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Listen to Lead (with Nneka Ogwumike)
About the Episode
Leadership is a verb. And choosing to lead by listening and empowering others is a big part of that. Today’s guest Nneka Ogwumike is the definition of a Professional Troublemaker. She’s a force to be reckoned with on and off the court. Nneka is a former Number 1 WNBA draft pick, six-time WNBA All-star, and president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. She’s passionate about fighting for Black women, athletes, and those whose voices aren’t affirmed and has made speaking truth to power a life habit.
Nneka also shares the pain she felt when being passed over for the Olympic basketball team. There is a difference between just losing an award and being snubbed. And she was snubbed in this case. But Nneka continues to lead the WNBA players association with grace and dignity.
This is a powerful conversation all about listening, leading, and doing what matters most.
We don’t do it for the awards, but when we’re snubbed, we lose more than just the award.
It affects our futures.
About the Guest
Nneka Ogwumike is the 2016 WNBA MVP, WNBA Champion, and 1st overall pick of the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2012 WNBA Draft. Nneka is on a mission to inspire others to discover their greatness with an open heart, enthusiasm, integrity, courage, and compassion.
She is currently serving as President of the WNBA Players’ Association (WNBPA) and successfully led the group in its renegotiation of a groundbreaking WNBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
She is a six-time WNBA All-Star, three-time All-WNBA selection, three-time All-Defensive WNBA selection and was the 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year.
A graduate of Stanford University with a BA in Psychology, Nneka led the school to four consecutive Final Four appearances.
Hailing from one of sport’s most dynamic families, Nneka is the oldest of four sisters who have played Division I basketball.
Creating a life that is authentic, bold and purposeful takes audacity. It takes disruption. That is what it means to be a Professional Troublemaker. Professional Troublemaker is a book, a podcast and a life habit.
I’m your host, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, bestseller of books, aficionado of authenticity, and sorceress of side-eyes here to bring you conversations with world movers and change agents who have gotten where they are through their tenacity, truth-telling, and commitment to making good trouble. From time to time, I will even do deep dives on topics that are on my spirit.
My hope is that this show compels you to do BIG THINGS in a world where we have so much to fear. Let us loan you courage. Listen in!
Before we jump into today’s episode, know that this podcast is named after my second book and 2nd New York Times bestseller Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Which btw, is now out in paperback! Not only does the paperback version have a sleek new cover and travels well, it has an exclusive BONUS CHAPTER called “The Guide to Truth-Telling”. This chapter takes you step-by-step through the most common fears of speaking your truth AND how to overcome it with boldness. How do you speak up in the meeting when the tough idea comes up? How do you confront a loved one who hurt you? What are the things to consider when silence is the easiest, not the best answer? I talk about ALL of that in the Truth-telling guide.
How would our lives would be different if we were given permission to be disruptors for the greater good? How high can we soar if we knew FEAR is natural and we’re actually supposed to do the things that scare us? How audacious would we be if impostor syndrome wasn’t holding on to our ankles? I wrote this book to loan people courage. In PROFESSIONAL TROUBLEMAKER, I talk about how my life has transformed because I’ve ran towards what felt bigger than me, doing the things that feel scary as shit.
Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual is game-changing, and I know it. So, if you value this show, if you value the guests and their stories, the lessons and the wisdom.If you’ve ever listened to something I said and wrote it down, YOU WILL LOVE Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Courage is a habit. You can choose courage each and every day, and this book is the verbal hype team to let you know YOU GOT THIS.
So, get a copy of Professional Troublemaker wherever books are sold, or go to ProfessionalTroublemakerBook.com. You can get the hardcover, paperback with the new exclusive chapter or audiobook (which I narrated, AND has the new chapter included). That’s PROFESSIONALTROUBLEMAKERBOOK.com. I’m so excited for you to read it.
Today’s guest is someone who shows that leadership is a verb. Being a professional athlete who is a woman is an uphill battle and she insists on fighting for what is equitable.
I’m excited to be in conversation with former Number 1 WNBA draft pick, six-time All-WNBA All star, AND president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, and Nigerian sisthren Nneka Ogwumike.
We talk about the power of empowerment and what it feels like to be groomed for leadership and carry the weight of that on your shoulders as a professional athlete, as a Black woman in sports.
We also talked about the deep heartbreak Nneka felt when after all of the accolades and recognition she’s received in her career, she inexplicably wasn’t chosen for the US Women’s Olympic basketball team last summer. And we also talk about making changes in the inequity of women’s sports takes investment – the power of investing your time, your money and your resources in the things you want to see supported.
Nneka is the definition of a Professional Troublemaker. She’s passionate about fighting for Black women, athletes, and those whose voices aren’t affirmed.
Nneka has made speaking truth to power a life habit – she’s such a force! We met 9 years ago, in 2012, when she was drafted and I’ve been following her journey ever since.
Naija no carry last! And Nneka is proof positive of that FACT.
Let’s get into it.
Luvvie: Nneka, I am excited to have you here on Professional Troublemaker, and I always start by asking people what they wanted to be and do when they were growing up. What was little Nneka saying she was going to do?
Nneka: I grew up in a Nigerian household, so-
Nneka: … I took the route and perspective of a doctor, so it was between … I knew I wanted to be in science, so I was like, “Okay, maybe an obstetrician, a pediatrician,” I was thinking about dentistry, orthodontry. And even up until when I graduated college, I was prepared to take a post doc instead of going into the league. I was still thinking that way.
Luvvie: Again, there’s been so many failed doctors on this podcast. I think the number one answer to that question, from my guest on this podcast, is doctor.
Nneka: [inaudible 00:06:31].
Luvvie: [inaudible 00:06:31] nobody who’s done … who’s like-
Nneka: I’m sure.
Luvvie: By far, we all had this dream to be a doctor. So, what was it like growing up? You have a … not a small family, but also not … You have a medium-sized family, right?
Nneka: Yeah, average. Average-sized family. So, I’m the oldest of four daughters.
Luvvie: Oh my God.
Nneka: Growing up was very … I guess you could say diplomatic. It was a lot of delegation, it was a lot of respect, the instilling of respect. It was definitely a lot of family-oriented activities, so we did things together almost always. But then, in Texas too … I think growing up, especially once I got to college, there was a lot of misconceptions about Texas, as there is a lot of other places, and so … I’m from Houston and I think Houston is the best, not just because I’m from there, but Houston is a culture pot city, so that’s kind of what I grew up in. So, we were exposed to a lot of different cultures and experiences.
Luvvie: So, what was your personality like? What was seven-year-old Nneka like?
Nneka: Ooh. Hyperactive, I could not sit down.
Nneka: Completely hyperactive. Yeah. Could not sit down, hyperactive, always getting into something. I just could not stop moving.
Luvvie: So, you’ve been an athlete for a while then?
Nneka: Yeah, even before I knew what sports was.
Luvvie: What was your first sports activity?
Nneka: My first sport activity was gymnastics. Yeah, tumbling. And so, we would go there, my mom and my dad would drop us off there weekly, and we would do gymnastics. And it was not at all competitive, but then I started getting towards the age where they’re like, “Oh, if you want to be competitive … ” and I was really getting into it. But then, here was me and here was everyone else, and so the …
Luvvie: [crosstalk 00:08:34].
Nneka: My gymnastics instructor told my parents, “I think you need to get her into another sport,” because I was becoming a hazard to myself in the class.
Luvvie: Say more about that. Say more about …
Nneka: I was becoming a hazard to myself. My legs were too long to do certain things, I was too tall to fit in certain places. So, the gymnastic teacher, so respectfully, told my parents, “You should probably try something else just so she can be safe in what she’s doing.”
Luvvie: And how old were you?
Nneka: Hmm. I was about 9. 9 or 10.
Luvvie: How tall were you at 9 or 10?
Nneka: Ooh … Your height. No, I’m just joking.
Luvvie: Disrespect. Listen-
Nneka: I’m just joking, I’m just joking.
Luvvie: Listen, the tall people, the tall people … It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve been this height … Oh God bless you, yes.
Nneka: I’m just kidding.
Luvvie: It’s cool, it’s fine. We be the short ones down here, all of us down here, okay?
Nneka: I mean, I would say at 10, I was definitely in the fives, upper fives.
Nneka: Yeah, I would say mid-fives maybe.
Luvvie: Oh my gosh. So then, is that when they got you into basketball?
Nneka: Yeah, that’s when I got into basketball and I thought I was hot shit in the YMCA league, but I didn’t even know there was AAU. So, I walked into the YMCA and I was just like, “Okay, let me come in here, do my thing, drop a quick 30.” I didn’t know how to play and I was scoring a lot. I did not look like I knew what I was doing and I was doing it. So, I did that and then my mom was like, “Okay, let’s … ” Her coworker was like, “Hey, they have real competitive basketball,” and she told us about AAU. And that’s when we kind of delved into the AAU world and I was like, “Whoa.” I thought I had it figured out and I did not.
And so, I kind of stuck with it though. I don’t shy away from challenges, so I was like, “Let me just try it.”
Luvvie: As a Nigerian girl who was playing sports, how did your parents actually approach this with you? And how was it to other kids around you?
Nneka: Ooh. Excellent, excellent question. As you can imagine, it was not something people were encouraging us to do. There were a lot of questions around why and that it would take away from our studies, of course, because the end game is not a bachelor’s but a PhD.
Luvvie: But a PhD, correct. Right.
Nneka: So, that was the end game. But my parents, I think that … We were all kind of learning through it, we didn’t know what it was at all. And so, we were all learning, even my parents. And I quickly became good at it and they also, I think, realized what sports offers more than just the physical attributes. There’s a lot of character building, there’s a lot of interpersonal building, and those were characteristics that they raised us with. So, we kind of just stuck with it despite what a lot of our other family and friends were confused about. I wouldn’t say that they were telling us not to do it, but they were just kind of like, “Okay.”
Luvvie: “What’s happening over there?”
Luvvie: So, by the time you were in high school, you were competitive, you were being recruited. How did you decide on where you actually said yes to?
Nneka: Ooh, for college?
Nneka: Oh. Well, I started playing when I was 11 and I started playing for a club that was kind of run by a whole bunch of dads and their daughters were playing, which was pretty cool. And, initially, there was … For me, I don’t know how to spot potential, but there’s no … I don’t know how my coach saw it in me based on how I was playing. He had a sharp eye for that. But I started getting better in between 11 and 14, which is when I also kind of entered middle school as well. I had more exposure because I was playing in middle school and I was playing in AAU, and then, of course, I was playing all different … an array of different sports. And by the time I go to-
Luvvie: So, you weren’t just a one-sport person?
Nneka: Oh no, I played three sports. Yeah.
Nneka: It was a lot.
Luvvie: So, volleyball? Let me guess-
Luvvie: Let me see if I can guess.
Nneka: Volleyball, basketball-
Nneka: … and …
Nneka: Mm-mm (negative).
Luvvie: Ooh. Volleyball, basketball … Soccer?
Nneka: [inaudible 00:13:14]. Think about … Well, that was a good guess, but think about the seasons. So, volleyball is first, basketball is second …
Luvvie: Volleyball. Okay, basketball second. So, in the spring …
Nneka: What’s spring sports?
Luvvie: That’s why I said softball, too.
Nneka: That was a good guess, too.
Luvvie: Right? I was like, “I could see you doing softball.” It’s not track … Well, maybe?
Nneka: It is.
Nneka: [crosstalk 00:13:36]. Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah.
Nneka: Uh-huh (affirmative). It was track, it was track. And that was different, because I’m … After being in sports, I was like, “I’m very much a team sport person.” Track, I was good at, but it was just I couldn’t be there. It’d be like, “Go, Nneka.” I couldn’t do that. That wasn’t for me. But yeah, I was playing a lot of sports and even in high school and eventually with AAU, you start playing in different tournaments, and then letters start coming. So, once the letters started coming … I want to say I was like 12 or 13 when my first letter came. And my parents were like, “Oh, look, a letter came,” and I was like, “Why? Am I in trouble?”
And then they started learning like, “Oh, you can get a scholarship playing basketball,” I was like, “Wow, really?” So then, as I got better … I guess I got better, there was UT, Baylor. I was like, “Oh cool.” In Texas, that’s like, “Whoa.” But I started getting letters from other universities. And once the Stanford one game, I was like, “Ooh-
Luvvie: You was like-
Nneka: … I can go there for free?”
Luvvie: “Stanford, an Ivy league, while I’m playing basketball?” That was the best case scenario for a Nigerian who was like, “I want to be a doctor,” you’re going to get a scholarship to Stanford.
Nneka: Exactly, exactly. I mean, I didn’t decide when I got the letter, but I was like, “Ooh, they want me to play there?” So, it was pretty cool.
Luvvie: And you were blazing trails too, because then you were the first one, but your sisters also started playing basketball.
Nneka: Yeah. So, I was the first one and then, of course, once it works for the first one, then everyone kind of falls in line. So, yeah, they started playing and Chiney played on the younger team for a few years but then, eventually, we started playing together, because she’s two years below me.
Luvvie: I mean, it’s actually really impressive. And you graduated from high school what year?
Nneka: In ’08.
Luvvie: ’08? Yeah, you’re six years … A lot changed in basketball in that time.
Nneka: A lot.
Luvvie: So much transformed … In women’s basketball in that time, so much changed. Maybe I would’ve stuck with it if I was less trash, but … Basketball-
Nneka: You couldn’t have been that bad.
Luvvie: But I actually really loved basketball and I loved playing it. I was on this team in high school for the first two years, and then I quit after my sophomore year because my coach was a tyrant-
Nneka: Oh no.
Luvvie: … and would bench me for random stuff that I wouldn’t even be doing. He would bench me and be like, “Was that you talking [inaudible 00:16:12]?” and I’d be like, “I didn’t even say nothing.” And he literally made me fall out of love with the sport because I felt like he was like … So, I literally quit at the end of the sophomore year season. And, at that point, the WNBA was not a thing.
Nneka: Right, right. Oh man-
Luvvie: So, I was like, “Ugh.”
Nneka: … that’s such a sad story.
Luvvie: I know. Honestly, 13-year-old me was like, “I would love to play for North Carolina one day,” I did. He made me fall out of love with the team sport. But then, I would be playing outside, random times, with dudes. I ended up [crosstalk 00:16:47] team in college. But, anyway, that’s my sad basketball story. I’m like, “Man … ” Of course, point guard because 5’4″ is so [crosstalk 00:16:56].
Nneka: But you’re a real baller. You [inaudible 00:16:59]-
Luvvie: I missed it.
Luvvie: But so much changed between then and 2008 when you graduated from college. No, from high school. So, you started going to Stanford, Division 1. Did you start off the jump?
Nneka: No, I did not. I did not. I think that that’s one thing that I really loved about Stanford, is that it was a school where everyone kind of earned their way and in my experience, that’s very much how my freshman year was like. I ended up not starting most of my freshman year and then come the Pac-12 tournament, was when I started starting. And for me, I’ve always been someone that boxes herself a bit or I make myself smaller in situations, and I think that was my first memory of realizing “Okay, you can’t be small, you’re starting,” and I had coaches and teammates that would tell me these things.
So, starting was daunting because it was just so much responsibility, but I just feel like I’m built for responsibility based on me being the oldest daughter and then also kind of … I’m also the oldest granddaughter and the second oldest grandchild.
Luvvie: Oh, girl.
Nneka: So, it’s like … There’s a lot here, so-
Luvvie: It was leadership.
Nneka: … I’m kind of used to it. Yeah, I’ve kind of been groomed for leadership, so it’s cool.
Luvvie: I love the idea of you being groomed for leadership. And throughout your school-playing career, in what ways did that actually really push you forward? Whether it’s in the class, whether it’s on the court, that leadership that you were groomed for at home.
Nneka: Hmm. I mean, I think I’m very much someone that leads by example, so I’m all about action. I love doing things that make a difference, I love goal-oriented actions and collaboration, and I think that obviously stems from being one of four daughters in a Nigerian household, and I think … I’m still learning along the way, I’m definitely way more far along than I ever imagined myself to be. But it’s helped me develop the courage to do the right thing and be right for people, and kind of just be that source of grace, I always try to find it in myself to share it, and I think that that’s where real empowerment lies.
Power is nothing without empowerment, you can’t just be the only one. So, that’s kind of the approach that I’ve taken as I’ve learned more about myself.
Luvvie: Does anything still scare you on the court?
Nneka: No one’s ever asked me that. That’s a really good question. Hmm. I don’t think so. I don’t, I really don’t think so. I approach every game from a position of power, I approach every game from a position of leadership. What scares me is not doing my best. What scares me is not being present. And a lot of times, in sports, if you’re not present, you’re not going to do your job.
Nneka: So, being in the moment always is something that I guess would be a fear of mine if I don’t feel as though I’m balanced enough to be in that space.
Luvvie: And I think that shows up too in the way you’re leading, because you’re a leader in the WNBA and y’all have actually stepped into a different limelight this last couple of years that has not been afforded WNBA athletes before, especially after the George Floyd uprisings, and the WNBA was the first league that, as a unit, decided to take action on it. In that moment, which I’m sure you will probably be like, “Oh God, are we sure we want to do this?” How did you approach that moment? What made you say, “You know what? We got to do this.”
Nneka: Man, oh man. Honestly, just having conversations with my cohort. The only thing I knew was that something needed to be done and it needed to be done together. And that sounds easy, but when you’re talking to a group of people with different backgrounds, different lifestyles, different beliefs, different perspectives, that becomes very, very difficult and complex without making space for the conversation. So, I knew that we had to have a discussion, I knew that we had to open it up for people who don’t normally get to say things, and I knew that we had to listen, especially me. Because you can’t lead without listening, you got to know what the people want.
So, that, for me, it was like … Doing something was a non-negotiable. How it got done? To me, it was important that everyone just bought into it and, at that point, I didn’t … I don’t want to say I didn’t care, but all I cared was that we did it together and with purpose. It was scary though.
Luvvie: Look, you was making some real trouble. I was like, “Come on, WNBA, let’s go.” And everybody paid attention and everybody was like … Oh, and I feel like y’all actually gave pressure to other people to do something who were not going to do something.
Nneka: \Yeah. It’s crazy because that’s not our intention. Our intention is to stand by what we represent and we have to represent the communities. And we, as a community in the WNBA, we represent a whole lot of intersectionality. And so, we can’t come out here and tell people to pay attention to what we’re doing on the court if we’re not using our voices to also amplify that platform that the sport gives us. It was a lot. I think there was a lot of reflection that happened, a lot of reflection. Definitely for me and I’m sure for all of the other women, and hopefully other businesses, organizations, and conglomerates that also saw how people were using their platform.
Luvvie: You’ve been killing, you’ve been killing. I don’t know which I hear more about, your performance on the court or what you’re doing outside of the court, representing the players. It is amazing to see. You recently negotiated the game-changing new collective bargaining agreement, and you were the driving force behind the new arrangement that will give players free access to fertility tests and services. Girl, how are you even moving through this? What is making you choose these particular platforms to stake a claim on?
Nneka: I think a lot of this stems from just me being exposed to the people that I’m with every day and also the life that my career has afforded me. As women, we are born in it. We are born in it. So, a lot of how we move is true, it’s in our bones. And I think that for us to be able to find collective agency in this moment, it’s like, “We got to strike it while it’s hot.” And I think that no one is missing right now, we are not missing. It’s all mixed right now because have to …
We live in a space where we only have moments, we don’t necessarily have continuum. So, when that moment is met with our movement, then that’s kind of what you have to do, it’s unapologetic, and I think you more than anyone knows that. And so, providing voice for that, but most importantly understanding that what you fight for, what you represent is not only going to affect you, and that should be the driving force for you to understand her, him, they. And it’s important for us to kind of develop that perspective because there needs to continue to be the “All my life, I had to fight.” [inaudible 00:25:29]. We need that energy-
Luvvie: We do, we do.
Nneka: … but we also need collective, constructive progress. And so, sometimes that takes us doing things that we haven’t done before or doing things that we’ve never seen before. I don’t even know if I really answered your question, but …
Luvvie: No, you did. Because, basically, your strike, I think it’s important, because what happened last year was an entry point, was a catalyst moment, and you have to … It’s basically like they opened the door a little bit, and then you put your foot in and say, “Sorry, you can’t close it back. Sorry, can’t close it back. Got my foot. My whole body is about to be in the room.” Listen, what happened last year, it cracked the door open, and it is up to us to push it wide open and get everything we can get for justice.
Luvvie: And I think that urgency is felt and I’m seeing it show up in the work that’s being done. Every time I see a news bit, I’m like, “Come through.” Even this year, seeing the Sky, when they won the championship, and seeing the energy in the Wintrust Arena and thinking about people who say “People don’t watch women’s basketball,” and I’m just like, “Nope, nope. No, nope.” And I’ve been watching WNBA since it started, in the era of Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie. I used to watch all those games and I wish I had gotten a jersey back then.
Nneka: It’s okay.
Luvvie: I wish I [crosstalk 00:27:00]. It’s okay-
Nneka: You were there.
Luvvie: Oh man, I used to watch all those games and I used to watch college basketball, UConn, Tennessee, and so it’s really important for me now to be seeing women athletes being taken seriously on a grand scale, for them to start paying you more for … Gatorade got its first athlete in the NCAA and it’s a woman. These are all significant strides, and I’m really proud to watch it happen.
Now, with all these wins, with all of these wins … You’re used to winning, you’re used to winning. You were the number one draft pick in 2012 for the WNBA, you are out here killing the game. So, there was one thing that happened this year that was pretty big deal, which was, you were not picked for the Olympics team, the US Olympics team. I want to talk about that because I was in my feelings. I was [inaudible 00:28:00].
It was not explainable. How did you feel? Because we all saw the uproar about it. How did you feel when that happened?
Nneka: Someone asked me the other day, “What’s the angriest you’ve ever been?” What I experienced this summer was what came to mind, but it wasn’t like … I guess it wasn’t anger, it was more so … In a long time, through me evolving as a woman, as a woman in sport … [inaudible 00:28:37]. It wasn’t even like I was thinking about [inaudible 00:28:51]. It was not a good feeling at all.
There are still pangs of it at times, where I have to remind myself “Mm-mm (negative) [crosstalk 00:29:04].”
Luvvie: Right, “I could fall into the black hole. Don’t do it, don’t do it.”
Nneka: “Don’t, don’t do it.” For me, it was more so like a deep heartbreak for the work that I had put in. It’s less so against an entity, it’s more so a heartbreak for what I put into something, and to be did was just … It was low, it was low.
Luvvie: I think people don’t often talk about what happens when you don’t get the accolades that you know you’ve earned. Were you [inaudible 00:29:49], “It’s an honor to be [inaudible 00:29:56]”? Let’s be real honest, there are some things that you don’t get that … hurt like … You handled it very graciously, you really did. You dealt with it with such class. I was like, “This is why Nneka is in the league. This is why she’s in the league,” because I’d be [inaudible 00:30:17] salty, [inaudible 00:30:19]. I’ll be like, “First of all, now y’all know y’all was not right on that, but it’s okay. Fine, fine. Good luck and okay,” but you dealt with it with such class.
In the lowest moments, how did you pull [inaudible 00:30:36]?
Nneka: [inaudible 00:30:39] that’s kind of where you lean on your core circle and your tribe. I think having people around you that support you is very, very, very, very important. I felt though that in that moment I had reached a point where it almost felt like I … I almost felt like I was unsalvageable for myself. I knew that there were people helping me up, but even with that it was almost as though the voice in my head was still clawing back to [crosstalk 00:31:16], and they were dragging me by my feet. And so, it took a level of compassion for myself to allow myself to feel that but not to live in it.
I think sometimes when we try to bury those feelings, they unearth in ways and at times when you don’t expect it. So, allowing myself to feel it and just feel it fully, and then, once I feel it fully, understanding when it’s no longer just me feeling it fully and me holding on. And so, that’s kind of the best way I can describe it.
Luvvie: No, that’s real, that’s honest. And I think, again, because when people see winners constantly winning, they forget that there’s still losses that you have to deal with. And here’s the thing that I actually think, because you become so used to winning, you become less accustomed to dealing with the losses.
Luvvie: So, you’re like, “Wait, what? Hold on. Wait a minute,” because I think that’s a real thing. I mean, I deal with it. I always tell people, I’m like, “Look, awards are not the reason that we do the work that we do and awards do not signify the value of our work.” However, especially as black women, awards affirm us in ways that can actually have gains outside of just bragging rights.
Nneka: That’s it.
Luvvie: So, it’s not just like, “I want to win this award just for the sake of bragging.” No, it’s that when we win awards and have certain accolades, it attaches certain tangible currency to our names. It allows us to charge more money, that allows us to show up in different spaces. So, when we talk about not receiving certain awards or getting accolades, I need people to understand that we’re also talking about justice in certain moments.
Nneka: Yes. I love that, that is so true, and I think that that’s something that especially black women athletes deal with a lot. Black women in entertainment really, because we are in entertainment, sports. And so, we don’t do it for the awards. But when we’re snubbed, we lose more than just the award.
Nneka: You know?
Nneka: And that affects our future.
Nneka: That affects our future in ways that would not otherwise if we looked differently.
Luvvie: That’s it.
Nneka: And that’s something that people have to understand when people go into uproars about things.
Luvvie: Yes, yes. And folks go-
Nneka: You can’t understand it if you don’t live it.
Luvvie: What I hate that people do is, “Why do we keep trying to pine for the awards they’re giving us? Why do we [inaudible 00:34:00]? Why don’t we create our own table?” You can’t create an Olympic table.
Nneka: [inaudible 00:34:05].
Luvvie: I’m sorry, it’s just … We can’t create tables because, right now, all we have is scraps. You’re telling somebody to build a table and they don’t have the wood. So, how are you supposed to build this table?
Nneka: We got to bust down that door.
Luvvie: That’s it. And basically steal the wood from the doorframe.
Nneka: Right, exactly.
Luvvie: Which is what we’re trying to do every single day. But yeah, in those moments, affirming … There was an award that I thought I should have gotten a couple of weeks ago, and I end up posting. And I said, “It’s a reminder for me … ” To me. I’m basically just posting it publicly, but it’s really to remind myself that the award is not the end all, be all. And it’s those moments where you have to hype yourself up even when you’re like, “That one hurt.”
Nneka: Right, right.
Luvvie: Like, “That one hurt.” But you continue to lead with such grace and I think you also carry the responsibility of a whole league on your shoulders, because you’re president of the Players Association. So, for you, what are the other things that you actually would love to work on? If you could snap a finger today, what would you like to see happen?
Nneka: For the union? For the league? For everything?
Luvvie: Yeah, pick a place.
Nneka: Oh, girl. Well, this is like beating a dead horse, but salary and compensation. Salary and compensation, salary and compensation. Monies, coins, [crosstalk 00:35:31].
Luvvie: Come on, come on.
Nneka: That’s it right there. I think it speaks to what you were just saying. At the end of the day, yes, people watch the WNBA. You can’t keep using that as an excuse as to why the game is so good, the following is so good, but the money isn’t there. And it’s really just a matter of people caring to invest, that’s really what it is. It’s not like there’s something wrong. It’s just people caring to invest.
My friend, she too has a podcast and she did a really interesting episode about why … just basically the pay inequity. And the conclusion that someone-
Luvvie: Who? Who was it?
Nneka: Her name is [Rhian Rogan 00:36:15], and-
Nneka: … I have to get the name of her podcast again, but it was the first episode and she basically brought in a sports expert and he explained, when it comes down to it, these owners in the NBA, they own the team and they can say “Ooh, I went to the dinner with LeBron last night.” They can live vicariously through these athletes. And so, we just need people that want to live vicariously through us, really, that are willing to invest so much so that they can be in it. Because the lifestyle, it’s one that you can’t get anywhere else, but it’s also just kind of a part of the fandom. It’s really a part of the fandom because, ultimately, owners don’t necessarily own teams to make money.
They don’t necessarily own teams to make money and so, when that argument is used for the WNBA, it doesn’t make sense but then it also is contradictory because of what we represent and the types of things that we say and we do that can literally change elections. And so, it’s like, “Okay. Are you hearing what we’re saying? Are you about it?” We just need more people that are like, “Hey, let me step up to the plate and … What you guys doing? Let’s do it.”
Luvvie: I feel like the work that y’all have been doing the last two years is going to have some far-reaching consequences because, again, the attention that the WNBA has been getting these last two years, I’m hoping it attaches currency to it. I’m hoping-
Luvvie: And one of the things that I even said when I went to the Sky game, and I saw a WNBA person there and I was like, “We need more merch for y’all.” I want to be able to go into a store and buy your merch easily, your shorts. I got your jersey, but I want to be able to get the freaking warmup tracksuit, even that type of stuff, and getting more merch and being able to support y’all with what we are wearing, can we start there? I was like, “I just need merch to start. Excessive merch.” I was around Chicago, looking for all the stuff.
I was like, “I’m going to get a couple of jerseys,” and it was so hard to get it. And I’m just like, “Meanwhile, the NBA … Man, you can find merch for the most random person.” And I’m just like, “What we got to do? What we got to do to get this equity up?” Because even with merch, y’all, let alone everything else, it’s so disparate in terms of just the quality of everything, for no real reason. And people say, “Oh, NBA makes more money.” One, NBA has been here longer.
Nneka: For 75.
Nneka: We’re 25.
Luvvie: Correct. Two, it’s a self-fulfilling … It’s this cycle, NBA makes more money because people put more money into the NBA, and then it makes more money and then people … I’m like, “So, what part are y’all missing? We got to put more money into the WNBA.” So, I actually bought season tickets for the Chicago Sky. I bought [inaudible 00:39:29], so I’m going to be courtside every game.
Nneka: I love it.
Luvvie: I need more of us to start now spending our money where we want to see more money being spent.
Nneka: That’s all it is.
Luvvie: So, if you’re a basketball fan and you’re listening to this and you have a WNBA team in your city, look up season tickets. I promise you they’re not as expensive as you think. You’d be shocked, actually, how not expensive they are.
Nneka: But really.
Luvvie: I need you to go buy season tickets for your favorite team or the team that’s in your home, because I think we also have to make it upon ourselves to now start giving you guys some economic leverage.
Nneka: Yes, yes. I love that too. I mean, you literally just explained investment. Because people think investment is only about money, and you can invest your time, your resources. Okay, you can’t buy a Jersey, you can’t buy season tickets? Turn on the game when it’s on TV-
Luvvie: Just turn it on.
Nneka: … that contributes to ratings. Have the game on when you’re with someone, expose them to it. There’s so many easy ways to invest, that you just spoke to, that’s already being done for curling. No disrespect, but you know what I’m saying?
Luvvie: Curling? Not curling.
Nneka: You know?
Luvvie: And basketball is way more exciting. I’m telling you, I think it’s really … Oftentimes, we think we might be helpless in situations. I think we have to now start taking personal responsibility. Those of us who are consumers of whatever it is, sports, whatever equity we want to see happen, have you put your own money towards it in some way. You don’t have to buy the season ticket. Go ahead, buy a jersey. Turn on the game. Buy a WNBA basketball for your-
Nneka: There we go.
Luvvie: There’s all these different ways. How can the people support the WNBA outside of those things?
Nneka: That’s a really great question. I think that we, as players, are also understanding how you can support by paying attention to what players are talking about off the court, really getting to know these athletes off the court. Because, a lot of times, we develop fans, like you said, in the last two years, based off of our sheer activism and not even what we’re doing on the court. So, understanding that we are multi-dimensional women because we have to be.
I was talking to my sister about this and she made a really great point. I was getting in the car, I was like, “Oh man, I got to run the grocery store, I hope nobody see.” I was like, “I didn’t do what I needed to do to look like what I need to look like.” She was like, “See, that’s the problem.” I was like, “What?” She was like, “See, you need to go to the grocery store and you have to worry about what you look like because if someone see Nneka Ogwumike looking broke, it’s going to be everywhere. It’s going to be everywhere-
Nneka: … but you have a 20-point game and no one will talk about it.” And I was like, “That is so true.”
Luvvie: It’s true.
Nneka: And it speaks to the fact that as women, and I know because I read about this in your book, you have to always be ready. You have to always be on. You can’t be caught slipping because that could be your opportunity, because it doesn’t come often or it’s not designed for us. So, being in that space is where we’re always like, “Oh yeah, I got that. Oh yeah, let’s schedule that. Oh yeah, let’s talk.” We always have to do that, and we have to find a way … we have to find balance to where we don’t feel like we’re being stretched like Gumby in all different directions.
Nneka: Because then we can’t bring our whole self to these moments.
Luvvie: See, this is why I like to show up looking raggedy a lot.
Nneka: You know what? I need to take that approach.
Luvvie: Listen, let me tell you something right now, this is why I show up on social media in my IG stories and I’ll be in my auntie robe, because I actually want to get people used to seeing me looking like a regular human being. Looking raggedy one day, looking broke one day just because I feel like it. I need people to not get used to seeing me looking cute, because them expectations is too high. And for women, when we fall into the expectation, we can’t come back out of it.
If people always expect you to look a certain way and you show up one day not looking like that? “Oh my God, is she all right? Ooh, Lord. Something must have happened.” No, it’s a random Sunday and I’m sitting on my couch and that’s what you going to get. I’m like-
Nneka: That is so true.
Luvvie: Have the freedom to be raggedy sometimes.
Nneka: Amen to that, yes.
Luvvie: So you can go to the grocery store in your mismatched joggers and your shoes that don’t match, and you’re like, “Listen, I’m a regular person.”
Nneka: Here I am, I am me.
Luvvie: I am me. See, your sister has the right point, I’m trying to tell you. That’s why I’m like, “Mm-mm (negative).” I think freedom and true equity is our right to be raggedy when we feel like it.
Nneka: We need to desensitize everybody.
Luvvie: That’s it, I need everybody to lower their expectations.
Nneka: Oh my God.
Luvvie: We can show up like this. Which actually reminds me, so you have two sisters who play in the WNBA right now.
Nneka: So, two of us play, three of us got drafted.
Luvvie: Ah, Erica. Okay, Erica is the one who just got drafted?
Nneka: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Luvvie: And then, two of y’all are on the same team.
Luvvie: When do you stop being big sister? When do you become captain of the team? How is that line blurred? If you’re mad at her for something she said to you at home, how does it show up at practice?
Nneka: I don’t carry things to work.
Nneka: I don’t carry things to work. But I will say that like big sister and like leader of the team, they kind of overlap. So, a lot of how I am, Chiney knows already. But then, if she sees me getting a little irritated or aggravated, just kind of like, “You guys need to get this done,” she knows how to tell [inaudible 00:45:37] “Calm down, calm down. [inaudible 00:45:39]. She going to be all right, guys.”
Luvvie: “She going to-”
Nneka: [crosstalk 00:45:42]. So, we have a lot fun.
Luvvie: Got it, because I was wondering. I was like, do you be like, “Girl, don’t talk to me. You just pissed me off at home.” So, you create separation of church and state?
Nneka: Yeah, for sure, because I’m just like … I couldn’t. I don’t like interweaving things. I like to be clear. Like, “Hey, I’m saying this as big sis.” “Hey, yo, I’m saying this as the captain.” But then the tone can kind of be the same, and Chiney compartmentalizes very well.
Nneka: I think she does. I think she does based on how I am towards her when I talk about certain things. So, we understand each other a bit.
Luvvie: And I know that wasn’t by design, for y’all to both be on the same team, or was it?
Nneka: Oh, not particularly. She wanted a change. I was on the only team she would play on. Actually, whatever team I was on, was the only team she would play on. So, she made it work and our GM made it work, and we’ve been here ever since.
Luvvie: Yo, that’s so dope. That is so dope. So, your parents only got to cheer for one team.
Nneka: One team. It was hard for a while.
Nneka: Yeah, because it would be a split household, a house divided, and then you couldn’t quite celebrate when one person won. So, [crosstalk 00:47:12].
Luvvie: You’d have to be like, “Good job. You did a good job,” and then you [crosstalk 00:47:16].
Nneka: Yeah, “You did a good job.” Chiney likes to say that “Once I crossed the lines, she’s not my sister anymore,” but I was like, “I don’t feel like I was that harsh when I was playing against her.” So, it’s easier now, we can play with each other, it’s fine.
Luvvie: You probably were that harsh when you were playing against her, because that’s [crosstalk 00:47:29] little sister.
Nneka: I probably was. It had nothing to do with her being a little sister, I just have this zone that I enter when I’m on the court, so it’s like, “We’re not friends.”
Luvvie: Ooh. Understood. Were you’re like, “That’s not her right now, that’s a different person. She got to do her thing. She go to do [crosstalk 00:47:46].”
Nneka: “She family but she not my friend.”
Luvvie: Right, that’s it. You need that, you need that. So, you got this squad of dope women around you, what are the qualities you look for in the people that you surround yourself within your village?
Nneka: Ooh. The number one thing, the number one thing is, if I’m not learning from you, it’s very difficult for me to just consider you as a part of my people. I want to be growing from you, I want to be exposed to things that I haven’t been exposed to. I want to be challenged, I want my mind to be challenged. If I am not learning from you, it’s very difficult for me to maintain authentic engagement.
Luvvie: That’s for you.
Nneka: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s it for me, yeah.
Luvvie: How have your friendships changed as your visibility increased?
Nneka: I’d like to say that because of how guarded I am with who I let in, and I don’t like using the word guarded but I’m just very … My core is sacred to me and so, when it comes to my friendships over time, a lot of them have lasted and it makes me feel like I knew this before I knew this. So, I love that I have friends for over 10 years, over 15 years, and we all kind of aligned in a way when we were young without really realizing it. But then also too, growing amongst ourselves, no one stays the same, so evolving with those types of people is what kind of keeps … it keeps that fire in the relationship burning, that I particularly love when it comes to me learning and just feeling like I am sprouting and growing with these people around me.
Luvvie: See, that’s a dope thing. I think friendships usually do evolve, and the ones that stay together are the ones that evolve together, right?
Luvvie: You’ve done a lot of things, which one do you think is something that you’re most proud of? What accomplishment, accolades, something maybe even personal, that you’re most proud of?
Nneka: Yeah, I will say this, from a career standpoint, definitely managing the year 2020 as president. That’s something I’m very proud of because it was not easy. I wouldn’t do it again, but I made it through.
Luvvie: But you made it, mama, you made it.
Nneka: I made it through, I made it through. And then, personally too, I would say being confident in my voice and being comfortable speaking my mind. And I think that you may be able to relate to this, I think being a woman, a black woman, Nigerian daughter, an oldest daughter, a woman in sports, and now a figurehead in many ways, I think there were a lot of variables that kind of closed any door for me to feel like I could truly express myself. And I would say even five years ago, Luvvie, I probably would’ve been like, “No, I’m too nervous. I don’t want to talk to the lady, I don’t [inaudible 00:51:11].” I would have been like, “What? Watching me, why? [inaudible 00:51:15].”
And so, for me, I think there’s such a thing as too much humility. I think too much humility is also the same thing as being overly prideful, that’s how I kind of see it.
Luvvie: Ooh. Wait, talk about it. Talk about that.
Nneka: So, people who actively reject things, thinking that it’s being humble, is also perpetuating a part of the ego, because you are now blocking things that you should be receiving, in the same way a prideful person is grabbing things that they do not deserve. And so, I had to understand that balance to where … When someone’s like, “Wow, you’re really beautiful,” I’d be like, “No, I’m not. What? Nope.” And now I’m just kind of like, “Thank you. I am,” and having-
Luvvie: Yeah, okay?
Nneka: … having that confidence. And so, for you to say, “Hey, Nneka, I want you on my podcast,” I am very honored but I also feel like I belong here.
Nneka: And I think that that’s something that especially black women really, really, really struggle with and it manifests itself in disempowerment of each other, we all now become competitive of each other. And as you can see now, when we empower each other, it’s literally like no one can stop a sea of black women. [crosstalk 00:52:40].
Nneka: So, I want to live on that side.
Luvvie: Oh my God. No, you just dropped a whole sermon. You just dropped a whole sermon. And I think the world spends a lot of time trying to humble us and then we try to humble each other. And it’s like, “No, we need to be gassing each other up constantly.”
Luvvie: Being like, “What? Why would you not be asked to be on here? Why would you not be dropping sermons and gems, left and right?” And that coming into our own womanhood is especially what I’m loving recently, is I’m seeing more of us being unapologetic about being like, “Yo, no. I’m dope at what I do,” and saying, “I’m a leader.” People don’t say that.
Luvvie: We are not told to say that and to own it. And I think that’s revolutionary, to own that in this way.
Luvvie: Because there’s a young girl, who’s 5’10” at 12, right now, who is like, “I can watch Nneka take up all the space. Why am I going to shrink myself at practice? In fact, let me block your shot real quick to remind you of who I am. Stop playing with me.”
Nneka: Right, [crosstalk 00:53:54].
Luvvie: “Stop playing with me.”
Nneka: Right. Yeah.
Luvvie: That’s some powerful stuff and I love seeing it. I want nothing more than for black women to continue to be like, “I does this. When I’m asleep, I do this.”
Nneka: That’s it, that’s it.
Luvvie: I need that. So, what is something that people misunderstand or would be surprised to learn about you?
Nneka: Hmm. I think a big misconception about me is … I don’t want to say like … Because I love that people describe me as being regal, but I think a lot of people don’t realize how adventurous or fun I am because I’m always in this position of … “Adjourn.” And I also too, I’m a player that … There’s not a lot of mustard on my hotdog, I’m going to just serve it to you and that’s it. I don’t have a lot of swag, I guess, when I play. I’m very much like, “Get the job done,” but also like, “You’re not going to deny me of my demolition. I’m about to do this right now.”
Luvvie: Destroy it.
Nneka: Right. And so, I think a big misconception is that I’m kind of a goody two-shoes and a bit on the straight and narrow, when I can get some shit done [inaudible 00:55:15].
Luvvie: She said she got a ratchet side. Don’t get her twisted, she got a ratchet side, okay?
Nneka: [crosstalk 00:55:21]. Clutches, clutches.
Luvvie: Let them know, let them know. Let them know because [inaudible 00:55:24] multi-hyphenate, very versatile, layered.
Nneka: Yes, yes.
Luvvie: You could do this. Okay, okay. I’m going to do a little lightning round for you.
Luvvie: Coke or Pepsi?
Luvvie: Okay. Ocean or a lake?
Luvvie: Summer or winter?
Luvvie: Okay. Europe or Asia?
Luvvie: Okay, okay. Okay, I’ll allow it, I’ll allow it. North or south?
Nneka: [inaudible 00:55:56] allow it? Was that the wrong answer? Was that the wrong answer?
Luvvie: I think Asia has better food, but it’s okay.
Nneka: Oh, a hundred percent. But I’m biased, I lived in Asia for a little bit.
Luvvie: Oh, you did?
Nneka: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I don’t want to get into-
Luvvie: Where’d you live?
Nneka: Okay, it’s not even really a problem, but I lived in China. It was great. It was great, great, great. But I guess … I exposed myself to the people and I mean that by like, they don’t see someone like me often, so going outside was always an issue. I had to take pictures, someone was trying to touch my face. It was always an issue. And I get it because people haven’t seen someone that looks like me before, but it just became a little much for me. I was just like, “You know what? Let me just order food delivery today.”
Luvvie: I’ve heard that.
Nneka: [crosstalk 00:56:46] Asia. The food is-
Luvvie: I’ve heard that.
Nneka: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:56:48].
Luvvie: No, I’ve heard that experience.
Nneka: You might have changed my mind with the food, because the food is banging.
Luvvie: The food is banging. But-
Nneka: Yeah, you’re right.
Luvvie: … I’ve done a few Asian countries, I’ve done more European. But yeah, the food is always … I’m like, “European food is … Fish and chips don’t be doing it for me.” Italy be saving Europe. Italy saved Europe on the food [inaudible 00:57:07], I’m just letting you …
Nneka: And Spain, a little bit.
Luvvie: And Spain. Yes, I have been to Spain and they do use some seasonings. I approve that one, yes.
Nneka: I’m done.
Luvvie: Okay, train or plane?
Luvvie: That was the easy one, that was the easy one. Okay. Shoes or hats?
Nneka: Shoes. I don’t do hats, I don’t know why, and you can rock them. I really feel like my head is too big, I really do.
Luvvie: Everybody says that. Everybody says they think their head is too big. Everybody.
Nneka: I really do.
Luvvie: I’m either with the baseball cap or fedora. I do enjoy some baseball caps, too. I throw that on a hot second.
Nneka: You rock it well.
Luvvie: But you don’t rock even baseball caps?
Nneka: I mean, I got the one because my hair is thick, so I got the one where the whole back is out, and I do wear them. I wear them more often now.
Luvvie: Yeah, you do have thick hair. You have locs, right?
Nneka: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Luvvie: Or is that braids?
Nneka: Yeah. No, I have locs.
Luvvie: So, I used to have locs for six years and I barely … I couldn’t wear my hats during that time, so I understand.
Nneka: Okay, so-
Luvvie: That was the saddest part about me having locs, I couldn’t wear any of my hats because it just didn’t fit, so I understand.
Nneka: Okay, cool.
Luvvie: I understand, I understand. It’s all good. We’re going to get you … It’s all good. So, how does the leader take care of herself? What are you doing for self-care?
Nneka: The first thing I do for self-care is boundaries. I set boundaries.
Nneka: That’s the first thing I do.
Nneka: Because I can’t care if there’s not a boundary.
Luvvie: [crosstalk 00:58:41].
Nneka: I learned, I’m still learning it, but allotting time for myself. Putting boundaries on myself too, because I can get to a point where I’m like, “I got to do this, I got to do this,” but I have to slow myself down and afford myself time to do what I need to do so that my cup can be full. But boundaries is definitely first and … Respectfully, of course. There’s always ways to do it. But then, if we’re talking about modalities, then I love taking baths. I do yoga. I’ve started really loving being outside.
Growing up … I mean, we played outside, but if they were like, “You want to eat outside or inside?” I was like, “Inside.” But now I love being out in the sun, I love getting fresh air. It’s grounding for me, but … I love a mask, I love putting on a face mask. I love all those things and … Yeah.
Luvvie: I have a good face mask. Have you ever tried Eve Milan? It’s a black-owned company.
Nneka: Ooh, no.
Luvvie: They have these amazing face masks that are like lace.
Luvvie: Yeah. I’m going to send you one.
Nneka: Oh my gosh.
Luvvie: Also, one of my favorite things to send is sending care packages. I’m going to send you a care package with my favorite things, so that mask is going to be in it-
Nneka: I love care packages.
Luvvie: … some little bath salt. I got you, I got you. Yeah, no.
Nneka: Thank you.
Luvvie: Oh, yay. Okay, good to know you like masks. Okay, okay. And then, what else? Are you a massages person?
Nneka: I am, but very particular about who rubs me down because I’m an athlete and sometimes I don’t like someone that’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s get in there,” not knowing my history. So, I’m very particular about that. But therapeutically, music is very therapeutic for me, but also cooking. Cooking is also very therapeutic for me.
Luvvie: Oh yeah, you love to cook. Favorite dish to make?
Nneka: I do love to cook. Ooh … Anything Asian-y, which is why I probably should have picked Asia. I probably should have picked Asia, girl. What was I thinking?
Luvvie: Full circle. We come back, we come back.
Nneka: Right, right.
Luvvie: Okay, so what dish? What dish is your specialty Asian dish?
Nneka: I make a good ramen.
Luvvie: I love ramen.
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:00:52].
Luvvie: I actually just ate ramen for lunch.
Nneka: I made one for myself last night. If I can’t think of anything to make, I’ll just make some ramen. Not from the pack. Not from the pack, folks. Not like that. [crosstalk 01:01:03].
Luvvie: She talking about something, she making from scratch ramen.
Nneka: Yeah, I’m making all the ingredients and everything. Yeah.
Luvvie: Okay, okay. Good to know. Ramen, you have legendary ramen. I just had some last night and had some for lunch.
Nneka: Wow. Oh, so Asia is the way to go.
Luvvie: Listen, it is. Besides African food, besides Nigerian food, Asian food is my favorite. [crosstalk 01:01:30].
Nneka: Yes, that’s a very good point. Yeah.
Luvvie: I still mostly eat Nigerian food, I would say.
Luvvie: Seriously. Probably at least-
Nneka: That is impressive.
Luvvie: … 60 percent of the time.
Nneka: Wow. Where do you get your vegetables from? In [Ofez 01:01:46], or just … ?
Luvvie: There’s like three Nigerian grocery stores in Chicago.
Nneka: Oh wow.
Luvvie: Oh yeah, we don’t even … My mom doesn’t get her fish from grocery stores, she goes to the place where you actually get to pick the fish, same for your chicken and stuff like that. So, all the vegetable, she gets the okra, the ewedu, the egusi. Oh, girl, all of it.
Nneka: Oh my gosh, I love that. There’s a lot of Nigerians in Houston, I’m sure you know, so there’s all types of stores. But we lived so far away from them that the only time we would trek was like, my mom and dad were like, “We’re getting a goat,” and we would go to the farm and pick it out and everything, and I was like, “Wow.”
Luvvie: Do you know Wazobia in Houston?
Nneka: I don’t think I have been to Wazobia.
Luvvie: Girl, next time you can go home, Wazobia is this little bodega grocery store that’s run by Nigerians. You can go get some-
Nneka: Wait. Yes, I have.
Luvvie: Yes, you have?
Nneka: My dad sent me there to get something, I just didn’t know the name of it. But now that I’m thinking about it, that’s where he sent me.
Luvvie: And they got some good puff-puff, too.
Nneka: Okay, I need … Ooh, yeah.
Luvvie: Girl, their puff-puff is …
Nneka: It’s good?
Luvvie: [inaudible 01:02:57]. I’m just letting you know right now. Whenever I’m in Houston, I try to stop at Wazobia.
Nneka: You go there?
Nneka: Oh, wonderful.
Luvvie: Absolutely. So, next time you go home, go ahead and holler at them. The puff-puff is just fire. Fire.
Nneka: That’s good, that’s it. Okay.
Luvvie: Yeah. So, you are on this podcast because you are professional troublemaker and, for me, it’s one of the ultimate compliments because it means you’re existing in this world and disrupting for good. And you’re using your power for those who don’t have any, and I really do think history is going to thank you for that. So, for you, what does it mean to be a professional troublemaker?
Nneka: Well, thank you for that. That is truly an honor. I appreciate that.
Luvvie: [crosstalk 01:03:39].
Nneka: I think I would’ve been mad if I didn’t get that award.
Luvvie: Right, right. We’re going to give you the accolades over here.
Nneka: But to be a professional troublemaker, I think it’s just … you’re just like a shifter. You’re mixing things up in ways that are maybe non-conventional to your experience. And I think that that’s kind of the hardest way to do it, is to go against what you’ve directly experiencing, not knowing what the result will be and also not knowing who will tag along. And so, for you to consider me a professional troublemaker, I think is amazing because I’m such a by-the-book type of person.
Luvvie: You know what’s funny? You’re not. You’re actually not.
Nneka: Really? I feel like I am.
Luvvie: You are the fire-starter who starts a fire and goes, “Well, at least I started in the fire pit.”
Nneka: That is so true.
Luvvie: But you started the fire.
Luvvie: Just because it happened in the fire pit does not make that fire less significant, let me tell you something right now. We need the people who are like, “Yo, I know how to infiltrate from the inside.”
Nneka: Yeah. I mean, we do, we do. I guess I never really considered myself that way. I just approach things as though … “What I would want someone who had the power to do something for me do?” And that’s kind of the approach that I take, and I try to do that both gracefully but also without losing myself in the process. And I think that’s kind of the most important thing, because we don’t want to be performative. No, no, no, no, no.
Luvvie: Not at all.
Nneka: That’s not where we want to be.
Luvvie: No, no. You’re doing it every day, and I am such a fan and I am rooting for you. And, listen, there’s so much more for you, that I’m excited to watch what you do once you even stop playing basketball. Knowing you, you probably got a full plan. It was like, “And then after that, I’m going to do this thing.” Whatever it is, you’re going continue winning and I’m excited to watch it all happen. I’m so proud. So proud to see you do all you do, it’s so dope.
Nneka: Thank you so very much. I don’t know how many people I’ve recommended your books to. I’ve created a book club around your book. And it’s so funny, when I think about when I first met you when I was a rookie …
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:06:12].
Luvvie: We didn’t even talk about that. We didn’t even talk about that [inaudible 01:06:14].
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:06:14]. That was the first time I met you.
Luvvie: Wait a minute, we actually didn’t even … Oh my God, we actually met in 2012.
Luvvie: You were just drafted.
Nneka: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Luvvie: Yo, I completely forgot.
Nneka: Wasn’t that a time? Wasn’t that a time?
Luvvie: What a time.
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:06:34].
Luvvie: Nine years ago … Oh my God, I completely forgot that.
Nneka: Isn’t that crazy? So yeah, I was just like, “Man, the world is an amazing place.”
Luvvie: That’s crazy, and I started following you then. Yo, that’s wild.
Nneka: Isn’t it?
Luvvie: And you remembered that? Oh my God.
Nneka: Oh, I remember that day specifically.
Luvvie: I was a consultant on a-
Nneka: We were surviving.
Luvvie: Girl, basically, I was a consultant on some TV show pilot that they were trying to film and you made a cameo, right?
Nneka: Yeah, as myself.
Luvvie: As yourself?
Nneka: Yeah. And I couldn’t believe, because I was there for nine hours and you were there for way longer than me, and I was like, “How?” I’m like, “How are you doing this?” [inaudible 01:07:25].
Luvvie: I probably was like, “Girl.” I probably just said, “Girl.”
Nneka: Yeah. You had the energy though. I was like, “All right, you know what? She’s bringing the energy, I need to bring mine too.” So, yes.
Luvvie: Come on. I mean, the show never went nowhere because, as you see …
Nneka: Yeah, yeah.
Luvvie: Yeah. But some good things happened that day because, look, I literally met you and I started following you that day on Instagram. That’s funny. I completely forgot that was actually when we met for the first time.
Nneka: Right. It was so nice.
Luvvie: That’s so dope. Look how much has changed.
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:07:57]. Look at us now.
Luvvie: Mama, we made it. Mama, we made it, we made it. No, that’s awesome. You’re doing amazing work all on and off the court. The jersey? Listen, when other colors drop, let me know. I’ll be buying another one.
Nneka: Ooh, I can’t wait.
Luvvie: I need the full situation. I need the shorts, I need all the things. I need all the things. All of it.
Nneka: [crosstalk 01:08:25]. Let me put a little something together since we in the season of giving-
Luvvie: Come on.
Nneka: … and caring.
Luvvie: Come on. Listen, I’ll rock it.
Nneka: Let’s do it.
Luvvie: And I have the perfect, when I say the perfect outfit to go, it will be a whole ensemble. It would just be a whole situation.
Nneka: I love it.
Luvvie: We’ll make it happen.
Nneka: Now, are you going to wear it to a Sky game, when we play the Sky?
Luvvie: Oh. Listen, listen, listen-
Nneka: Don’t worry.
Luvvie: … when y’all play the Sky, I’m going to have to wear half and half.
Nneka: I will not be upset if you wear a Sky jersey. We just got to get you to an LA game, that would be fun.
Luvvie: Boom, that’s it. Look, I am ready to come to an LA game. Who else was that? Tamika Catchings was like, “So, you going to wear a Sky jersey to Indiana?” I said, “Listen … ” I said, “Listen here, I will not show up in a Sky jersey. It’s fine, it’s fine.” I got to rep the hometown.
Nneka: Once you show up once, everyone’s going to have expectations, I’m telling you that right now.
Luvvie: Oh, listen.
Nneka: I’m telling you.
Luvvie: Listen, I was like, “Man, I have so many allegiances.” I’m like, “Okay.” I’m like, “How do I pick which jersey I will wear that day?” I’m actually trying to get my collection of jerseys together-
Luvvie:… where I can just be like, “You know what? They coming. I’m going to pull this one today.” So, that’s why I said-
Nneka: I love it.
Luvvie: … I need more merch so I can buy more merch so I can be rocking all these jerseys.
Nneka: All right, I’m going to put together something for you, don’t worry.
Luvvie: And I got you on the care package, it’s coming. Look, I’m the queen of care packages, so …
Nneka: I can already feel the lace.
Luvvie: Girl, listen, the relaxation. I am the queen of getting people all the products. I’m going to get you some good-smell goods, some-
Nneka: I love it.
Luvvie: I got you, it’s going down. I’m excited. Thank you so much-
Nneka: I’m excited.
Luvvie: … for joining me. This was amazing.
Nneka: Thanks for having me, I had so much fun.
So much has changed since I first met Nneka in 2012, but one thing has remained consistent; HER CHARACTER. She’s a real one.
I really appreciated her vulnerability in sharing the pain she felt when being passed over for the Olympic basketball team. And that there is a difference between just losing an award and being snubbed. And she was snubbed in this case. Big time. But Nneka continues to lead the WNBA players association with grace and dignity.
I loved our conversation about spending more money where you want to see money spent. Part of being a professional troublemaker is in the DOING. You have to take action. Show up. Invest in things that you think should grow. Support the people who are doing the good work and deserve your support.
Be sure you are following Nneka online so you can She is @nnekaogwumike on Instagram and Twitter