Connecticut Sun fans boo Chiney Ogwumike’s every move in her first game back as a Spark
UNCASVILLE, CT — Chiney Ogwumike walked onto the court at Mohegan Sun Arena as she’s done many times before, except this time her uniform looked a little bit different. Instead of wearing the signature orange and blue of the Connecticut Sun, she wore the well known purple and yellow uniform of the Los Angeles Sparks. This is because on April 27 she was traded to the Sparks for their 2020 first round pick.
So Ogwumike had a ready answer for the cascade of boos she faced all night.
“If you’re booing, that means you care,” Ogwumike told reporters when it was over with a smile.
Long before the game started, Ogwumike appeared focused throughout warmups and shot with precision and purpose. Most of her shots came at the corner just outside the paint and from the free throw line.
She warmed up without distractions and quietly made her way back to the trainer’s room before returning for the rest of her warmups. She shot with an ease that would take some time to appear come game time.
As she left the court she stopped to chat with former teammate Layshia Clarendon and exchanged a few words with a season ticket holder who had settled in his seat early to watch both teams warm up.
Coming into the game, there was nothing special about it for Ogwumike. “I looked at it just like it was any other game,” she said when it was over, the Sun 89-77 winners over the Sparks. “I just think, you know, this is a special place for me. It’s funny, everyone has their own versions of how things happen.”
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Ogwumike later said, “So obviously they’re [the fans] going to feel some type of way [after the trade]. But it didn’t matter to me, because all that matters is what’s in between the lines and just competing for me.”
No onlooker would be able to tell that Ogwumike called Connecticut home for the first five seasons of her WNBA career, as she acted like just another visiting player before the game.
However, she was given a much harsher treatment by the home crowd than just another visiting player. It started with the announcement of the Sparks’ starting lineup. No sooner had the PA announcer said “Chiney” than the hearty weeknight crowd responded with a loud and lingering series of boos that left a chill in the air.
Ogwumike got off to a slow start, playing the entire first quarter and only registering one foul in the box score. Jonquel Jones made a three right in front of her, she could not pull down a rebound and she shied away from the ball.
She spent the first four minutes of the second quarter on the bench talking intently to assistant coach Latricia Trammell. Shortly after reentering the game she made her first shot of the game and got a steal on the ensuing Sun possession.
Sun fans showed their displeasure with the Ogwumike trade each time she scored, starting the new tradition off with that very first basket. A few minutes later after she made her second shot the crowd responded with another series of boos, quiet initially and then louder.
Ogwumike never worried about her slow start, saying, “I think everyone on our team is a capable scoring threat. So some nights, other people are more aggressive, you just have to feel the game out. And I think, progressively, everyone started competing at a higher level. So you’re not worried about your touches, you’re worried about making the right plays, being there defensively, offensively to make the right plays, right. So as long as our teams is building towards the win, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing.”
Early in the third quarter while the referees were trying to determine the amount of time left on the shot clock after it had failed to reset, a young fan shouted “See Chiney, we don’t need you to win!” while the Sun were up 48-34 on the Sparks.
When she made her next shot the chorus of boos echoed around the arena, very similar to the boos that engulfed the arena after she was fouled by Alyssa Thomas and was sent to the free throw line to shoot an and-1.
After Ogwumike drove to the basket for a layup for the first time quiet boos were once again met with a louder second wave.
By the game’s last four minutes, the fans shortened the length of their boos, perhaps due to fatigue or the fact she made three more baskets and the free throw or an and-1, before the final buzzer sounded signaling the Sun’s 89-77 victory over the Sparks.
Her increased confidence as the game went on was evident not only on the offensive end but the defensive end as well. Her face was fierce and determined and she stepped into her movements instead of hesitating.
Ogwumike finished the game with 19 points, going 9-11 from the floor, three rebounds, one assist, three steals and two blocks. A quiet 19? That is impossible when you’re booed after every shot you make.
However, getting booed was not even on Ogwumike’s radar prior to the game.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it [the possibility of getting booed],” she said. “I was just thinking about how we need to compete. We’re on a road trip, when, like, if you look at our team, we’re not at 100 percent, they’re at 100 percent so we knew we were going to take a punch but I mean look at how we competed down the stretch. That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on.”
The Sparks and the Sun meet one more time this season on August 25, though unfortunately for the state of Connecticut, the final matchup of these two teams is in Los Angeles.
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