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LOS ANGELES — The Chicago Sky and Los Angeles Sparks continued WNBA regular season play on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena after a short All-Star break and with less than a month left in the season, and the defending champion Sky took a 80-68 victory.
Chicago star Candace Parker, a Sparks icon before leaving in 2021 to go to her hometown team in free agency, led the Sky with 11 rebounds. Los Angeles' Chiney Ogwumike, inserted into the starting lineup on Thursday, finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Yahoo Sports talked to both players exclusively after the game.
Q&A with Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker
Chris Haynes: You’ve had quite the week.
Candace Parker: “It's a back-to-back game, then the All-Star [Game] one day, another game, fly cross country for a game [in L.A.] and then a game in Dallas. Yeah, they’re trying to kill us. But we’re still here.”
CH: Your team has a narrow lead at the top of the standings. What are you telling your team about finishing out the season strong?
CP: “Well, these are the games we got to take care of. We’ve been in a fortunate situation where we actually have a team. So we have different people that step up and carry us. So, I think it's just a testament to our team, but we still have to continue to try to get better and that’s my message.”
CH: You don’t have to carry the load like you once did. At what point in your career did you find it beneficial to allow others to take on more of a role?
CP: “I don't think it's allowing, I think it’s empowering. I mean, for me, I think if a team takes away one thing, then we're going to do something else. And you know, I think everyone on this team understands their value. Like tonight, I needed to rebound for us to be able to get into secondary breaks, or me moving the ball so we're able to get into our offense. So, I think we're past the stage where this person has to do this every single night. We just got to get it done and we do it as a unit.”
CH: How is it coming back to Los Angeles?
CP: “You know, it's still emotional a little bit. This is my second time playing in [Crypto.com Arena]. It's one of those things where I played here for so many years. This is a special place to me.”
CH: I have to ask: You’ve been mum about your plans after this season regarding whether you’re retiring or not. Do you know where you’re leaning at?
CP: “I don't know anything right now. But if you know me, I'm one of those people who if I can't adequately give my all to something or be the best version of myself, then I won't do it. And so I think that's where I'm at.”
Q&A with Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike
Chris Haynes: You stepped into a non-starting role this season. I know that’s not ideal. You’ve shown you’re still productive after getting a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds [Thursday]. But you also have a blossoming future in broadcasting that you’ll eventually transition into full-time. How soon do you feel you’ll have to make a decision on pursuing your second career exclusively?
Chiney Ogwumike: “Well, my bosses at ESPN have been super supportive of me playing. It's funny because when I go on air, a lot of people tell me, ‘Hey, I’m watching the Sparks because you’re on the air.’ And I go into arenas and security guards are like, ‘Oh, hey, Miss ESPN.’ It’s just cool to have both worlds and I think they're starting to understand that. And also as a woman in this industry, it's hard to have a voice, especially if you're an analyst. And me playing currently gives credibility in a way that I don't really have to defend myself. When Malika [Andrews] introduces me as the two-time WNBA All-Star of the L.A. Sparks, people know I know my stuff. Whereas, it's not so easy or smooth for other women because people might question them. So I think one informs the other. But I honestly feel like I'm in bonus years of basketball. I’ve dealt with two major injuries. My role is different, and I feel like my purpose is different than when I entered the league.”
CH: Tell me about how your life has changed.
CO: “Well, it’s not easy to do two jobs. Last year, I was leaving practice and going straight to the booth and sitting down for like three hours on radio and then doing 'SportsCenter' late at night. It's not easy. But I think that people are excited to see me do both and it's that understanding that it’s not normal for this existence. There’s me, there's Candace [Parker] and there's a number of WNBA players at other networks. But I think it's just that joy that fans have when they approach me that keeps me going.”
CH: You were either the first or one of the first basketball players to pull off the dual role.
CO: “No, I think Jalen [Rose] said he was the first. I don't know where Jalen started, but you know Jalen claims everything. [Laughter].”
CH: What do you think of the pathway that you and Candace started for women?
CO: “It’s funny that we played Candace tonight. She's a legend in the game. She's doing it as well. I know I was likely first. My path is different because my people don't really know my story as much. I didn't come out of college with a lot of fanfare like Candace. So people had to learn how to say my name. People had to learn my story. People had to learn why I was afforded the position to sit in the seat I was in. But at the same time, I love that because I always say there are so many great people doing great work that is hidden in plain sight. And to be one of those that can help create pathways, I love it. My mom always says small drops of water make a mighty ocean. And I think those small drops of water are waking up at 3 a.m. in Connecticut and all the various ESPN platforms. Now you're seeing the ocean of so many people able to have this opportunity to broadcast.”
CH: Now that your second career is blowing up, do you envision a situation in the offseason where you might have to decide on whether to go all in on broadcasting?
CO: “Absolutely. You know, I think I have to make a decision. So far, the decision has been to do both. Me and Nneka [Ogwumike] still have this dream to win a championship together. So, I’m weighing both of those things. Also, I'm a woman, knowing how long you want to do this. But for me right now, I feel like I've got the best of both worlds. As long as I feel like I'm able to give, I'll continue to do and right now I'm surprising myself.”