All In On Five: Where's the explanation for Nneka Ogwumike's Olympics snub?

·12-min read

Each week of the WNBA season, we'll go "All In" on five topics that are worth a closer look and preview what is upcoming.

(Graphic by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Graphic by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

On Mondays, we have tea. 

The WNBA is off on the first day of the work week, but that only means it's a day to let loose and spill the drama. It happened last week and then again this past Monday with the USA Basketball roster announcement for the Tokyo Olympics. 

Notably absent was Los Angeles Sparks anchor Nneka Ogwumike. 

Again. 

If you're counting, and we all obviously are, that's three Olympics that Ogwumike has been left out of, but this one stings especially sharply. And it's about time we have more transparency on the process and results. 

Ogwumike seemed like a lock for her first Olympics after missing in 2012 and 2016, and she was one of eight "core" national team players who stayed stateside in 2019 to train and play against college squads. She is now the only former WNBA MVP to not make an Olympics squad, and when the next one rolls around, she'll be 34. 

Former teammate and fellow snub Candace Parker spoke out on it. Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said the organization was "pissed." Te'a Cooper talked about it. Lisa Leslie and Damian Lillard tweeted about it. Dawn Staley, the national team coach, is heartbroken over it.

What do all of these people have in common? For one, none is on the USA Basketball selection committee. And that's the biggest problem we see cycle after cycle, especially as the talent pool deepens. 

There's a reason when a big event happens in the world statements are made from all sorts of institutions, leaders and companies. It matters to hear, even if nothing actionable can be done immediately. 

Leaving Ogwumike off this roster might have been the best decision. No one is going to know for sure. That's one of the beauty of sports is the argument of it all. But it doesn't seem much to ask for someone involved to answer on it. This is the United States national team, after all. We ask more of our minor league clubs. 

What we have now is continuing hearsay, allegations of UConn bias and talk of playing politics. That's great for afternoon tea, but we're talking major life accolades here for women who still experience their biggest professional showcase on an international stage.

It is now two cycles that a big-time, MVP-caliber player has been left off the Team USA roster for an Olympic Games. Parker's omission in 2016 was the first wave of controversy that lingers today as she no longer enters her name in the national player pool. 

And it's unlikely to stop because the WNBA is bursting with talent and there's even more coming up. The 2024 Olympic cycle could be the first for Paige Bueckers, who can leave Connecticut as early as 2023, and Sabrina Ionescu, who might have been in the pool if not for an ankle injury last year. This all matters because the Games are still an extremely important avenue for women's players to gain sponsorship and accolades in a way it isn't for the men's side given the NBA's age and time to grow. 

The big question, then, is who do you leave home? If you can't decide who to leave home, is it really a snub? No one envies the job USA Basketball has in picking 12 players to represent the country. You're not leaving Breanna Stewart, A'ja Wilson or Tina Charles at home on this one. 

The lone option at forward was likely leaving behind Napheesa Collier, a 24-year-old who is one of six making her Olympic debut. And to be clear, Collier is an Olympic-level player who deserves every bit of this honor. It's tough to say her spot should be taken away. 

Leaving her home wouldn't be about talent level, but it would be about the process we keep hearing about. Because if Ogwumike was glossed over for years as a "pay your dues" type of deal, wouldn't the same apply here? 

If anything at all, answer why Ogwumike isn't on the roster so that people and fans know the reasoning. That's basically what media availabilities are for. 

WNBPA keeps pressure on U.S. Senate 

The WNBA players' 2021 advocacy agenda is focused on three key pillars: racial justice and voting rights; LGBTQ+ advocacy; and public health. Their social justice work has not stopped even though they're out of the bubble, starting with a PSA for the COVID-19 vaccine in April and now with more bold statement-making T-shirts. 

Players, in a partnership with Rock the Vote, wore "Protect Our Freedom to Vote" T-shirts throughout the week as Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a wide-ranging voting rights bill

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Elections bring people out to vote, and they bring people out to push for voting. But so much happens between elections that needs to be in the spotlight. The WNBA Players Association (WNBPA) is focusing on that now coming off the runoff in Georgia. 

"They said, 'We've got to continue in this space,'" WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson told Yahoo Sports. "We’ve got to put a spotlight on what’s happening. Remind people that our work is not finished."

Jackson said the world continues to see these players as "trusted and credible voices." The WNBA has a lot going for it when it comes to education and knowledge. They are a diverse group who have almost all graduated college and in some cases have master's degrees. They're also well traveled in that they play overseas every offseason and therefore have a better grasp and perspective on the world. 

"The way they do it en masse [and] by being so visible they’re hoping that they can put others, make others aware that we need to see the members of Congress, both houses, particularly the Senate, standing up for what is right. Equal access is on the line right now."

The voting rights bill put up in the Senate was blocked, a blow to the Democrats countering back at state bills restricting voting rights. Jackson reiterated that the players aren't giving up and want to keep the pressure on, even with the voting bill taken off the table.  

"You look at WNBA players and you can’t help but be proud, because again and again they are just standing up for what is right," Jackson said, a crack in her voice. "Right now, the character of our country is on trial for all the world to see. And right now, they’re going to stand up for what’s right."

Travel issues take root again despite CBA 

Travel problems are again becoming an ongoing storyline, from delayed flights to accommodations. This issue was addressed in the collective bargaining agreement signed in January 2020 and is now being taken to Twitter by the official WNBPA account. 

Hence why we're bringing it up here.  

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The organization called out five airlines for putting players in economy seating and included anonymous quotes, presumably from players, about it. 

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The CBA stipulates that air travel "will be, if available on the Team-chosen flights at the time of booking, premium economy (or similar enhanced coach fare)." The "if available" part is likely the catch here. The tweets also come the same week that the Sky — which might we note includes superstar Candace Parker — sat in an airport for hours while flights were delayed to New York. 

On the bright side for one set of fans, a newly married couple had their picture taken with Parker during the delay.

Sky pull into fourth place 

The Sky are who we thought they were in the preseason. Chicago has rattled off seven consecutive victories with Candace Parker back in the lineup, and everyone healthy again. As with the Storm, one of the Sky's great strengths is talent coming off the bench. 

Against the New York Liberty on Thursday night, six players put in at least 22 minutes, and two players had 17. Only two of 10 players shot worse than 42%, and five players were better than 53%. That's an efficient night from top to bottom. This team is running on all cylinders from ball movement, to no-look passes to Parker just playin' with 'em. 

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Their defense was also tight, but these last two wins were helped by the Liberty's shooting slump. There's no excuse for shooting 25% from the floor in the first half and boosting it to 37.3% isn't going to fix the matter. 

The Sky kept them to 16% (4-for-25) from 3-point range on Thursday night, and 29.2% on Tuesday. It's now three consecutive games that New York has been worse than 30% from range. 

Could a Bay Area team be in the works?

We couldn't let a week go by without discussing the always popular topic of league expansion.

A popular destination for expansion talks is the Bay Area because of its population center and breadth of men's professional teams in the region. Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts said this week that he would be "disappointed" if a WNBA team isn't in the Bay Area within the next five years.

"The Bay Area's history in women's basketball and basketball in general, and I think the corporate base here is significant," Welts said on a conference call Monday. "To be able to make this work, you have to be able to sell tickets and you have to be able to sell local sponsorships. Without those two things, you're not going to have a financially successful WNBA team, and I think we do those two things really well."

The Warriors are one of three groups that could potentially bring a team to the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The groups could try to lure an existing team to relocate to the Bay Area or create an expansion team should the league explore that path.

The other two groups, according to the Chronicle, are African American Sports and Entertainment Group and a group headed by former Oakland A's star Dave Stewart. Both groups are reportedly bidding to buy half of the Coliseum site on which the A's currently play and where the Warriors used to play before moving to Chase Center in San Francisco in 2019.

Competition among the groups could speed up the process of a team coming to the Bay Area, and league commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Chronicle that "expansion is an integral part of our vision for the future" while praising the Bay Area's "strong interest in the WNBA." 

AASEG and the Steward-led group have both said that they've had productive talks with the WNBA about the potential for a franchise. 

The Warriors group has explored bringing a WNBA team to the area before, notably in 2014 when Warriors owner Joe Lacob was interesting in moving the Los Angeles Sparks to the Bay Area instead of letting the franchise fold. That didn't end up happening after a Magic Johnson-led group purchased the Sparks so that one of the league's founding members could stay in L.A.

So, instead of asking if a WNBA team will call the Bay Area home, we should start asking what the team's nickname should be.

~ Johanna Huybers

Catch up on the week 

What to watch this weekend

  • Aces at Lynx, Friday at 8 p.m. ET on Facebook — It's the WNBA Tea game between newly named Olympians A'ja Wilson (Aces) and Napheesa Collier (Lynx). It's also a Commissioner's Cup matchup, and the Aces (3-1) are the only ones likely to catch the Storm (5-0) in the West. 

  • Mystics at Wings, Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS — Every game matters with three-quarters of the league within a game of each other. 

  • Sky at Sun, Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on WNBA League Pass — Jonquel Jones is still out for the Sun because of EuroBasket (but is on her way back to the U.S. early next week), while Candace Parker and the Sky look unstoppable. 

  • Storm at Aces, Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN — The final regular-season meeting of the 2020 WNBA Finals. They split the season-opening home-and-home series with each winning by mid-double-digits at home. 

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