As we entered the new decade, 2020 proved to be unprecedented in more ways than one. Throughout the last twelve months the Los Angeles Sparks and the entire WNBA were tasked with navigating through a global pandemic, planning a single-site season dedicated to bringing awareness to police brutality and systemic racism and more. Throughout it all, we remained steadfast in putting gender and racial equality at the forefront of all endeavors. Here are some of the highlights both on and off the court that brought a spark to our year.
January 2020: Nneka Ogwumike Negotiates Collective Bargaining Agreement
Women’s National Basketball Player’s Association (WNBAPA) President Nneka Ogwumike aided in negotiating the first time eight-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which raised financial compensation by 53% and incorporated a revenue-sharing model that will begin in the 2021 season, expanded travel features, and more.
February 2020: Free Agency and New Acquisitions
The Sparks also acquired Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich from the Atlanta Dream in exchange for former center Kalani Brown.
March and April 2020: A Response to the Global Pandemic
With the halting of sports landscape, the WNBA season was put on hold. The #StayHome off-season continued with a virtual draft, hardwood classics and getting creative in unprecedented times. The Sparks teamed up with several other Los Angeles franchises to fundraise for the Mayor’s COVID-19 Crisis Fund through selling gear and other memorabilia. On social media, we rewatched some of our favorites games throughout the years with players such as Candace Parker and held Instagram live Q&A’s with Sparks’ players Seimone Augustus, Sydney Wiese and Brittney Sykes.
May and June 2020: Change Has No Offseason
In direct response to murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Sparks used its platform to launch Change Has No Offseason: a social justice community pillar dedicated to combating systemic racism and sexism. We hosted our first Juneteenth celebration, shared helpful ways of coping with social unrest in a mental health panel and joined the WNBA’s Social Justice Council through Sparks’ player Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.
During those weeks, the WNBA and WNBAPA worked together to build a 22-game season at a single-site at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. WNBAPA President Nneka Ogwumike and others on the council would go on to dedicate the season to Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and other women lost to police brutality.
Sparks’ guards Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike opted out of the 2020 season, and the Sparks welcomed rookie Te’a Cooper and former New York Liberty guard Reshanda Gray to the team. The Sparks also acquired Kristine Anigwe from the Dallas Wings to complete the 12-woman roster.
July 2020: The Road to the Wubble
The Sparks arrived at IMG Academy on July, 6th with a quarantine, training camp and media day all all before the season tip-off on July 25th. They would go on to with the first game versus the Phoenix Mercury 99-76, and the rest of the season ensued rapidly.
August and September 2020: Milestones in the Wubble
Several players stuffed the stat sheet in the Wubble and hit career milestones along the way:
Seimone Augustus: 6,000 career points
Candace Parker: 5,500 career points
Chelsea Gray: 2,000 career points 500 rebounds, 700 assists
Nneka Ogwumike: 2,000 rebounds, 400 steals
Riquna Williams: 2,000 career points
On what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 42nd birthday, (August 23rd) and Mamba Day (August 24th), the Sparks joined the WNBA, NBA and the rest of the world in honoring one of the biggest champions of women’s basketball.
The WNBA stood in solidarity with the NBA on August 26th as both leagues held a game boycott in response to the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake. A candlelight vigil was held amongst players and the following day Nneka Ogwumike spoke with Holly Rowe on behalf of the league demanding justice, and reiterated that the season continue to be dedicated to raising awareness of systemic racism.
Los Angeles would go on to have a 15-7 record, with a season high 9-game winning streak. The season ended in the first round of the playoffs versus the Connecticut Sun. They finished 3rd overall behind the Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces.
Candace Parker went on to win her first Defensive Player of the Year award, and was unanimously elected to the 2020 All WNBA First-Team. Brittney Sykes was named to the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive Second Team, and Nneka Ogwumike was awarded the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship award for the second season in a row.
October and November 2020: Leading the Charge at the Polls
After the Sparks exited the wubble, Chelsea Gray, alongside Equality California and Rock the Vote, hosted a panel for fans echoing the importance of young people voting.
When Staples Center opened as a public voting arena at the end of October, Reshanda Gray and Lakers’ guard Danny Green cast their votes together.
Come Election Day, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike lead the charge by working the polls in their hometown of Houston, Texas.
December 2020: The Voice of an Advocate
Candace Parker sat down with Congresswoman Katie Porter to discuss continuing to advocate for equality and the importance of exercising voting rights and making changes in local communities beyond the presidential election.