The Houston professional athlete who gets nude for ESPN in the sports goliath’s latest Body Issue is not Internet famous. She doesn’t regularly scream for attention. She’s not angling to be in J.J. Watt’s Instagram orbit.
She’s just one of the best basketball players on earth — and a Stanford graduate who regularly earned all-academic honors. You could even call Nneka Ogwumike a nerd. Go ahead. She wouldn’t be offended by it. This 27-year-old from Tomball is used to shattering stereotypes.
So maybe it’s no surprise that one of the smartest players in the WNBA, the president of the league’s Players Union no less, would be one who agrees to bare it all for ESPN the Magazine — and the accompanying video shoots. Ogwumike has always put herself out there. She’s not going to let a little tasteful nudity (it’s ESPN, you don’t really see everything — even though Ogwumike only poses with a basketball) intimidate her.
Ogwumike won league MVP last season. She deserves more attention. It’s hard to quibble with the idea of her representing women’s basketball in any form.
This basketball savant (Ogwumike still considers herself a basketball “novice” despite her Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and WNBA MVP status) could not come across any more charming than she does in her Body Issue interview. She talks about her fridge being filled with cucumbers (they’re packed full of vitamins) and her tea addiction.
“If you drink tea, it’ll save your life,” Ogwumike says. “I have like six cups of tea a day.”
This tea drinker almost never became a basketball star. Ogwumike charted a path to become a Simone Biles-level figure rather than an in-the-paint basketball star as a child. Then, her height got in the way.
“Growing up, I was a gymnast, but my gym instructor told my mom that it would be too dangerous for me to continue,” the 6-foot-2 Ogwumike tells ESPN. “I was way too tall for the somersaults and the flips they were teaching. It was possible I could hit my head on the balance beam, but even when I was doing flips, my body was too long for what was being taught. I was about 9 or 10 years old.
“I was really sad. I had never ever expressed any interest in any other sport. I felt like I didn’t know what to do. My life was crumbling at the ripe age of 10 years old!
“So that’s when I started playing basketball.”
“I’M NOT SURE IF THIS IS OK TO TALK ABOUT, BUT I’M GOING TO ANYWAY: GROWING UP, I DIDN’T THINK HAVING A BIG BUTT WAS GOOD.”
Gymnastics loss has become women’s basketball’s huge gain. It truly got going at Cy-Fair High School where Ogwumike and her sisters starred and continues to the highest levels of the game. Ogwumike is not only one of the more dominant players in the game. She has a chance to change women’s basketball for future generations with her work as the Players Union president. So yes, Nneka Ogwumike will take it all off for ESPN (and shock her Nigerian parents).
It brings more attention to her sport. And it shows how much more comfortable this star has become with her own body.
“I’m not sure if this is OK to talk about, but I’m going to anyway: Growing up, I didn’t think having a big butt was good,” Ogwumike says. “I was very self-conscious when I was playing volleyball because we had to wear the Spanx, but after a while I was like, ‘Hey, this is awesome!’ ”
Isn’t that really the point of a Body Issue? To embrace all types of different bodies. As usual, Nneka Ogwumike gets it better than most.