Although Delle Donne’s exclusion was expected because she has been out with back issues since the end of the 2019 WNBA season, Ogwumike’s was unexpected. She has participated in every USA Basketball training or competition event over the last several years, including being a member of the gold-medal winning FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup teams in 2014 and 2018. Delle Donne competed in the 2016 Olympics, but Ogwumike has never made an Olympic team.
The core players named in 2019 had the opportunity to earn approximately $100,000 for their participation in USA Basketball during the 2019-20 season. Fisher claimed that by doing so, Ogwumike passed up the opportunity to earn more money playing overseas. Ogwumike was also the MVP of a tournament won by the United States in February 2020.
“I’m not sure what else a player is supposed to do,” Fisher admitted. “In the last ten years, she has been named an All-Star six times. She’s been the league’s MVP, a champion, and one of the league’s faces.”
USA Basketball officials generally do not reveal why players were not selected. However, U.S. coach Dawn Staley, who is not on the selection committee, stated on Monday that Ogwumike’s current knee injury played a significant role in her exclusion from the team.
“It really breaks my heart that Nneka isn’t on this team,” Staley said in a video call with the media on Monday. “I mean, if we had to make a decision in a month, I’m sure she’d be fine.”
However, according to the announced timeline of Ogwumike’s injury, she will be back in action before the Olympics. On June 3, it was announced that she had suffered a Grade 2 knee sprain and would be out for four to six weeks.
If it was four weeks, Ogwumike could be back on the court in the first week of July, just a few days before USA training camp begins in Las Vegas around July 13. The United States’ first Olympic game is on July 27.
Fisher stated that, to the best of his knowledge, US officials had been in contact with Ogwumike to get an update on her health. Ogwumike, who turns 31 on July 2, has yet to publicly address her omission from the Olympics.
“You can try to throw the injury out there if you want, but I’m also calling BS on that,” Fisher said. “The timeline does not add up for her being unable to compete during the Olympics. We respect other players and are happy for those who have made it. But you can’t tell me you formed a team without including Nneka and then claim it makes sense and adds up, because it doesn’t.”
With the immense strength of the United States women’s team, which has won six consecutive gold medals and has not lost in Olympic competition since 1992, there are always snubs every Olympic cycle because the talent pool is so large. However, the omission of Ogwumike has piqued the interest of many people for a variety of reasons.
It’s the second Olympics in a row that at least one key Sparks player has been left off the roster. Candace Parker, a former Sparks player now with Chicago, was not selected in 2016. She is a two-time Olympian and two-time WNBA MVP. Neither was Ogwumike, who was named season MVP, nor Parker, who was named WNBA Finals MVP in 2016 as the Sparks won the league championship.
When asked about her former teammate’s omission after Chicago’s win over New York on Tuesday, Parker said she believes “politics” played a role, just as they did with her own Olympic omission in 2016, which ended her national team career.
“There are a number of deserving players… but how many times are we going to say it’s unfair?” Parker stated that she had contacted Ogwumike. “How many times do we have to say that it’s not politics? I believe we are all aware of this. ‘It stinks, it’s unfair, you’re one of the greats,’ I said. You’re the only MVP who hasn’t made an Olympic team, which is ridiculous.’ But isn’t that what it is? That’s why I’m in Tokyo commentating.”
Parker will be a member of NBC’s Summer Games broadcast team.
Ogwumike was not considered for MVP in 2016 because the Olympic team was chosen in late April 2016, before the WNBA season began. Having said that, she was coming off a strong 2015 season in which she was an All-Star as well as a member of the WNBA’s all-defensive team.
The 2016 Olympic team selection took place two months earlier than this year, despite the fact that the Rio Games took place two weeks later than the Tokyo Games. The reason for this was that USA Basketball was encouraged to name its 2016 team 100 days prior to the Rio Olympics in order to maximise media exposure.
Ogwumike was also left off the Olympic team for 2012, which was chosen in April. She was the first overall pick out of Stanford and was named WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2012. Team USA sent No. 1 picks Diana Taurasi (2004), Parker (2008), and Breanna Stewart (2016) to the Olympics in their rookie seasons.
Ogwumike has been one of the most visible WNBA figures off the court as president of the players union’s executive committee. Because of the pandemic, she was instrumental in assisting the union and league in reaching a new collective bargaining agreement and convincing the players to agree to live and compete in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, in 2020.
Ogwumike’s omission drew criticism from a number of people, including her sister and Sparks teammate Chiney Ogwumike, former Stanford teammate and basketball analyst Ros Gold-Onwude, and former WNBA player Devereaux Peters, who played collegiately at Notre Dame and criticised USA Basketball and the selection process.
The Olympic team is chosen by a committee of five people: USA women’s national team director Carol Callan, former Olympian and current Minnesota Lynx assistant Katie Smith, WNBA head of league operations Bethany Donaphin, Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller, and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who coached the Olympic teams in 2012 and 2016.
Miller was asked about the Olympic team decision-making process following Tuesday’s Sun game. He believes Callan should speak to the selection committee about the composition of this year’s team. A USA Basketball spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that Callan does not address specifics on players who were not selected as a matter of policy, but she did not disagree with Staley’s assessment that Ogwumike’s current injury was a significant factor.
Miller did add, however, “Ultimately, you want to assemble the best team possible to allow the coaching staff to succeed. Every four years, the coaching staff is a little different in terms of their desires for how to build a team and their preferences. As a committee, you attempt to comprehend the philosophical beliefs of the coaching staff.
“With some injuries and trying to put together the best roster, it’s really, really difficult.”
Ogwumike will be 34 when the next Olympics take place, so this could be her last chance to make the team. However, three players on the team are 35 or older this year: Seattle’s Sue Bird (40), Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (39) and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (35). However, none of them are Olympic first-timers.
Fisher was asked how he believes Ogwumike will handle the disappointment.
“I think it’ll be difficult because she’s always been asked to be the one to take it on the chin and take the high road,” he said of her previous exclusions from the Olympic team. “To be the one who sets an example by doing everything everyone asks her to do and sacrificing her mental and physical well-being for everyone else all the time – all for the reward of being scrutinised by the same group of people for the most part.
“What distinguishes her and makes her truly special is her inner strength and fortitude. I believe she will continue to conduct herself professionally and in the manner in which she has always done so. [But] considering what Nneka means to the league, what she has accomplished and will continue to accomplish, and the possibility that she will never play for Team USA in the Olympics is a travesty.”