LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chiney Ogwumike is already one of the busiest athletes in professional sports but the multifaceted basketball player and radio host added another accomplishment during the offseason.
Ogwumike is the executive producer of “144,” a documentary that chronicles the 2020 WNBA season inside a bubble in Bradenton, Florida. The documentary will premiere on ESPN on Thursday night, a day before the start of the WNBA’s 25th season.
“Being an executive producer of a film is something that people devote their lives to. To be able to have that position for me is an honor and a privilege,” said Ogwumike, a star forward with the LA Sparks. “There’s also pressure because we want everyone to understand that the WNBA has been on the forefront of not only being the best professional basketball league in the world, but also on the forefront of so much change as well.”
The documentary — whose title refers to the total number of players who played in the bubble — takes an unflinching look at the season, from the physical and emotional toll of playing a 22-game regular season in 50 days with daily coronavirus testing, to players reacting to police violence and making social statements. The players dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor while also calling attention to social activism.
Ogwumike sat out the season due to health precautions but had daily conversations with the production crew and other players inside the bubble. She maintained her role as vice president of the WNBA Players Association while her sister, Nneka, serves as the president.
Chiney Ogwumike said the entire process — from getting two people inside the bubble to film to players agreeing to talk — was an exercise in trust.
“Being a player myself currently, I think that stripped down any of the apprehensions that normally players have because they knew that was one of them behind the camera. They knew that there’s a greater purpose for that camera being there,” she said. “We also didn’t know what the season was going to produce, and now I think it’s so special considering what happened and what transpired about how we were there to witness that.”
The documentary also features Las Vegas Aces star Dearica Hamby caring for her 3-year-old daughter in the bubble as well as players meeting after the shooting of Jacob Blake to decide whether to continue the season. During one part of the documentary, Natalie Achonwa discussed fearing for her boyfriend’s safety while saying the bubble was one of the few safe places to be.
The players association meeting offers the best picture yet of what athletes were dealing with inside a bubble.
“How often do you get an entire professional sports league, one of women in particular, together in one location trying to problem solve a problem that they did not create? Yet, because we are a league full of predominantly Black women, we have to countlessly step up and advocate for others,” Ogwumike said. “You’re in this situation of trying to figure out how to help, when naturally people are still going through their own personal struggles. That just shows the demonstration of strength. There are people that may not agree to everything, but at the end of the day, we stand together.
“People are saying, ‘How do these women do it?’ Well, guess what? You can see it in real time now.”
Director Jenna Contreras said she shot 140 hours of footage and conducted 64 interviews during her 62 days in the bubble. Contreras said it took six weeks to log all the footage before the process of cutting it down to 77 minutes began in December with her, codirector Lauren Stowall and Ogwumike.
“It was a pretty ambitious timeline, but with the subject matter and social injustice, it remains on the forefront in people’s mind,” Contreras said.
Ogwumike said players who have seen screen copies of the documentary have become emotional because it has brought up moments that remain fresh six or seven months later.
When the season begins Friday, Ogwumike will be one of the key players for the Sparks, who reached the second round of the playoffs last season. She averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 49.4% from the field in 2019. That comes along with doing her afternoon show on ESPN Radio with Mike Golic Jr. as well as NBA analysis for ESPN.
“I think it’s just growth mindset overall, you know, continuing to try to push boundaries. Whether it is being on radio in season, still doing broadcasting and hooping, these are all possibilities I am so thrilled to have. It’s been amazing and honestly surreal,” she said.
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