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Two years after WNBA’s CBA, Nneka Ogwumike continues the fight

(Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike spearheaded the WNBA’s landmark collective bargaining agreement in 2020 as president of the WNBA Players Association. Two years later, she’s continuing to push for gender equity, and believes the CBA was just the beginning for the WNBA.

Speaking with Just Women’s Sports as the news broke of the WNBA’s historic $75 million capital raise, Ogwumike had the league’s future on her mind.

“I am excited that we were able to come this far from starting with a new monumental CBA and then, of course for the players, investment means that we will be provided more resources and hopefully be playing in a league that is so much better than when we entered it,” Ogwumike tells JWS. “It will be interesting to see how it directly affects the players, and I look forward to any organization that is here to support women’s sports.”

The milestone investment includes the backing of more than two dozen investors ahead of the WNBA’s 26th season. With the announcement came renewed questions about player salaries, amenities such as travel and league expansion. The WNBA currently has 12 teams and an increasingly restrictive 144 roster spots.

Ogwumike says that her ideal timeline for WNBA expansion was “yesterday.”

“I think that it needs to happen, and we need to ensure that the teams that are here are here to stay. We can’t continue to see teams bounce around, we can’t continue to have dispersal drafts,” she says. “It’s important for us to reimagine the business in a way that is for sustainability and that is for longevity and for growth.”

The 31-year-old adds that she is energized by the “fervor around the conversation,” which speaks to “a league that is growing and finding its footing finally in a way that is very hopeful for everyone.”

(Courtesy of adidas)

It’s difficult to imagine the WNBA would be in the promising place it is today without the 2020 CBA, which Ogwumike helped negotiate for years in her role with the WNBPA. The agreement raised the maximum salary to $215,000 per year, with players eligible to make up to $500,000 annually between league marketing agreements, additional incentives and mid-season tournament cash prizes. Fully paid maternity leave, a childcare stipend and housing assistance were also included in the league’s overhaul.

“The journey was way more rewarding than anything else because I really got to get to know the players. I got to understand the intricacies of the business, especially as we look to sustain a business model,” Ogwumike says of the negotiating process. “I also learned so much about how much of a say athletes and players do have. It seemingly isn’t so at times when things don’t necessarily go your way.”

Ogwumike, a 10-year WNBA veteran and the 2016 league MVP, admits the CBA ratification exposed her to various experiences and viewpoints she hadn’t previously considered. That helped develop “a robust representation in our executive committee and our Players Association,” Ogwumike says, “because we’ve empowered each other to express how we feel, to make space for people and their own experience and contribute that to the greater good.”

Her efforts not only altered the fabric of the WNBA, but also provided a blueprint for other women’s professional leagues. The NWSL, after many months of tense negotiations, ratified the league’s first-ever CBA on Jan. 31 in an agreement with the NWSL Players Association.

The Sparks forward says that she had conversations with NWSL players during the WNBA’s talks, offering them guidance on the negotiating process and what to look out for when executing a CBA of their own.

“I realized … having players from other leagues contact us and ask our opinion and our advisement is exactly what we’re doing it for,” Ogwumike says. “If we hadn’t fought and signed our CBA, there wouldn’t even be any framework for other leagues to figure out how they can do it themselves.

“We are all women looking to live in a world where we can work in equity, and we can have careers where resources and our value are a priority.”

On top of inspiring other women in sport, the WNBA’s CBA also emboldened women across industries. While Ogwumike wasn’t aware of its widespread impact at the time, she says the WNBPA was intentional with “[moving] the starting line” for those who come next.

“What really surprised me was that there were women in what you would describe as conventional careers — not necessarily in sport and entertainment — that sought things that we had implemented in our CBA,” she says. “That was a pleasant surprise for me, and I was really happy that we were able to represent those who may not have had the opportunity so far to do it for themselves.”

(Courtesy of adidas)

Ogwumike’s intersectional approach to pay and resource equity translates into her participation in the Impossible is Nothing campaign with adidas, which seeks to empower and support women in sport by spotlighting athletes, launching new innovations and sustaining grassroots programs.

“Impossible is Nothing is all about being a brand that is an ally for established women and upcoming women and non-binary athletes and people who are kind of paving their own path in possibilities in sport,” Ogwumike says. “I certainly wanted to be a part of it because there is so much that is changing for us as women in sport that just has to be out there … I might be someone they are seeing that they haven’t seen before doing what I do.”

What the Ogwumike really appreciates about her partnership with the brand, and what she says adidas is better at than anyone else, is the intersection of basketball, sport, culture, music and fashion.

Impossible is Nothing’s holistic approach has exposed Ogwumike to athletes and creators she says she wouldn’t have normally encountered. In January, for example, she sat on a panel with Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema, UK-based model Ellie Goldstein and basketball player and activist Asma Elbadawi.

“I think we are so focused on learning and respecting each other’s difference, but we are the same in so many ways. That’s something that contributes to forward movement, and that’s definitely something we have realized in the WNBA,” Ogwumike says. “Our differences are what make us the league and the W, but our similarities are what pushes us forward in that and the celebration of us having common ground.”

When it comes to that fight, pay equity is at the center of the conversation. While the 2020 CBA has certainly improved the WNBA’s playing conditions, compensation remains an issue. For Ogwumike, the solution is straightforward: pay women more.

“I think it’s interesting when pay equity people start acting like its rocket science when it exists just not mostly for women,” she says. “So there’s nothing different that needs to happen. You just need to do it for a different type of people.”

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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