March 4, 2021 

‘I don’t think leading is a heavy burden’: Nneka Ogwumike returns to Sparks

Ready to take on the destiny of only WNBA franchise she's called home

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Dallas Wings v Los Angeles SparksPALMETTO, FL – AUGUST 23: Nneka Ogwumike #30 of the Los Angeles Sparks shoots the ball against the Dallas Wings on August 23, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

The Los Angeles Sparks may have lost two All-Stars this offseason, but they made sure they still have one in the fold with the re-signing of former MVP and six-time All-Star Nneka Ogwumike.

As Ogwumike put it during a Zoom press conference with media on Wednesday: “I don’t think leading is a heavy burden.”

Despite her overall numbers being down last season in the bubble, Ogwumike was still one of the Sparks most effective players and one the best interior presences in the WNBA. Her absence was felt in the Sparks single-elimination playoff loss to the Connecticut Sun.

Throughout the bubble, Ogwumike often spoke about the taxing situation mentally of being in the bubble, but on a call with media Wednesday afternoon, she said she’s feeling great and in shape. It’s been two offseasons in a row that she didn’t go play overseas.

“I’ve been working out, I don’t want to say heavily, but intensely this offseason. I think everybody needed rest after last year,” Ogwumike said. “I took full advantage of that and I feel really good now. I was supposed to go to China when the pandemic broke out so it’s been interesting two years in a row without going overseas without necessarily planning for it, but I’ve figured out my way, I figured out a routine that works for me and I feel really good.”

When the WNBA free agency period began last month, the Sparks cored Ogwumike giving the organization exclusive negotiating rights. Although that was the case, general manager and head coach Derek Fisher encouraged her to explore her options and take meetings with other teams.

Ogwumike said that she did do just that, but ultimately decided on returning to the only franchise she’s ever known. As a free agent, she wanted to partake in the process of seeing what was out there, but her ties with the Sparks and her relationship with Fisher were strong.

“We have a coach who gets it, he gets what free agency is about, it’s certainly something that he’s very familiar with,” Ogwumike said. “With the changes in our league and the CBA leading to all of this movement and that kind of intersecting with this moment of free agency in my life, I really wanted to honor that process. To be able to have conversations with other teams, to ensure that I really took into consideration my options. But most importantly, that I had a good relationship with the Sparks while I did it and that’s kind of how it happened.”

When the Sparks take the court for the start of the 2021 season, Ogwumike will be bolstered in the frontcourt alongside her sister Chiney and newcomer Amanda Zahui B. Chiney is one of the better interior scorers in the league and a former All-Star herself while Zahui B. is one of the premier stretch bigs in the league.

There are some imposing frontcourts in the WNBA, most notably in Seattle and Washington, but on paper, the Sparks can be right up there as well especially with that trio. Ogwumike acknowledged that more attention is usually given when players leave an organization rather than when they return, and she’s ready to see how this frontcourt matches up with the rest of the league.

“At the end of the day everyone makes decisions for themselves and you have to respect that. We made the decision to stay here and we made a decision that brought new people here,” Ogwumike said. “I have experience playing with Chiney for a long time and she’s coming off kind of refurbishing herself in a lot of ways…And to have someone compliment our frontcourt as well as Amanda [Zahui B.]…it’s really great to hear that type of news.”

And with Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray gone, Ogwumike knows she’s going to be counted on to be even more of a leader than she already has. It’s something she feels she’s already proved she can do and she’s looking forward to what this new season brings.

“As far as being handed the keys to the car, there’s times when I felt like I was the designated driver. I am very familiar with being behind the wheel,” Ogwumike said. “I now am officially the longest person that’s been on the Sparks and so that holds a lot of history, a lot of legacy…All I want to do is contribute to a championship culture that we’re not really looking to cultivate but looking to sustain. I step up to the challenge and I step up to the task.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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