Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Sparks will have to play its abbreviated 2020 WNBA season without two of its biggest contributors. Veteran guard Kristi Toliver is a no-go for the season because she is not sure the risk to play is worth it. Forward Chiney Ogwumike chose to skip the season because of medical reasons.
For Toliver, who signed a three-year contract with the Sparks during the offseason and was a key member on the team’s 2016 championship squad as a title winner with the Washington Mystics in 2019, decided that her health mattered more than getting out on the court.
“Though I want very much to compete with my team, to be a leader and show up for them, I am not comfortable with the risk to my physical health – short-term and long-term – given the many unknowns of COVID-19 and the risk of injury,” Toliver said. “For me, the right decision under the circumstances is to opt-out for the year.”
Toliver, a three-time WNBA All-Star said while she will take the time off to get herself prepared for next season.
“During my time away I will get myself mentally and physically prepared for the 2021 season, and in light of the many social justice issues that are finally and rightfully front and center, I will find new ways to make a positive impact in my community,” Toliver added. “I look forward to rejoining my teammates in LA next season and wish them good health and safety this season. Go Sparks.”
Ogwumike, the younger sister of Nneka Ogwumike, is a two-time WNBA All-Star. The Sparks will be without the former No. 1 overall 2014 WNBA Draft selection due to an undisclosed medical issue.
“If you know me, you know that I have overcome some of the biggest challenges an athlete can face on the court,” Ogwumike said. “My previous injuries have given me strength and built character, but unfortunately they require me to be careful with my preparation leading up to a season. This year is unprecedented in many ways, therefore my team and I have come to the decision to be proactively cautious and put my body first.”
Ogumike has a history of season-ending injuries. She was lost to the 2015 and 2017 WNBA seasons because of injuries she suffered. Sparks head coach Derek Fisher is understanding that Ogwumike wants to prioritize her health and getting better.
“Chiney is an integral part of our team and we will certainly miss her presence this season,” Fisher said. “We respect her decision and look forward to watching her continue to effect change in the community.”
Ogwumike is appreciative that Sparks’ management is standing behind her.
“I am so lucky to have an organization that believes in me and supports me as a player and as a person,” Ogwumike said.. “I fully believe this team will win a championship this year and I will be rooting for them every step along the way. As much as I want to compete and win with my sister, I know it is best for me to sit this one out. I will continue to use all my platforms to elevate and empower my teammates and fellow players in the WNBA as we continue to fight for our communities. This isn’t goodbye, it’s just see you later.”