Since starting her broadcasting career at ESPN, Chiney Ogwumike has tried to go with the flow and use all the opportunities she could while still a professional athlete.
Whether it was SportsCenter Africa anchored or a basketball analyst in the domestic version, produced the film “144” about the WNBA bubble, or even hosted a daily radio show last year – the first black woman to have this national platform on ESPN – Ogwumike has no preconceived notions about where to end up. As Ogwumike told SB Nation, “The goal at ESPN was to be a sponge, soak up and learn”.
This path has given Ogwumike diverse skills. She can now talk about any sport, even if her specialty is basketball – she prides herself on the fact that her soccer knowledge has grown to the point that she is only leading her fantasy league in her sophomore season. She knows how to interview guests and knows how to make people feel best with their questions. Ogwumike is a storyteller, and she’s also developed the ability to reason concisely and get to the point as quickly as possible within the time constraints of live television, which requires some fine-tuning for someone as naturally verbose as her.
“I think the idea was to just get more rounded so that I could be more versatile on another occasion that seemed to suit me,” says Ogwumike. “I think my experiences all help me right now.”
Those experiences have now put the Los Angeles Spark in their most perfect role yet: a regular analyst on NBA Today, ESPN’s daily show devoted to coverage of the league, which premiered at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. Ogwumike appears on the show at least three times a week, usually Wednesday through Friday. She will also appear on the NBA Countdown when that studio show resumes in February.
29-year-old Ogwumike is constantly thinking about what’s next and it sounds like more is in the pipeline after just six weeks on NBA Today, but right now she’s putting it all into her NBA analysis.
Ogwumike is a self-proclaimed nerd and tries to bring her academic background into her preparation. Trying to make an argument requires the same process as elementary school: main statement, then supportive bullets, then argue.
“The same approach that I took when preparing for a test at Stanford I take on every day,” says Ogwumike. “I have to know the numbers, I have to know the context, I have to know the insights, I have to know who I am sitting next to, I have to know their point of view so that I can make sure that I bring something with me that differs from their point of view, this helps. I think it’s Stanford, the brain needs NBA. “
Chiney’s cheat sheet has become her favorite segment on NBA Today, an opportunity for Ogwumike to combine film and statistics and frame her with her personality and unique perspective as both an analyst and a current player. One of her ESPN colleagues and mentors, Ros Gold-Onwude, thinks it is the perfect portrayal of what Ogwumike is doing on TV.
“I really like Chiney’s cheat sheet, I think it speaks very clearly about who Chiney is and, most importantly, what makes her different,” Gold-Onwude told SB Nation. “I find it very fitting that she has an intellectual leeway and does a very good job of articulating this in an understandable way, and I enjoyed this section. And I think the fans are happy to hear a refreshing voice, one that doesn’t just talk about rumors or gossip, or resentment or hatred, or just doesn’t clap like that and only talks about teaching and learning the game of the ball. “
It sure helps that Ogwumike brings the knowledge of a current player and a two-time All-Star and Former Rookie of the Year to the table. She has some level of expertise in commenting on her peers, and they know Ogwumike comes from a place of empathy because she’s going through a similar challenge.
This relationship is useful at a time when more and more athletes are taking responsibility for their own stories and curating them independently from traditional media or simply refusing to share them.
“She takes great pride in being an objective voice for athletes, and even when I see her on the air, I feel like Chiney is special because she’s so great at articulating the players’ perspective,” said Gold-Onwude. “I think she does it better than a lot of people, even other former athletes. She’s just very eloquent, she has a great emotional IQ. And I think she works with integrity and trust that she was there herself. “
The problem for Ogwumike is that in recent years she has not been able to present herself as a player the way she would have liked. Since her media career has taken off, her WNBA career has not done the same. She has had a “not great” year (probably too tough) in 2019 since joining the Sparks, having only played seven games in over two seasons.
What hurts Ogwumike is when people assume she’s putting her career as a player on hold to pursue her chances at ESPN.
“As for Chiney, I think people try to put athletes or people in these boxes because it makes them feel more comfortable. They just want some people to be one thing and Chiney has never been, ”said Gold-Onwude, who was also an analyst on the Sparks show in 2021. “Everything Chiney said, she can do it. She is that kind of person. And I’ve learned to always believe what Chiney says. So if she wants to be a basketball player, even if she fights through her injuries when she can be on the court, I got the team from the coaches that she would give a hundred. And even when she can’t be on the pitch, Chiney is really an integral part of the chemistry and leadership. She is vocal. She brings positivity and great energy into everything she participates in. “
Ogwumike’s goal has always been to bring their main occupations together. When commuting to Bristol became too chore for her while playing for the Connecticut Sun, she pushed for a trade in Los Angeles, where the ESPN studios are right across from the STAPLES Center and they can switch seamlessly from one to the other.
Your current timetable is closest to the compatibility of your professions. She works out in the morning and then goes to the studio for NBA Today. After that, she gets feedback from the producers so she can keep improving, then watches games, and ends up at a reasonable hour. Ogwumike found in Connecticut that her body did not recover well enough with less than five hours of sleep – the mental affects the physical, as she puts it – and is trying to correct that in the 2022 season.
Almost every WNBA player has a different job during the off-season, but since Ogwumike doesn’t play overseas like most of them, it means they don’t give basketball a priority. While it is generally accepted that year-round gaming leads to excessive wear and tear, this is also the best way for players to prepare for the WNBA season if the off-season spans more than seven months. The problem is that Ogwumike tried twice to play abroad. These efforts resulted in microfracture surgery on the knee and then Achilles tendon surgery. Not going overseas is really the best Ogwumike can do to prepare for the WNBA.
“It’s crazy, in the back of my mind I feel like I love this, but I also think, okay, I’ve got this up and running, I have to get this going,” said Ogwumike of her tenure at Sparks.
In 2019, Ogwumike arrived in Los Angeles less than two weeks before training camp and was never really comfortable with the new system. The pandemic threw its conditioning off in 2020, and it hasn’t had enough time to prepare for the bubble’s launch due to the brief turnaround between the season’s announcement and the first game. At the start of the 2021 season, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher noted that Ogwumike has overdone her training because she is so eager to get back on the field. Ogwumike says she kept going to the gym on her days off and her older sister Nneka had to beg her to slow down, but she didn’t, which resulted in Chiney missing 25 out of 32 games.
This is Ogwumike’s first normal off-season as Spark, and she believes she is finally on the right track to pursue a career worthy of the number 2014. 1 overall selection and rookie of the year.
“Honestly, I had little things that we didn’t find out,” says Ogwumike of her health, noting that her quad didn’t fire properly when she got her knee stable last year. “So now we are here. But now we have a real first full off-season, gym access, doctors access, a full plan. So it’s like you’re okay. “
Chiney Ogwumike makes a fun pairing with his NBA Today analyst Kendrick Perkins. Courtesy Chiney Ogwumike
The good thing is that she is already well on her way to figuring out the television half of her career. Malika Andrews, the host of the show, told SB Nation, “We love Chiney”; Zach Lowe gives her golf clap after her segments; and ESPN has already brought Ogwumike on for further appearances. Ogwumike enjoys talking about the new wave of young talent in the NBA (Ja Morant appears to be a personal favorite) and she is an important part of a new wave of media covering these players.
It’s already an integral part of the NBA Today fabric. Maybe ESPN has other analysts who can illustrate statistics, or other former gamers who can analyze movies, but not in a package – or in paragraphs – like Ogwumike.