At 6-feet, 4-inches, Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike has the strength and ability to impose her will in the paint, whether she’s fighting for rebounds or diving into her repertoire of post moves to get to the basket. Although her physical prowess made her the first overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft and earned her Rookie of the Year honors, Ogwumike has a big impact off the basketball court.
As a Nigerian woman and founder of Stanford’s Nerd Nation, Ogwumike is an anomaly for a professional athlete, pursuing two careers at the same time: on the court with the Sun and as a full-time ESPN analyst.
Two season-ending injuries are partially to thank for Ogwumike’s emergence in her second career. After suffering a season-ending micro knee fracture in 2015 season, Ogwumike realized that she couldn’t play basketball year-round, like most WNBA players who supplement their salaries by playing overseas during the league’s offseason. So Ogwumike started working part-time with ESPN and as a host for the Pac-12 Network. When she suffered an Achilles’ injury while playing in China in 2017, Ogwumike once again turned to ESPN, analyzing NBA and college basketball before taking on a full-time position in May.
“I’m very fortunate to be one of those few to be able to speak on the NBA and have a platform I share my analysis because I understand the game and [I’m] playing the game at the highest level,’’ Ogwumike said. “So it was a natural, authentic opportunity for me, [and] I would say that if I wasn’t injured or if I sort of wallowed in my injuries, I probably wouldn’t have had these opportunities.’’
Growing up close to Houston, Ogwumike’s father Peter encouraged and supported all four of his daughters in their athletic endeavors. His oldest two, Nneka and Chiney, would go on to play basketball at Stanford before competing in the WNBA, while the youngest two, Erica and Olivia, are playing for Rice University. After appearing as an analyst for Sports Center Africa and taking a trip to Johannesburg last summer, Ogwumike decided to use her platform to try to inspire young women who haven’t the same opportunity to compete.
“I do this because in Africa patriarchy is real. Young girls aren’t as supported as they are here to do what they love. They can’t [participate] in sports and they don’t even have the opportunity to even do much,’’ said Ogwumike. “So when they see a woman that is a female athlete on Sports Center Africa, hopefully, they will allow young girls that want to play sports to play and they will support [them].
“I wanted to pursue this career because representation matters, and I was more so just trying to motivate myself and motivate others to be creative and to respect the female voice.’’
While forging her own path off the court, she’s still performing at a high level on it. Ogwumike averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game to help the Sun secure the fourth seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
Challenging and defying limitation isn’t anything new for Chiney, and she hopes others follow in her footsteps.
“I’m passionate about being a Nigerian-American female athlete, a WNBA player that works for ESPN and with Sports Center Africa,’’ Ogwumike said. “Like everything that I’m passionate about, I’m creating the lane for that. I would tell young girls to do the exact thing, to push those boundaries and to let their passions just consumed them.’’