The Los Angeles Sparks may be out of the playoffs, but their power forward, Chiney Ogwumike is just getting started. The Texas native has plans for herself — and for a legacy far beyond her gameplay on the court.
“I’m putting a goal to be the first woman to win a sports Emmy as an analyst,” she tells POPSUGAR in an exclusive interview. Ogwumike has been collecting “firsts” since the start of her career. She was the first overall draft pick for the WNBA in 2014. She became the first Black woman and WNBA player to host a national radio show for ESPN in 2020. And she’s also one the first and youngest commentators to be named an NBA analyst while simultaneously playing for the league.
The Nigerian-American basketball star has been teetering on the edge of two worlds as an athlete and analyst for quite some time. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s been so hard. And this has probably been the hardest year for me just because I put a lot of pressure on myself because my past few years on the court have been a challenge,” Ogwumike says. The basketball star has suffered several injuries throughout her career, including an issue with her Achilles that sidelined her in the latter part of this season.
“That visibility opens people’s hearts, minds, and eyes, and changes people’s perception to a way that is more equitable.”
Finding the balance between her job on the court and in the studio hasn’t been easy. “I think sometimes when I struggle with basketball, I’m like, should I have not gone into studio and done my other job?” she tells POPSUGAR. “It’s that constant tug of war.” Still, she’s determined to have it all.
It’s the visibility that keeps her motivated, Ogwumike says. Occupying space as an unapologetic Black woman in the WNBA who isn’t afraid to interject her personality, truth, and experiences into her job has only benefitted her and the generations to come. “That visibility opens people’s hearts, minds, and eyes, and changes people’s perception to a way that is more equitable,” she tells POPSUGAR.
When she first started out in the industry, though, Ogwumike admits that she felt pressured to conform.
“I’ll never forget after my first show or two, I would go back and watch everything and I was like, ‘Why do I sound like that? Why do I look like that?” Watching the imposter syndrome take over was a wake-up call. It changed the way she approached the job from then forward. The Chiney Ogwumike you see and hear today isn’t trying to be anyone but herself. “I’m not the average broadcaster,” she says proudly.
It appears that being a disrupter runs in the family. Most WNBA fans know her sister and teammate Nneka Ogwumike, who holds her own collection of firsts. But Chiney is actually one of four sisters. The third oldest, Olivia, is earning a PhD in public policy while the youngest, Erica, is in her fourth year of medical school. “They’re the ones that are actually the game-changers,” Ogwumike says, crediting her parents for the unwavering ambition that’s shared amongst herself and her siblings.
The Ogwumike sisters were born to Peter and Ifeyinwa “Ify” Ogwumike, who immigrated from Nigeria as teenagers, settling in Texas and later instilling in their daughters a great sense of expectation and drive. “Our parents understood that when you have four girls, you have to equip them to feel like they can do anything,” Ogwumike tells POPSUGAR.
“We have that Nigerian determination to be successful,” she says. But it’s “coupled with all the opportunities and dreams that America presents.” And for Chiney Ogwumike, that means the possibilities are endless.
Whether it’s an Emmy or her very own platform someday, Ogwumike has no doubt in her mind — and no trouble convincing anyone else, myself included — that she will get there.
“Tiny drops of water make a mighty ocean,” she tells me at the end of our call. It’s her motto, a phrase spoken by her mother every day.