Liz Cambage's Sparks 'divorce' had conflict from jersey number choice, to film sessions and on-court gripes, sources say
LOS ANGELES — Liz Cambage was leisurely running up the court complaining on Saturday while playing against her former team, the Las Vegas Aces, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Her condemnation stemmed from not getting enough post touches from her Los Angeles Sparks teammates, which sources close to the team say was normal behavior for the four-time WNBA All-Star.
Teammates couldn’t help but acknowledge Cambage’s discontent, and in return out of annoyance, they began force-feeding her the ball regardless of what play was supposed to be run, sources say. After the Sparks’ 84-66 embarrassing blowout loss, Cambage rushed to the locker room to get dressed for an early exit out of the arena after finishing with 11 points and five boards in 22 minutes. Prior to departing the locker room, she had a message for her teammates:
“I can’t do this anymore. Best of luck to you guys,” she stated before storming out, according to sources with knowledge of her departure.
Her teammates were shocked at the timing, sources say, but not of the end result.
On Tuesday, the Sparks announced that they agreed to a “contract divorce” with Cambage, ending her lone season after 25 games played with the organization.
Cambage couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cambage had conflict in WNBA long before stop in Los Angeles
The 6-foot-8 star was the franchise’s prized offseason acquisition when she signed as a free agent in February. She personally negotiated her one-year, $170,000 deal after parting ways with her longtime agent Allison Galer.
The Sparks had two cornerstone players exit in recent years in Candace Parker to the Chicago Sky and Chelsea Gray to the Aces. Adding Cambage gave life to a potential championship window with another dominating big leading the way, similar to Lisa Leslie and Parker during the Sparks’ glory days.
Cambage came with baggage.
She finagled her way from the Tulsa Shock in 2013, the team that drafted her with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA draft. Tulsa retained her rights and later became the Dallas Wings. From 2013-2018, she played overseas. Cambage asked for a trade from the Wings in 2019, a year after signing a multiyear contract.
And leading up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Cambage — an Australian citizen and member of the Australian national team — reportedly called players on the Nigerian national team “monkeys” during training camp. She withdrew weeks prior to the tournament, citing mental health concerns.
The “monkey” remark could not have been easy for Sparks veterans — Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike — who are sisters of Nigerian descent and who are actively appealing FIBA’s denial of their application to play for the Nigerian national team.
Derek Fisher, the head coach and general manager of the Sparks until he was fired in June, brought Cambage to Los Angeles.
Multiple players on the team felt the center could help the Sparks if she was focused and committed, but they expressed concerns that she’s known to be a player others don’t like to play with, sources said.
Despite those reservations, Fisher took the star on.
Sparks players take issue with team’s managing of Cambage, and club’s other issues
Before kicking off the 2022 WNBA season, things had already gotten off to a rocky start.
Cambage requested to wear the No. 8, but the Sparks informed her the number would be retired to honor DeLisha Milton-Jones, sources say. So she asked for No. 1, but that number belonged to forward Amanda Zahui B.
According to sources, Fisher approached Zahui B. about giving the number to Cambage and she politely declined, explaining the number meant a lot to her. Cambage still wanted the number. Time went by, and sources say management eventually made the call to give the number to the new starting center.
Zahui B. learned her number was given away via social media, sources say.
This approach ruffled feathers within the locker room, sources say.
In an unrelated move, the Sparks would suspend Zahui B. for the 2022 season. According to a team source, Fisher was of the understanding that her overseas commitment would have forced her to miss up to the first 13 games and the team needed to finalize its roster in advance of the regular season. A suspended player does not receive a salary that season and the team retains the player’s rights.
Over the past few years, Sparks players have complained about a lack of leadership, delegation and accountability from the higher-ups.
In film sessions, sources say it was customary for Cambage to call out teammates, accusing them of looking her off and not targeting her. Teammates would counter that she’s not sealing in the post and seldom gets back on defense when a turnover occurs. It was a conundrum that went unresolved.
One ongoing team grievance is the club’s practice location.
The Sparks practice at Jump Beyond Sports complex the majority of the season, and it’s been described as the worst practice facility in the league, sources say. Fisher and staff picked this location prior to the season to the dismay of most of the players, sources say.
“An AAU team wouldn’t want to play there,” one player said.
Fisher didn’t respond to text messaged questions from Yahoo Sports.
This month, the Sparks have held some practice sessions at USC and Crypto.com Arena.
What’s next for Liz Cambage?
Cambage was posting her lowest stats since her rookie season, averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds. She wasn’t voted to the All-Star game in Chicago. Cambage was spotted in Las Vegas in the height of NBA Summer League and later tested positive for COVID-19. She missed two games before returning to play on July 21 against Atlanta and Saturday against the Aces. Those would be her last games for the Sparks.
Where does Cambage go from here?
There are currently no interested WNBA teams, sources say. Some believe Cambage will use the down time to focus on her modeling career and deejaying, skills that are said to be admirable.
One persistent question from WNBA players from around the league about Cambage: “If she can’t make it in a locker room full of real professional veterans, where can she make it at?”
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