Liz Cambage debacle is last thing LA Sparks – or WNBA – need right now

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

By: Akiem Bailum

When the start of the season began, most onlookers of the WNBA envisioned that with the number of colorful personalities up and down the Los Angeles Sparks’ roster that they would get more than its fair share of headlines away from the court.

No one envisioned that a controversy of this magnitude would all of a sudden engulf the entire WNBA as well as the Sparks organization.

According to a news outlet in Australia, when the Australian Opals played the Nigerian national team in Las Vegas prior to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, she elbowed a D’Tigress opponent, slapped another across the face, used a racial slur and told them to “go back to your third world country.” The practice game, which was closed door, was called off.

For a while, we have heard trickling reports as to why she decided to call it quits with the Australian Opals and why Cambage had zero interest in suiting up for the team ahead of this year’s FIBA World Cup. The host country for this year’s FIBAs? Australia.

An in-depth investigation by that same news outlet also reportedly uncovered even more erratic and questionable behavior on the part of Cambage. It clearly paints a different picture of a Liz Cambage that is unlike what we have been used to over the years.

As if the WNBA did not already have enough on its plate dealing with the Brittney Griner saga, more travel issues and other items of note, now this controversy lands on not only the Sparks’ desk but also the league’s as well.

For a while, it appears, it looks as if there was inside knowledge of what was going on just as there was inside knowledge of what was going on involving the New York Liberty’s chartered planes from last year that was unearthed by Howard Megdal at Sports Illustrated. The WNBA and commissioner Cathy Engelbert ruled with an iron fist with the Liberty but appears to be treating the Cambage controversy with a velvet glove.

What makes the issue even trickier for the WNBA and the Sparks is what Cambage may do if the league decides to take action. Let us say the Cambage saga is so massive that she gets suspended from the WNBA for a year. She may use that to announce her retirement from not just the W, but from professional basketball as a whole.

Cambage is notorious for only signing one-year deals whenever she is a free agent. There was a social media post she put up at the outset of free agency that hinted she was through with the WNBA as a whole because of its relatively meager salaries. In addition, the fact that the Las Vegas Aces were not featuring her in any social media posts prior to the start of free agency was another sign she was out the door in Sin City.

Many a pundit and fan has actually believed that the Aces would be better without Cambage than they would be with her. It turns out that those prognosticators were exactly correct. The Aces are currently 8-1 and would be the top seed if the playoffs were to start today. Ironically, because of the WNBA’s updated playoff format, the Aces’ first postseason opponent would be…

…the Los Angeles Sparks who are currently 4-6 and are currently eighth in the W.

Then – there is the Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike factor as well as both are of Nigerian descent.

Either way, having Cambage still suit up for the Sparks or any WNBA team now is a major public relations disaster particularly in a league that is mostly Black women. The controversy involving D’Tigress and the Opals is another in a string of controversies over Cambage’s career that have somewhat taken away from the fact that she is one of the premier basketball players in the world.

But being an elite baller does not excuse one from the questionable behavior that she is being accused of. Cambage has since released an Instagram post explaining her side of the story. Sandy Brondello, Liberty and Opals coach was asked about this at a recent media session and she said she would have no comment.

Everyone in WNBA circles knows that one of the glues keeping Cambage in the W was Fred Williams, her former coach with the Dallas Wings and was recently a Sparks assistant coach under Derek Fisher. Williams, prior to the start of the season pulled a Nicki Collen and was announced as having taken an assistant coaching job at Auburn. Who knows if that had an effect on Cambage’s thoughts in this early part of the season.

The bottom line is the longer that the WNBA and the Sparks allow this to go on with no action being taken will only further that PR problem. The report out of Australia has turned longtime fans against Cambage and has made her a radioactive figure amongst those same fans.

The controversy should prompt either the WNBA or the Sparks to take real action against Cambage – for their own good as well as hers.