Chiney Ogwumike: For The Love Of Basketball
After the game against Chicago Sky ends at the Staples Center in the United States, Chinenye Ogwumike fondly called Chiney needs to be down on set at the ESPN studios in 90 minutes. In between that time she has to greet the fans, sign autographs, drive to the studio, waltz through the glam squad in hair and makeup, meet with the producers, and then lights, camera, action.
Ogwumike delivers with gusto, providing excellent insights on NBA free agency and trade deals. The 27-year-old Los Angeles Sparks player hit massive points both on the court as a basketballer and on set as an analyst.
“I’ve never really sought out opportunities. I’ve just said yes to anything that I’m passionate about. I just got the opportunity to come in as a young fun personality on ESPN one show. And then I had fun and they kept bringing me back. And that’s how I got two national careers,” says Ogwumike after her photoshoot which she confessed was thoroughly enjoyable.
The basketballer is more attuned to sporty photo sessions, wearing jerseys, holding a ball in her hands, screaming at the camera or wearing her game face. She is everything you see on court and on set with the US national broadcast television, ESPN – chatty, witty, full of life and in her best element uninhibited.
The atmosphere crackled with excitement and energy as she went through the poses with the photographer, had wardrobe changes and touch-ups between the changes. There was so much to laugh and smile about as she twirled in a sheer green and black dress while the photographer missed the perfect shot a few times. When the shutters clicked at the right moment, it was clear that she was made for the screens. Everyone in the room screamed in approval of the perfection that was before us. A photographer’s delight.
Though she says it’s not the easiest task, Ogwumike enjoys having to juggle her basketball career with her TV career because she understands what it means for young girls and other black women to see her push boundaries and tackle stereotypes.
“It’s not easy being both an NBA analyst and national TV broadcaster for ESPN and then also play in the WNBA, the best women’s basketball league in the world. I think as women, we always push boundaries because we’re always fighting for everything that we want. We have to sort of prove to people that it’s possible before they start realising it’s true that it can be possible.
“So I was blessed and fortunate to be in the WNBA and I am so blessed to be in that position. But I also know that representation matters. There are not many black female women on TV, period- and even dark-skinned women. When I had that opportunity to first go on TV, I was scared, because I didn’t foresee it. I didn’t plan it. But I knew that there are young girls that aspire to be broadcasters or aspire to see female role models. And I just want to make sure I make them proud.”
Hours before the interview, Ogwumike was speaking to teenage girls at schools in Nigeria. She shared the story of her journey from a young girl that attended her first basketball practice at 9 to becoming the record rebounder in the history of Stanford Women’s Basketball and the Pac-12 Conference, a No.1 draft pick in the WNBA and “Rookie of the Year.”
“I mean, it was unreal. I went to Queens College. There are 4000 girls there. There’s a basketball team that are champions, a track team that just brought back a trophy, and a debate club that is champion. There are so many amazing young, bright girls. And they just need to know that we are pushing for them to succeed.”
As part of her drive to equip young girls in sports, Ogwumike helped to refurbish the basketball court at Queens College and surprised the girls with new gear.
“My hobby is coming back here and I’ve seen so many young girls that have so much passion for the game of basketball, but they don’t have the opportunity because a lot of people look down on young girls that want to do something other [than that] or something else. And so, to be here and to show them that you’re not alone, that you should fight for your passions and also hold down your school academics, to me, that’s my number one hobby.”
Talking to the girls reminded her of her time as a teenager for which she was thankful for her unique upbringing that fused the best of the Nigerian and American cultures.
Ogwumike’s parents were different from most of their Nigerian and African peers, that saw sports as an unnecessary distraction especially for girls. They let Chiney and her elder sister Nneka play basketball not even thinking about professional careers.
“I was very fortunate to be blessed with the opportunity to grow up in the USA. And my parents were very progressive in the sense that they wanted us to play sports because they saw good morals in it, teamwork, work ethic, camaraderie, and discipline.”
“And they put us in that not caring about the results. And then finally, we grew taller and all of a sudden, it created limitless opportunities for us. I got to Stanford University, played in the WNBA. Now, I’m an NBA analyst for ESPN.”
The Ogwumike sisters have continued to excel. Nneka is a WNBA MVP and a six-time All-Star while Chiney is a two-time All-Star. They are the first siblings in American sports to have been selected as No.1 draft picks before proceeding to win their respective “Rookie of the Year” awards.