• January 23, 2022

Los Angeles Sparks players Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season

Kristi Toliver. Photo: NBAE Getty Images.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Kristi Toliver and her teammate, forward/center Chiney Ogwumike, will not play this season in the WNBA, bringing the total number of players deciding to opt out at nine. The others:

  • Cecilia Zandalasini (Minnesota Lynx)
  • Renee Montgomery (Atlanta Dream)
  • Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)
  • Natasha Cloud (Washington Mystics)
  • LaToya Sanders (Washington Mystics)
  • Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta Dream)
  • Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty)

The 2020 WNBA season will start in late July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in a sequestered environment to protect players from COVID-19.

Toliver, who signed a three-year contract with the Sparks earlier this year, is also an assistant coach with the NBA’s Washington Wizards. She was a member of the team’s 2016 WNBA championship squad and the 2019 Washington Mystics title team.

“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.”

“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,” she added. “I look forward to rejoining my teammates in LA next season and wish them good health and safety this season. Go Sparks.”

The official deadline for players to opt out was yesterday.

“We will of course miss having a player of Kristi’s caliber on the court this season,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said. “However, our entire team and coaching staff respects and understands her decision. I know she’ll make an impact and be a leader in the community and we’ll be excited to have her back in Los Angeles next season.”

Oguwmike opted out for medical reasons. She missed the 2015 and 2017 seasons with injuries. The top pick in the 2014 draft arrived in Los Angeles during a trade ahead of the 2019 season and played alongside her older sister Chiney, the president of the players’ union.

“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.”

“I am so lucky to have an organization that believes in me and supports me as a player and as a person,” she added. “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.”

The league is still ironing out details for pre-training camp testing, safety protocols, the actual schedule, media access, and other items.

“This year has forced all of us to make unprecedented decisions as our society faces the coronavirus pandemic,” Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman said. “With that in mind, the Sparks organization understands that each player has to make the best decision for them. We completely support Kristi’s decision to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season and look forward to her joining the team in 2021.”

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