Sister Showdown – Chapter Six

Tonight in Connecticut, sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike will meet as opponents for the sixth time in their WNBA careers. It is the first meeting in nearly two years (July 2016) as Chiney missed the entire 2017 season due to a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Is this the year that the younger sister can finally get the best of the older sister?

In the first five meetings between the siblings, Nneka’s Sparks are 5-0 against Chiney’s Sun. After a decisive 26-point win in their first-ever matchup in July 2014 (with nearly 30 family members in attendance), the last four times meetings have been decided by a total of 19 points, with no win larger than seven points.

“The first time we played against each other in 2014 when I was a rookie, it felt like a circus,” Chiney told the Hartford Courant in the leadup to Thursday’s game. “It was the first time we ever played against each other really in life. But after that, everything got much easier mentally and physically … for me, my life has gotten much better. Mentally going up against your big sister is not easy.”

 

July 13, 2014 at CON

Sparks 90, Sun 64

  • Nneka: 29 MIN, 24 PTS, 7 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 8-13 FG (61.5%), 8-8 FT (100%), +28
  • Chiney: 32 MIN, 18 PTS, 6 REB, 2 STL, 9-14 FG (64.3%), -26

August 3, 2014 at LAS

Sparks 70, Sun 69

  • Nneka: 36 MIN, 17 PTS, 10 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG (44.4%), 9-10 FT (90%), +11
  • Chiney: 37 MIN, 23 PTS, 13 REB, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 11-19 FG (57.9%), 1-2 FT (50%), +5

May 26, 2016 at CON

Sparks 77, Sun 72

  • Nneka: 33 MIN, 11 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 3-4 FG (75%), 5-5 FT (100%), +9
  • Chiney: 21 MIN, 5 PTS, 9 REB, 1 AST, 1 BLK, 2-6 FG (33.3%), 1-2 FT (50%), -4

June 26, 2016 at LAS

Sparks 80, Sun 73

  • Nneka: 31 MIN, 27 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK, 11-16 FG (68.8%), 1-1 3P (100%), 4-4 FT (100%), +23
  • Chiney: 28 MIN, 16 PTS, 8 REB, 1 BLK, 6-10 FG (60%), 4-6 FT (66.7%), -5

July 15, 2016 at CON

Sparks 98, Sun 92 (OT)

  • Nneka: 30 MIN, 22 PTS, 10 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 8-11 FG (72.7%), 1-1 3P (100%), 5-5 FT (100%), +5
  • Chiney: 32 MIN, 16 PTS, 13 REB, 1 STL, 8-16 FG (50%), -6

After coming up short in her first five games against his big sister, Chiney is ready to get a W in the Sun column.

“We have to beat her — that’s going to change Thursday, OK? I’m just kidding,” Chiney said during the sisters’ conference call with media on Wednesday. “It’s been a long time since we played each other so I’m just going to have fun with it.”

Not only have the Ogwumike sisters had fun in these “sibling rivalry” games, both have elevated their play in these matchups, with both players exceeding their career averages when they face off with on another.

In 65 career games, Chiney is averaging 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 55.8% from the field. In five games against her sister, those numbers are up to 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds with her shooting percentage nearly identical to her career mark (55.4%).

Nneka has seen a similar bump in her numbers when there is another Ogwumike on the floor with her. In 192 career games, Nneka is averaging 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 56.5% from the field. Against Chiney, she is averaging 20.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and shooting 64.2%.

Here is a quick tale of the tape from those first five head-to-head matchups.

After playing together for two seasons at Stanford, Nneka entered the WNBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, with Chiney in attendance cheering on her sister and getting a glimpse of what her future could look like.

Two years later, Chiney followed suit as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 Draft, this time with Nneka as the doting sister in attendance with the rest of their family as the Ogwumike sisters joined the Manning brothers (Peyton and Eli) as the only siblings to be taken No. 1 in the history of the four major American pro sports.

Nneka and Chiney would both go on to win Rookie of the Year honors, but while Nneka’s on-court career continued to ascend (winning the 2016 MVP, 2016 championship and 2016 Finals MVP), Chiney suffered a pair of season-long injuries (microfracture knee surgery in 2015, torn Achilles in 2017) that put hurdles in her path to fulfilling her full potential.

But with that adversity came opportunity; while she was unable to play the game, she was able to analyze the game as she pursued broadcast opportunities with ESPN and the Boston Celtics over the past three years.

Chiney is an absolute natural in front of the camera, showcasing her basketball knowledge and engaging personality as she breaks down the NBA, WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball as an analyst on a variety of television and podcast outlets.

She shifted seamlessly from being an elite athlete rehabbing an injury to a professional broadcaster analyzing the game at the highest level – many times in the same day. The end result was the May 1 announcement that ESPN had hired Chiney as a full-time basketball analyst.

And not just during the WNBA offseason. On Wednesday morning she practiced with the Sun, then drove from practice to Boston to work Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Cavaliers. The media conference call we quoted earlier took place during Chiney’s drive from Connecticut to Boston.

After working the pregame, Chiney left the game after the first quarter to return to Connecticut with family in preparation for Thursday’s game against Nneka and the Sparks.

While Thursday’s matchup will be the latest chapter in their sibling rivalry as professional basketball players, it is one full of love and admiration for the other as both sisters look to build brilliant careers on and off the court.

“For me personally, I’m surprised it is still a storyline,” said Nneka, who in addition to playing for the Sparks is also President of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. “I think the biggest storyline right now is that she is both a professional athlete and a professional analyst, that alone is unheard of.”

The love and support for each other doesn’t change the fact that both players are ultra-competitive and want to win each and every time they step on the court – let alone against one another.

“Last time, Nneka completely forgot who I was — she went into game mode, so now I’m just going to keep talking in her ear so she remembers who I am,” said Chiney.

Getting her first win over her sister would be a good reminder as well.