Understand Your Finances
WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike shares the many ways she invests in herself
Chase and UNINTERRUPTED have partnered to create "Kneading Dough," a series of intimate and honest conversations with professional athletes about how they've navigated their unique financial and career pathways. We hope our readers are inspired, informed, and empowered to make the best financial decisions.
In this video, WNBA forward Nneka Ogwumike talks about playing professional basketball on two continents, as well as her financial journey from establishing a 401(k) during her rookie season, to working toward her long-term dream of working for a sports club—or, someday, becoming president of a professional sports league.
Ogwumike, a 27-year-old originally from suburban Houston, is one of four daughters of Nigerian immigrant parents who expected great success. A 6-foot-2 all-star forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, Ogwumike began playing basketball at a young age—after realizing she was too tall for gymnastics. She soon found that her height, and talent, could pay for her college education, and more.
She helped lead Stanford University to four Final Four appearances, became the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WNBA draft, and won a WNBA championship with the Sparks in 2016 by making the game-winning shot to clinch the title over the Minnesota Lynx.
Female athletes work double duty to stay afloat
The average salary in the WNBA starts at around $50,000 and caps at $110,000. By comparison, the starting salary for the NBA is about $560,000, so there is a huge income disparity between the two leagues. For many WNBA players, they need more income, and so they play overseas during the off-season or have side businesses.
Even Ogwumike, who earns the WNBA's maximum annual salary, plays seven months out of the year in Russia, with the Dynamo Kursk squad, before coming to Los Angeles to start the WNBA season. She won a EuroLeague title with Dynamo Kursk in April 2017.
Ogwumike thinks the resourcefulness – and many talents – of the players within the WNBA is one of the best things about the league.
"That's the beautiful thing about our league is that a major majority of us have degrees. And so you have people that own franchises. You have people that started their own businesses. Some have hair lines, ice cream stores and they're working in different companies, even interning for the NBA. You have a lot of very ambitious women in the league," she says.
"And, obviously because of us being able to play overseas, and experience a different life in a different area, it really broadens our horizon and that allows for some really colorful experiences," she says.
And since she is the president of the union for the WNBA, Ogwumike actively works to close the income gap.
"It's getting better and once there are more eyes on us, more ears on us, it'll bring more business and more private entities that want to support us," she says.
Pride in being frugal
Although she enjoys the occasional splurges and guilty pleasures—dinners at Nobu while in Russia, a pair of diamond earrings—Ogwumike takes pride in being frugal. She considers her best business decision one she didn't make—she's never purchased a car.
"I'm not going to buy a car until I get a house, and I don't have a house, so… where am I going to park it?" she asks.
Ogwumike isn't left stranded though. She tools around Los Angeles in a league-issued rental and relies on an on-call driver in Russia who's available to her and her teammates 24/7.
"There are moments when like I'm driving into the Staples Center and like I see my teammates with their cars and I'm driving in my rental," Ogwumike says, laughing. "I've got a nice outfit on and I come out of my rental car, and I'm thinking, 'I'm not going to step out of this rental car.' The savings are going to be worth it one day, but there's no reason for me to have a car right now." And when she shops, she maintains an old habit she established in high school.
"No matter what store I go into, the first place I always go to is the clearance rack," she says. "I work from the bottom up."
Learn from those who came before you
Ogwumike paid close attention during her WNBA rookie orientation in 2012 when the team began discussing retirement. Ogwumike said she has contributed the maximum amount each year to her 401(k) since that season. She's also looking at purchasing investment properties with her mother.
When making financial decisions, she advises younger athletes to heed the advice of veteran players, especially ones close to the end of their careers and looking to make their next move.
“When it comes to managing your finances, you have to listen to those before you," she says. “Whether someone's made more or less than what you are making or what you will make, they've been around longer and probably have a better perspective on how to spend money."
Life beyond the court
When she retires from basketball, Ogwumike wants to stay in sports and work in a front-office position.
"I want to go back to school," she says. "I've thought about it a long time and I want to get a master's degree in public relations and involve myself in the sports world again, maybe as the president of a club or even a league."
Shannon Shelton Miller is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in the Detroit Free Press, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Huffington Post, among other media outlets.