Los Angeles Sparks emphasize culture at team’s media day

The Sparks open the 2023 WNBA season against the Phoenix Mercury on May 19th.

TORRANCE, Calif. — L.A. Sparks Media Day occurred on a rainy Thursday morning. But sunny days seem to be coming for the embattled franchise as the season kicks off in two weeks.

After a couple of tumultuous seasons, the L.A. Sparks seem determined to turn it all around. It’s a franchise that has a proud history; they’re one of the four WNBA teams that are still here from the beginning, they have the most playoff appearances (20) in league history, and have three championships (tied for second most in WNBA history).

The Sparks are going through their longest playoff drought. Yes, it’s only two years (the Sparks also didn’t make the postseason in their first two years of existence in 1997 and 1998). Just like their NBA counterparts in the Lakers, it’s all about excellence and championships. This season, the Sparks had a lot of roster changes but they did bring in a nice mix of veterans and rookies that can potentially be great. They didn’t build “super teams” like the New York Liberty and defending champions Las Vegas Aces.

New head coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant are part of the new regime for the L.A. Sparks. They seemed very excited to take on the new challenge and write the next chapter of Sparks history.

“For us, trying to create, from Day One, a culture that’s sustainable,” Miller said when asked about how success will be determined for the team. “Culture that wins. That culture from us within a locker room. And we’ve put together a locker room filled with great people. We’ve put together a basketball staff with servent leaders. All that is part of success. Ultimately, we all want to win and we’re here to win a championship. But success is defined in so much more as we build something very very special in one of the iconic franchises.”

There is a lot of optimism within the team after a few days of training camp.

“I think this is the best training camp I’ve ever been in,” said Chiney Ogwumike, who was on the team last year. “Just from the human beings here, the players, the people, the environment, the professionalism, and just the competition. It’s absolutely been my favorite and best training camp.”

“I will definitely say in my now-long career that this is one of the most exciting training camps I’ve been a part of,” said Nneka Ogwumike, who won league MVP in 2016. “I love working with great people and that was the cornerstone of putting this team, this organization together between Curt and KB (GM Karen Bryant). I wouldn’t have asked for anything else or more coming into my 12th season. I’m very grateful to be part of this training camp.”

I actually asked the Ogwumike sisters about their individual goals. Nneka talking about hanging out and spending time with her teammates more and Chiney mentioning about being present says quite a lot. They really want to be there for their team and that their individual goals definitely align with the team.

And while a high turnover on the roster was certainly a worry, Nneka and Chiney put that to bed as they mentioned they have played before together (whether WNBA or overseas) and they’re bringing their familiarity to Los Angeles.

Dearica Hamby talked about all the support she got from the organization after she was traded from the Las Vegas Aces, the team that won the championship last season.

I asked Azura Stevens, who came from the Chicago Sky and won the 2021 WNBA title with the Chicago Sky, on whether she consulted with Sparks great (and current Aces player) Candace Parker about coming to L.A. Stevens talked about Candace being a mentor to her.

Jasmine Thomas, who played for Curt Miller in Connecticut for a number of years, glowingly talked about how the Sparks operated as a franchise.

Jordin Canada, one of the holdovers from last season, said that “she loved to be here, she’s happy to be here, and it’s a complete 180,” when asked about training camp this year compared to last year.

It was really a very pleasant atmosphere in El Camino College, where the Sparks have training camp, practices, and Media Day. Rookies Zia Cooke (who played in South Carolina) and Monika Czinano (who played in Iowa) even talked about their little history, which took place very very recently:

The team looked very chipper and all the players and staff involved were saying all the right things on Media Day. Now they’re going to have to see if that culture carries over onto the court on May 19th, when they take on the Phoenix Mercury in the season opener.