Within an hour of finishing up a 25-point blowout win for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks at Staples Center, Chiney Ogwumike was on her way to her second job across the street as an NBA analyst for ESPN on one of the biggest days of the year. NBA free agency has become a bigger frenzy than some of the league’s actual games, and Ogwumike was invited to be a panelist on The Jump — the biggest live show of the day, on the most popular sports network in the country.
For the sleepy, the NBA’s choice to move the official start of free agency up six hours to 6 p.m. ET was a godsend. But for Ogwumike, it meant performing at the top of her game for both of her careers on live TV in a span of four hours, with limited means to prepare to go on-air. On a day as hectic as free agency, that meant catching up on earth-shattering breaking news the rest of the world already heard about while she was hitting baby hooks in the lane.
In a phone interview a day later, Ogwumike agreed to share her Sunday schedule with SB Nation.
(All times are Pacific.)
Morning: Wake up, collect pregame meal
Chiney woke up to consume as much NBA free agency news as she could before the start of her 2 p.m. WNBA game. She stopped at Starbucks on her way to to the arena, picked up the usual Acai refresher and Acai bowl, and headed into her pregame routine in front of 11,000 diehard Sparks fans.
“It was a pretty standard morning,” she said.
11:30 a.m.: Arrive at Staples Center for pregame shoot-around
A preseason trade for Chiney made the LA Sparks a title favorite with five All-Stars. But injuries to Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard and former MVP Candace Parker had the team off to a 5-6 start.
Ogwumike’s been a key piece in holding them together though, and on Sunday, with those two back in the lineup, it was her job to keep 6’5 center Stefanie Dolson and 6’4 low-post machines Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker out of the paint.
2:06 p.m.: The game begins
Ogwumike scored two points and had one monstrous swat of a Cheyenne Parker layup to help her team to a 12-point lead at the half.
3:03 p.m.: A halftime peek
Ogwumike’s two jobs overlapping like they did on Sunday could cause problems in the locker room, and she knew it. “I’m committed to basketball,” Ogwumike tells SB Nation. “But I didn’t want to be a distraction and I didn’t want to be distracted.” But she says her sister Nneka, captain of the Sparks, pushed her to make the appearance on ESPN.
With the absolute max salary of a WNBA player at just $117,500, most players in the WNBA go overseas in their “offseason” to play a grueling 11-month schedule between two teams to earn a fairer wage. Ogwumike hosts shows on ESPN instead, a passion which also takes the strain off her body to play year-round.
So she had to take a quick peek at her phone during halftime before coach Derek Fisher walked in to see that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were both headed to the Nets. She kept the news to herself, minus a brief whisper over to teammate Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who occupies the neighboring locker. For a brief time at least, Ogwumike was caught up with the outside world of sports news.
“He didn’t know, but now he knows. Sorry, Coach,” she said on air.
4:04 p.m.: The game ends. Sparks 94, Sky 69
Ogwumike finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, but her day is just beginning.
4:15: Postgame interviews, autograph session, and shower
In the locker room postgame, Chiney could only laugh as her teammates were just learning about Durant’s decision. “Hey guys, KD is in Brooklyn!” she recalls Candace Parker yelling out. That was old news to her.
After meeting briefly with the media for postgame interviews, Chiney had another team event to attend. Every Sparks player has their day to sign autographs after the game, and of course Ogwumike was chosen randomly on the first day of NBA free agency to meet fans with her sister.
While she mingled with LA basketball diehards, she was reading Slack notifications from her agent summarizing all of the biggest deals that she’d need to analyze on TV 90 minutes later.
She stayed for 30 minutes, then showered.
5 p.m.: A brief walk to the ESPN HQ
With 45 minutes until she was set to join The Jump, Ogwumike rushed to her car in the Staples Center parking lot, popped the trunk and fetched her “go-bag” with the bright red dress and shoes she’d flaunt to millions on camera. She took a five-minute stroll down LA Live from the arena to the ESPN HQ, stopping for pictures with two fans who called her name out along the way.
5:05 p.m.: Arrive at ESPN studios, change into outfit, hair and makeup done
Upon her arrival to the ESPN HQ, Ogwumike was greeted with the report that the Knicks didn’t offer Durant a max contract due to concerns about his Achilles injury. “How dumb are they?” she said, go-bag in hand.
From then, she changed out of her postgame outfit, into her red dress, and proceeded onwards to hair and makeup ahead of her 5:45 p.m. scheduled start time on set. With one stylist brushing her hair and another applying eye shadow, Ogwumike was unfazed scrolling through her Twitter timeline.
5:45 p.m.: Go on air
Finally, Ogwumike was ready to analyze the NBA day’s chaos alongside media elites Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne, NBA champion Matt Barnes, and, later, former Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger. As promised, she only showed because the Sparks picked up the win.
On TV for 35 minutes, Ogwumike commended Jimmy Butler for making his own decision to play in Miami, and took the Bucks as her team to win the East next year. She was then replaced by Brian Windhorst.
Without Nichols announcing the hectic day Ogwumike had before joining the set, nobody would’ve been able to tell.
8 p.m.: Dinner
Finally, after a long day, Ogwumike ate, but there was no relaxing to be done. In the day’s final moments, D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Golden Warriors, and signings continued throughout the night.
“I think it works because they’re Splash Bros,” Ogwumike said. “They always operate well with two talented perimeter scorers. Without KD, it’s going to be Steph and D’Lo. They’re most comfortable with two perimeter players, Draymond Green and a serviceable big. KD was the icing on the cake. If they’re losing KD, and they’re not gonna have Klay, their identity was going to completely shift if they only had Steph.
“So they had to make a move.”