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How Negotiating a Historic WNBA CBA Prepared Nneka Ogwumike for the 2020 “Wubble”

Basketball players in court/ JWS
Basketball players in court/ JWS

Nneka Ogwuimke has always put in the work. Anyone who has followed the career of the six-time WNBA All Star, 2016 MVP and WNBA Champion knows that Nneka’s game is the epitome of hustle and technique. But in the past couple of years, it’s been her off-court work that has been the most impactful.

As President of the WNBA Players Association, Nneka helped the players sign a historic Collective Bargaining Agreement in early 2020. With a 53% increase in total cash compensation, upgrades to travel and living accommodations, and new maternity/family planning benefits, the deal has been touted as symbolizing “a radical shift” in how our country values women’s sports. For Nneka (aka “Madame President”) the experience of leading the league’s players to this historic agreement was invaluable practice for guiding them through the rest of what 2020 had in store.

As WNBPA President, Nneka’s top objective is player engagement.

“Up until the last CBA, the [player] participation was abysmal,” she laments to Kelley O’Hara on the JWS podcast, “That was something I knew as President that I wanted to change.”

Luckily her relentlessness on the court translated well as she and her executive committee hounded players to participate in Zoom calls and reply to emails throughout the year of negotiations. They wanted to hear from every player about their individual experience and needs. This “badgering” approach led to widespread buy-in and a sense of cohesion among the player group, which Nneka believes is even more important than the relationship between the league and players.

“One thing that can’t happen is disjointedness among the players,” she tells O’Hara, “When you link up, they don’t have an option.”

Playing the 2020 season against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic and the George Floyd protests, the now-unified players gave Nneka two clear objectives in negotiating a bubble (“Wubble”) season with the league: they wanted to earn 100% of their salaries and they wanted to amplify their voices on social justice. The league agreed to meet them on both fronts.

The WNBA Wubble season was historic for many reasons. The league played a 22-game season and a full post-season over 14 weeks with zero positive Covid-19 cases. Fans witnessed a new league record of 83.1 average points per game, a new single game assist record (Courtney Vandersloot’s 18), a new playoff game assist record (Sue Bird’s 16), and a new all-time rebound record (Sylvia Fowles’ 3,360). In other words, players showed up, and their audience did as well, with television viewership up 68% from the year before.

But what Nneka is most proud of is how the players used their platform to advocate for social justice. Several initiatives, including messaging around #SayHerName and Black Lives Matter, were incorporated right from the start. Other decisions had to be made in real time as events unfolded outside the Wubble, such as wearing pre-game “Vote Warnock” shirts to support Reverend Raphael Warnock in his campaign against sitting Georgia Senator and WNBA team co-owner Kelly Loeffler, who publicly critiqued the league’s support of Black Lives Matter. (Note: Warnock and Loeffler will be heading to a run-off election in January.)

Most poignantly, the league had to decide whether they would join their fellow athletes in boycotting a night of games after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.  Fortunately, the league had a leader who had spent the last year and a half establishing a culture of listening to all voices and then acting in unity. After sorting through a sea of emotions about what they should do, the players opted not to play. They also postponed all games the following day, declaring it a “Day of Reflection.” The image from that afternoon of every single player gathered in the gym, standing shoulder to shoulder with arms linked, is an undeniable statement of their solidarity.

For Nneka, the WNBA’s long track record of progressive political activism is easy to explain.

“We’re 70% Black women. It’s just that simple really,” she tells O’Hara on the podcast. “We are, unfortunately, inherently political. We don’t choose to be, it just is. That authenticity drives our action.”

As impressive as the on and off-court accomplishments of the 2020 Wubble season were, it also took a significant toll. Like many of her colleagues, Nneka was emotionally and physically depleted by the end.

“I wasn’t holding up,” she admits to O’Hara, “And I think it’s important for people to know that, because in a world where we’re looking for a release and an escape, people need to understand what these women and men did to put a game on your television. It was hard.”

But they made it through, thanks in large part to the highly-engaged and cohesive culture Nneka began building way before the craziness of 2020 hit. Her innate knack for leadership isn’t displayed in having the biggest voice or by bullishly standing her ground. It’s evidenced in her commitment to listening to ALL voices (even those sitting on the opposite side of the table), recognizing common goals, being comfortable with nuance, and finding creative solutions that serve all stakeholders.

Nneka Ogwumike’s newest nickname may have started in jest, but in a year when our nation is selecting its leaders, we think “Madame President” has a really nice ring to it.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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