WNBA Stars Chiney And Nneka Ogwumike On Family & Basketball

Tennis has Venus and Serena Williams. Football has Peyton and Eli Manning. And basketball — basketball has Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. The sisters, both number one draft picks, are powerhouse players in the WNBA, for the Los Angeles Sparks and Connecticut Sun respectively — but they’re just as concerned about making an impact off the court.

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Nneka and Chiney are partnering with UNICEF, using their popularity and influence to raise money for programs to empower and educate girls in Nigeria. “The game of basketball has given us so much, so it is only right to give back,” they said. “In the United States, it is easy to take basic things for granted, things like food, water, shelter and education. With the recent crisis [Chibok kidnapping] in Nigeria, many people looked to us for insight into the situation. We felt it was our duty to raise awareness and let people know we care just as much for Nigeria as we do America. We began to focus our efforts on helping others, specifically young girls in Nigeria, because we knew our influence could provide much needed assistance.”

The sisters grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, a place they affectionately call “little Naija,” but they also visited Nigeria many times during their childhood. “As a child, Nigeria was a mythical place. We enjoyed seeing our family and friends and having an international perspective, but something was missing: understanding. Now as adults, we have realized that there is so much to our mother country. Our goal is to try to share the beauty of our unique perspective, being Nigerian-Americans, with others. We truly have the best of both worlds.”

Chiney, the younger sibling, was so passionate about learning about Nigeria that she chose to study abroad in Nigeria (a requirement for her International Relations major at Stanford) and interned for eight weeks for the Ministry of Petroleum and the National Assembly Office for Human Rights.

Nneka also attended Stanford, graduating in 2012 — two years before her sister — with a degree in psychology, but their parents have made it clear their education is not over.  In fact, for housewarming presents, their parents gave them both GRE study guides. The sisters are planning to apply to MBA programs in the near future.

When asked who their greatest influence is, they immediately said their family. “Our parents and our sisters mean the world to us. Our dad is a software engineer and runs his own company based in Nigeria. My mom is the assistant superintendent for student services for our hometown school district, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. Our [two] younger sisters will be playing basketball together at Pepperdine University next year.”

With four fantastic basketball players in the family, it’s hard to believe the sport wasn’t Nneka and Chiney’s first choice. Their first major sport was gymnastics, but when the gym complained about them getting too tall, one of their mom’s co-workers suggested basketball. The rest is history. They became the preeminent basketball tag team from AAU through Stanford University. Now, they’re competitors.

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Don’t ask who’s the better player, because you won’t get a straight answer. “It depends on the day,” is what they told us. But they expounded, saying Nneka has “more experience and refined skill,” and Chiney is “relentless and extremely competitive.”

Both women have championship dreams, but want their legacies to be much more significant. “We want to use our platform to help inspire and empower girls of our generation (especially in Africa) and help break down stereotypes regarding female athletes.”

For young girls in America, Nigeria and across the globe, they offer this advice: “If you have a purpose and a passion, you can be unstoppable. Use your passion as a platform for your education.”

To learn more about the Ogwumike sisters work for girls in Nigeria, visit NNEKA&CHINEY

Image: Courtesy ADM Worldwide

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Rae Oglesby is a freelance multimedia journalist and the founder + chief storyteller for Oglesby Communications Consulting. She can be reached at rae@oglesbyconsulting.com.