Chicago Sky star Candace Parker and Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher criticized USA Basketball for its decision to leave six-time All-Star and former MVP Nneka Ogwumike off the U.S. Olympic roster.
When asked about her former teammate’s snub on Tuesday after the Sky’s win over the Liberty, Parker — a two-time WNBA MVP and two-time Olympian — claimed that “politics” influenced the decision, just as she believes they did in her own 2016 omission.
“There’s a number of players who are deserving … but how many times are we gonna say it’s unfair?” Parker said. “How many times are we gonna say it’s not politics? I think we all know that. I was like, ‘It sucks, it’s unfair, you’re one of the greats. You’re the only MVP not to make an Olympic team, which is bulls–t.’ But that’s what it is, right? That’s why I’m commentating in Tokyo.”
Parker will be broadcasting for NBC during the Olympics. In 2016, she and Ogwumike, both Sparks players at the time, were not on the 2016 roster. In 2015, the season prior to the Olympic selection, Ogwumike was an All-Star and on the WNBA’s all-defensive team.
Fisher called the omission a “tragedy,” especially in light of the work Ogwumike has done for USA Basketball already.
“Where do I start? We’re pissed, honestly,” Fisher said during a Tuesday video call with media. “Nothing has to be ‘given’ to her. She earned it and she deserves it. That’s the most frustrating and disappointing part.”
In July 2019, Ogwumike became one of the eight players who committed to USA Basketball training between 2019-20 rather than playing overseas, where she could make more than the $100,000 stipend for USA Basketball participation. These eight players were considered almost locked in for their 2020 Olympic positions. Six of the eight will be competing in Tokyo. Ogwumike and the Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne were not named on the roster, though Delle Donne has been out with a back injury since late 2019.
Unlike Delle Donne, the 30-year-old Ogwumike has taken part in every USA Basketball competition and training for the last several years. In addition, she was on the 2014 and 2018 gold medal-winning FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup teams and was the MVP of a February 2020 tournament won by the United States.
“I don’t know what else a player is supposed to do,” Fisher said. “She’s been an All-Star six times in the last 10 years. She’s been MVP of the league, a champion in the league, one of the faces of the league.”
Dawn Staley, coach of the U.S. team, claimed that it was Ogwumike’s knee injury that kept her off the roster.
“It really breaks my heart that Nneka is not on this team,” Staley said to reporters on Monday. “I mean, if we had to make a decision a month from now … I’m sure she would be healthy.”
Connecticut Sun’s coach Curt Miller, a member of the selection committee, was asked about the selection process after the Sun’s game on Tuesday. While he said he could not speak on it, he referenced Ogwumike’s injury as to why she wouldn’t be competing in Tokyo.
“Ultimately, you’re trying to put together the best team possible to allow the coaching staff to have success,” he said. “It’s really, really difficult, with some injuries, and trying to put together that best roster.”
Fisher pushed back against that claim. The timeline for Ogwumike’s injury would have her practicing and competing days before the Olympic training camps even begin on July 13. Team USA will not compete until July 27.
“You can try to throw the injury out there if you want to; I’m calling BS on that, too,” Fisher said. “The timeline doesn’t add up for her being unavailable to play during the Olympics. We respect other players, happy for the ones that made it. But no way you can tell me you put a team together and leave Nneka off of it, and try to say it makes sense and adds up, because it doesn’t.”
While the selection of the U.S. women’s team is highly competitive as they have won six consecutive gold medals, Ogwumike’s omission has raised some eyebrows.
The former No. 1 draft pick has been left off three consecutive Olympic teams. After her rookie season in 2012, she was not picked for the London Olympics, despite the No. 1 pick for that year being on the 2004, 2008, and the subsequent 2016 teams.
Off the court, she the president of the players union executive committee. Ogwumike was a crucial figure in the union and the WNBA’s collective bargaining committee and in the development of the Florida bubble players lived and competed in during the pandemic.