One-on-one with Sparks all-star Nneka Ogwumike

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Nneka Ogwumike is having career-highs in scoring and rebounding this season.

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks are 11-18 as of this writing and 1.5 games behind the 8th-seeded Chicago Sky. They hope that they can make a run for a playoff spot with 11 games remaining in the schedule.

Throughout it all, Nneka Ogwumike has been the rock for this team. She’s been with the Los Angeles Sparks since 2012 and she’s seen it all happen. Nneka won the Most Valuable Player award and a WNBA championship in 2016. She was also part of this Sparks team that has not been to the playoffs the last two seasons.

In her 12th season, Nneka has been playing better than ever. I caught up with her to talk about her season and other things going on in the league.

THE SPORTING TRIBUNE: How are you feeling? How are family and friends?

NNEKA OGWUMIKE: Good! Thank you!

TST: You remember when I asked you on Media Day what your individual goal was? You said you wanted to spend more time with your teammates. So how is that going? 

NNEKA: I have to say it’s been tough because we’ve had a lot of changes. And everyone’s been really trying to nurse themselves and stay healthy. But it’s been better than in the past so I would say compared to what my experience was before, it’s been better.

TST: How is Coach Curt Miller different compared to past coaches?

NNEKA: I think he really has a way of seeing the game and understanding different systems, different shapes on the court. And getting us to think about things in that way when we’re out there to execute and also defend.

TST: A lot of people would say that this is your best season of your career. Averaging 19.8 points and 9.1 boards, both career-highs. I don’t want to say you didn’t expect to perform at a high level but are you even a little surprised by that?

NNEKA: I think I am most surprised by the amount of production that is, I guess, needed from me this year. I don’t think I really expected to be putting up these types of numbers. But I’m always here to do what my team needs.

TST: All these accomplishments you’ve had in your career: 98 double-doubles, 8-time All-Star, 5-time All-WNBA, 5-time All-Defensive team, second most points in Sparks franchise history, Rookie of the Year, MVP, WNBA champion… has it all sunk in and have you reflected a bit and go, “Wow. I did a lot.”

NNEKA: I’m very grateful. I think my teammates help me remember a lot of those things that you listed. But I’m still in it and there’s still things I want to accomplish so I’m focused a little bit more on those goals.

TST: You’re also President of the WNBPA. How do you handle all of this?

NNEKA: Just staying communicative with the players and making sure that I’m staying up to date, listening to people, understanding what people may need, and, of course, working with our P.A. staff. I don’t do it by myself so I think that’s what makes the job fulfulling and manageable.

TST: The league is growing. Fans are calling for expansion. But I remember talking to a few players at all-star that said that there are a lot more issues that need to be worked out before we can expand the number of teams. Obviously, the charter flights have been a main issue. Anything else that needs to be taken care of like salary… maybe roster expansion?

NNEKA: I think all of those need to be taken care of, for sure. There’s certainly a different list of priorities for different people. I think managing each team is not easy and there’s a lot of vested interest from all different angles, even outside of ownership, in ensuring that all teams are operating foundationally at a standard that we expect to nurture the expansion that we also want to see.

TST: I think what’s a little frustrating to me not just as a fan but also as a media member is the lack of access when it comes to watching your games. Our local channel doesn’t broadcast all the games. Someone had to ask me what channel Ion was on. What’s your take on that?

NNEKA: I agree. I don’t think that there’s any situation where being a fan should be difficult. So ensuring you know where the games are, you can expect to find the games in the same place every day is really important for following and accessibility.

TST: On the other side of the coin, we saw the NCAA Women’s Final break records. It’s the most watched women’s final in history. How do you see women’s basketball in 5 years? 

NNEKA: I see it continuing to grow. I think last year’s Final Four is a testament to the following that people have for women’s sports, specifically women’s basketball, when it comes to teams, individual players, and how that translates to the professional ranks is something we really have to pay attention to.

TST: Final question: any aspirations to go into broadcasting like your sister?


We’d like to thank Nneka Ogwumike for her time. Meanwhile, the Sparks are back home to play the Atlanta Dream on Saturday.