Sparks' Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver Opt to Sit Out 2020 WNBA Season

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJune 27, 2020

FILE - In this May 31, 2019, file photo, Los Angeles Sparks' Chiney Ogwumike, left, dribbles next to Connecticut Sun's Brionna Jones, center, and Alyssa Thomas, right, during the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Los Angeles. Ogwumike was drafted by the Sun with the No. 1 pick in 2014.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike and guard Kristi Toliver will not take part in the WNBA's 22-game season, which is scheduled to be held at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com, Toliver cited health reasons for her decision: 

"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. For me, the right decision under the circumstances is to opt out for the year."

Ogwumike, who also works for ESPN and serves as the vice president of WNBA's executive committee, mentioned injury concerns in a message on Twitter:

Chiney Ogwumike @Chiney321

💜🙏🏿💛 https://t.co/ADdndFdOzb

There are other WNBA players who have opted to sit out the 2020 campaign, per Jack Maloney of CBS Sports, including Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, Mystics forward/center LaToya Sanders, Atlanta Dream guards Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery and Connecticut Sun forward/center Jonquel Jones.

Cited reasons include concerns about COVID-19 and participating in social justice efforts. 

The Sparks finished last season with a 22-12 record, good enough for first place in the Western Conference. They reached the league semifinals but were swept by the Connecticut Sun. 

Toliver signed with the Sparks this offseason after three years with the Mystics, including a title-winning season in 2019. The three-time All-Star dropped 13.0 points and made 6.0 assists per game while shooting a career-high 49.4 percent from the field. She led the team in assists and was third in scoring.

Toliver played seven years with the Sparks before going to the Mystics in 2017. The former Maryland star went third overall to the Chicago Sky in the 2009 WNBA draft but was traded to the Sparks after one season.

Ogwumike also shot 49.4 percent from the field last year, posting 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

The two-time All-Star dominated for the Connecticut Sun during the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons, averaging career highs with 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game during her rookie year.

Unfortunately, injuries, including a microfracture in her right knee in 2015 and an Achilles injury in 2017, have kept the ex-Stanford star off the court for long periods of time.

The Sparks should have enough talent to post a winning record sans Toliver and Ogwumike, although losing both is a huge blow to their championship chances. 

Still, the team has leading scorer Nneka Ogwumike (Chiney's older sister), three-time All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray, three-point sharpshooter Riquna Williams and two-time MVP Candace Parker.

Prior to Ogwumike's and Toliver's announcements, the Sparks had the third-best odds to win the WNBA Finals, according to Vegas Insider, behind the Las Vegas Aces and defending champion Mystics.

They should still find themselves in the thick of what looks to be a six-team race for the crown, with the Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm and defending runner-up Sun also in the mix as opening tipoff July 24 draws closer.