s thoughts are. But we’re all pretty much waiting week-to-week to see how the situation progresses and to see if the season can still go ahead. 
        In the meantime, are you just going to train as though it’s starting on the intended day? 
        At the moment, yes. But like I said, I'm still not sure what decision is going to be made in terms of that. I mean, you look at the NBA, and nobody knows if it’s going to be delayed or if they’ll have to cancel. So I’m just trying to keep fit, and keep relatively active in the hopes that it will go ahead. But you have to be prepared for every outcome, whether you like it or not. 



          March 13, 2020

          Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike helped win the fight for improved terms in US basketball

          The basketball sister act that secured breakthrough women’s deal


          Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike helped win the fight for improved terms in US basketball
           by Molly McElwee


          Sat in the front row of the Good Morning America audience, Chiney Ogwumike was beaming as her sister Nneka took to the stage. Alongside Cathy Engelbert, the Women’s NBA commissioner, and broadcast live to millions across the United States, on Jan 14 Nneka had the pleasure of announcing new league-wide contracts that will change the WNBA, and arguably women’s sport, forever.

          But behind the Ogwumikes’ wide smiles is a steely determination and 18 months of work. Nneka and Chiney, who play for the Los Angeles Sparks, were paramount in securing a monumental new collective bargaining agreement in their roles as president and vice-president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA). While the sisters understand they were “literally writing history” as Nneka puts it, they are keen to add the caveat that this is merely a starting point.

          “People were calling this agreement ground-breaking, and as I heard it more and more I realised it wasn’t ground-breaking, but ground-establishing,” Chiney says, emphasising the last word.
          Some terms are basic employees’ rights, including better travel conditions and full maternity pay. Others are more innovative and impressive, such as compensation of up to $60,000 (£47,000) in adoption, surrogacy and fertility treatment for veteran players – not to mention improved salaries.
          When they opted out of their previous agreement in September 2018, Nneka said they were “not asking for LeBron money” or equal pay yet. But the total salary of all 144 WNBA players was barely a third of the $37 million NBA superstar LeBron James makes alone. To that end, they wangled a WNBA salary cap increase of 30 per cent. On average players will now earn $130,000 in cash compensation, and up to $500,000. The hope is this new financial incentive will lessen the pressure on players to compete in foreign leagues during the off-season. Overseas teams have previously offered up to 10 times WNBA salaries, which attracted the majority of players to compete all year, risking injury and fatigue.
          “Though you learn a lot about yourself, after five years you’re like, ‘I can’t do this forever’,” Nneka, who has played in Poland and Russia, says. “Players do this, not always because they want to, but because it’s the best financial security,” Chiney, who instead now works as an ESPN pundit in the off-season, says. “It’s not sustainable, we had to start getting real about what players’ experiences were.”
          The Ogwumikes speak with an eloquence and clarity that makes it unsurprising they played a big part in this deal. They are no ordinary sporting siblings: they played college basketball at Stanford University together, both were the No 1 pick at the WNBA draft and both won Rookie of the Year in their first seasons. Chiney, 27, is a two-time All Star; Nneka, 29, a six-time All Star and she was 2016’s Most Valuable Player when she won the league with the Sparks.
          They were reunited on the same team in Los Angeles last season and, as on the court, you can imagine them tag-teaming at the negotiating table. Nneka is more softly spoken, but straight-talking; Chiney bounds into our conference call with attention-grabbing energy. A trait they say they share though, is their “relentlessness”, which they picked up during their Texas childhood, as two of four sisters born to Nigerian immigrants. Chiney says their father taught them the importance of male allies, among whom they they counted former LA Laker Kobe Bryant. “Our father was our No 1 example of a male ally. I think similarly in women’s basketball we were just coming to know and appreciate our greatest male ally of all time, and that was Kobe.”
          Like their father, Bryant had four daughters, and his advocacy and mentorship for future and current WNBA stars has been celebrated in the wake of his death in January. The five-time NBA champion often sat courtside at games with 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who also aspired to play professionally but perished in the same helicopter accident as her father, along with seven others.
          “It hit very deeply for the WNBA because we knew what people are right now only just realising – his relationship with his daughters and his impact for women in sports,” Nneka adds.
          The Ogwumikes are keen to credit the rest of the WNBPA executive committee and every player in the league for advancing the game. “Strength in numbers is a real thing, we got all the players [involved],” Nneka says. “It taught me that, if you don’t pull up your seat to the table, you will never know what’s possible.” 
          Chiney agrees: “As sisters we were never competitive but always collaborative, and I think female athletes are a great example of this. We’re now being collaborative to completely shake the system, whether US women’s soccer, basketball or gymnastics.” Nneka adds: “Because we all need to hit the finish line, it doesn’t matter who gets there first. What matters is that whoever’s in front keeps running and fighting for what we deserve. Because once we stop, that’s what the world will perceive as how far we can go.” 
          The new contracts will run until 2027, so the Ogwumikes can focus on basketball until then, beginning with the start of the WNBA season in May and a potential Olympic debut for Nneka with the US.
          After an hour of chat about women’s sport, the sisters exhale in unison, almost relieved, when I ask how happy they are to return exclusively to on-court duties. “That’s a question you know the answer to,” Nneka laughs.