Former Cy-Fair High School and Stanford University standout Chiney Ogwumike has signed on with ESPN as a contributor to the network, ESPN Radio, podcasts and ESPN.com while continuing her career as a forward with the WNBA Connecticut Sun.
Ogwumike, who last year became a “SportsCenter Africa” co-host on Kwese Sports, which distributes sports programming in 19 African nations and has a programing partnership with ESPN, discussed her new role with ESPN with Chronicle sports media writer David Barron.
Q: Did you aspire to do sports television coming out of college?
A: I never aspired to do television. I didn’t know what my plans were going to be. I was excited to get a Stanford degree and have the opportunity to play in the WNBA. I got hampered with a couple of injuries, and during that time I had an opportunity that came from that downtime, and it has led to a regular role at ESPN. It happened naturally, which was cool.
Q: So your first broadcast experience was with ESPN?
A: My first opportunity was working during the summer hiatus period for “First Take” and “His and Hers” as a guest anchor. I was in Connecticut, rehabbing from an injury, and they asked if I had interest. That was my first real TV job, and from there it was sink or swim. Fortunately, I had fun and was prepared and was able to build something off those first few appearances.
Q: If you had gone to any other WNBA team beside the Connecticut Sun, would you have missed out on this career path?
A: The fact that I was drafted by Connecticut and ESPN is in Connecticut made it like it was destiny. I was fortunate to be a female athlete with a voice, and that turned into an opportunity on and off the court.
Q: Had you been playing overseas during previous breaks from the WNBA?
A: I played overseas in Italy right after my rookie season, and that is where I got injured. Two years later, I played and China and was injured a second time.
Q: How do you envision your future in TV? What would you like to do?
A: ESPN is moving toward versatility, sort of like basketball. I anchor “SportsCenter Africa.” It teaches you skills like interviewing, reading highlights, reading from a teleprompter, directing a show and producing a show and working as an analyst for the NBA but for women’s college basketball and the WNBA and the G-League.
I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve called maybe 40 to 45 women’s games and G-League games. I like them all. It’s a challenge. It’s like being a basketball player. You can be one at one skill, but work on others and see what opportunities come from it.
I don’t see myself in one role. I embrace many roles. But I think it would be awesome if athletes could possibly be anchors on “SportsCenter” and host more shows.
Q: What areas do you cover on the African editions of “SportsCenter?”
A: It’s sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a “SportsCenter” show for Africa. Everyone thinks Africa is just soccer or international football. There’s a huge, rising contingent of NBA fans in Africa as well. We cover all the top stories you see on the domestic “SportsCenter” but also a couple of international storylines like football, and we are heavy basketball.
Q: How do you work television into your schedule when you’re in season?
A: It’s very flexible I give notice to ESPN when I have availability after practice or on my days off. I had five days of training camp, and on my day off I worked on “SportsCenter.” We have a couple of preseason games coming up, and Wednesday is a day off and I will go to New York and be on “Get Up,” the new morning show. Being in the state of Connecticut and being an NBA analyst, I’m available most days because I’m in the state.
Q: Can you imagine being at a point where television and radio are more attractive to you than playing?
A: Right now it’s cool, and I’m happy I am able to do both. I’m not going to play until I’m 40, but I feel as though this is unique. I have an older sister who has played six years consecutively overseas. She probably has been home two weeks out of the entire year between seasons after playing in Russia or China or Poland, and it’s grueling.
For me, to have balance so that I can play basketball but also have a job that keeps me here is great financially. It’s ideal for me. Right now, I want to show my contemporaries, my peers, that you can do other things outside of basketball while you’re playing. WNBA players go to volatile countries and miss out on family events and all these events to set ourselves financially success, but I want to show others you can be creative and do both.
And it gives me credibility. ESPN has been forward and creative with me. People were asking how is she going to do both. During the end of the playoffs, we’re in training camp, so I can still be active. When we go into the season, the NBA season is over. And when our season is over, the NBA season is just starting to pick up. I can work from September until May, which is the meat of the NBA season.
Photo: Jessica Hill, Associated Press
Chiney Ogwumike, right, and sister Nneka at the end of WNBA game two years ago.
Chiney Ogwumike, right, and sister Nneka at the end of WNBA game…
Q: Do you make it back to Texas?
A: I wish I could make it home more. I go back every time I can. I have been fighting for this opportunity to be an NBA analyst with ESPN, trying to improve myself since last December. My number one priority as I got ready for the WNBA season was rehabbing from my injury and also anything that ESPN can give me, being available and showing that I’m committed, and I make it home when I can.
I was in Los Angeles for the women’s college basketball tournament and on my way back I stopped in Texas for 32 hours. It was my birthday, so I was home for my birthday, and then I went back to Connecticut to work.
Q: Have you tried to pattern your career based on anyone?
A: Lisa Leslie has always been a mentor to me. She was the first person who I saw that was a top player and is now working in broadcasting. I thought that was admirable. Anything I do professionally, I run it by my family and close friends and by Lisa Leslie. She has been a game-changer.
From stylistic points, I love Michael Strahan. A lot of times when we talk about sports, where the the sociopolitical climate is right now, things can get heavy. Sports is a unifier. It’s uplifting. We look for positivity, and that is something Michael Strahan does so well. You see him with a smile giving information, and he has diversified. He talks about anything in life. Coming from Stanford University, I want to be able to do that and not just speak about the NBA or WNBA but about any issue that I feel passionate about.
Q: Are there other areas of broadcasting outside of sports you would like to try?
A: Right now I am trying to learn the basics and deliver and let people understand who I am and why I love the game. My passion is being 26 in this industry and having the opportunity to tell stories. I grew up with a lot of the young stars that are blossoming in the NBA, and being relatable, being able to share their stories at a deeper level is something I consider a strength. I’m a contemporary with guys who are playing the game, which is unique.
There’s a new generation of sports fans out there, and I’m fortunate to be hopefully able to provide some kind of relatable aspect to young kids to let them know we are a diverse group in this rising generation who use their voices, and it matters.
I’m an international person as well. My family is from Nigeria. Anything that I can do to advance sport internationally especially with basketball, and show the global aspect of the game and how it can elevate society matters to me as well.
Q: What is the significance of you getting your start on the Africa edition of “SportsCenter?”
A: That is one of the biggest motivators for me. That is what got me this new NBA analyst role, the fact I came in as a part-time “SportsCenter Africa” anchor. It was a unique opportunity. I didn’t seek out these roles. They just happened.
“SportsCenter Africa” is near and dear to my heart. It represents the fact that a female athlete can deliver sports news to African sports fans, primarily men, hopefully will deconstruct the stereotype they have in Africa about young girls playing sports. To me, it’s huge to be a “SportsCenter Africa” anchor so that young men and older men who watch can say we should support girls who don’t have the support they need to support their dreams.
Being on “SportsCenter Africa” meant that I was around when they needed someone to come on and talk about the NBA and everything was history from there.
Q: What do you think about the Rockets’ playoff chances?
A: When I was about 10, our parents told us, and this was when (Tracy McGrady) was playing, that if the Rockets made it out of the second round of the playoffs that they would get me a T-Mac jersey dress. I’m still waiting for my jersey dress. Now they don’t make it anymore.
Our family has always been huge Rockets fans. This has been their best teams since their championship years. The Warriors could be a tall task. A lot of people questioned James Harden, especially the way he exited the playoffs last year, but now we have Chris Paul in his ear, keeping him straight.
The Warriors are the most talented team and can turn it on, but it’s all about strategy. The Rockets have home court advantage, so this can be their year.