Chiney Ogwumike talks Caitlin Clark as face of the WNBA on ESPN's 'First Take.' screengrab: ‘first take’

If you had asked Chiney Ogwumike a couple of months ago who the face of the WNBA is, she would’ve resoundingly told you A’ja Wilson.

The conversation has evolved, and Caitlin Clark finds herself under immense pressure. As the new focal point, she’s expected to be the public face of the WNBA, responsible for addressing all its issues, even if they’re not directly related to her.

That’s not to diminish Wilson’s accomplishments, but the conversation is ever-changing.

“[Wilson] is currently the back-to-back champion,” Ogwumike said of Wilson on Friday’s First Take. “She is currently right now playing like an MVP. Have you seen the history she’s made? Breaking a streak by Tina Charles, most 25-point games in a row. She is the most dominant player in the WNBA right now. But we’re experiencing a shift where, for better or worse, she’s not necessarily the face of the league. The face of the league is now Caitlin Clark.”

Ogwumike is currently in Dallas for the NBA Finals, and she was able to see her sister, Nneka, play in Thursday’s Dallas Wings-Seattle Storm game.

“But when I think about this ecosystem in which we’re existing, it made me think,” Ogwumike said. “I spoke to so many WNBA fans, and they’re like, ‘How is it like? The conversations are not necessarily focused on basketball, but it’s good for the sport.’ And I was like, ‘You know, it is because we have the opportunity to set the record straight,’ and I think Caitlin did just that.

“But it had me thinking. You know what’s interesting? We talk, especially on this network, about LeBron James a lot, right? And I feel like we’re getting to the same point with Caitlin Clark. And that’s because, based on their talent(s), they command so much attention. But one thing we realized, and I personally realized in 2020, I was a part of [LeBron]’s More Than a Vote collective; he realized he had to stand for something and represent the league.

“The difference is, obviously, he’s a Black man, and this is a young white woman. But still, I think, as you mention, she’s not just representing herself as an individual, as a basketball player. She is the face of the league that has built its backbone consistently, but over the last few years — I’d even say from 2020 — has been known for advocacy. And if you don’t say anything to educate people as to what this league is, which she did, actually, if you listen to the whole clip. She said, ‘I chose this league. I idolize the players. I idolize what this league has represented.’ Her favorite player is Maya Moore.

“As illustrious as a career as Maya Moore has had, let me tell you, I had to guard her when I was a freshman playing against UConn; I had to guard her in the WNBA. To this day, she is the hardest person I’ve ever had to defend. As illustrious of a career she’s had on the court, she’s known for what she’s doing off the court — for the social justice, for the fights against incarceration. That’s what we know her final chapter is. And it might be the most impactful.”

When Ogwumike played, she said that Moore was, in some respects, the face of the WNBA.

“But now it’s a new face, and that shift has happened quickly,” she said. “And I think that with all of the growth that Caitlin has brought, it has brought a lot of growing pains. Dijonai’s tweet was highlighting the growing pains. Also, recognizing that silence is not necessarily golden, even if you’re trying to coexist as one individual, trying to make something of your career in this early stages, it is necessary to at least say something, especially when (Jim Trotter) specifically asks.

“Because now you have the opportunity to educate people who are coming with you, who are bringing the engagement so that hopefully, the focus can be on the game and not on all these preconceived notions that being in one of the most pivotal moments in our country’s history has brought to the forefront.”

[First Take]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.