Liz Cambage did not have to come back for another season in the WNBA. At 30 years old, she had become more than just a basketball player, starting a vitamin business in her native Australia and continuing her blossoming career as a DJ. Plus, with nearly a million followers on Instagram, her brand was booming.
But there was something deep down, an undeniable urge, that brought her to Wednesday’s big moment, to the stage set up outside Crypto.com Arena where she would be officially introduced as the Sparks’ newest star free-agent acquisition.
“It was L.A. or out for me,” Cambage said. “There was nowhere else I wanted to be.”
While that notion is somewhat predictable fodder for an introductory news conference, Cambage's words felt genuine, like this step really was the culmination of a childhood dream.
“Growing up, everyone told me to watch Shaq play, but I was too busy watching Kobe. I should have been studying Shaq’s game,” she said with an easy laugh. “Now I’m studying Shaq’s game and still trying to be Kobe. But growing up, they were the two players I got to see the most back in Australia. If it wasn’t their game, it was in ads on TV, in interviews, in magazines. I wanted to play at Staples. I wanted to play here. I wanted to be a star, Hollywood and the lights.”
Her entry into the WNBA at 19 was a rude awakening. She was drafted second overall by the Tulsa Shock and revealed her outspoken nature very quickly by saying she did not want to play for that franchise. She didn’t understand why a player of her caliber couldn’t choose their destination right from the start.
“Because I wanted to come to L.A.,” Cambage said. “I know it’s taken 11 years, but it’s finally here. It’s been a journey.”
And not an easy one either, beginning with the Tulsa (culture) Shock.
“I cried every day,” she said. “I think I got the record of most losses in a professional league. We won three games my rookie season. From Tulsa to Dallas to Vegas to L.A., I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learned, I grew, I made bonds that are forever. It is amazing to look back on God’s plan and say my dream did finally come true.”
The Sparks missed the playoffs last season, which is far below the standard for the three-time WNBA champions. Meanwhile, longtime Sparks star Candace Parker led the Chicago Sky to the WNBA title in her first season after leaving L.A. behind because of a fraying relationship with Sparks coach/general manager Derek Fisher.
Fisher said Wednesday that “you can’t write it any better than what happened with Candace and Chicago.” He entered this offseason with the goal of making moves that would quickly help the Sparks pen their own triumphant story.
“It really started with a very short list of players,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had the presence in the middle that makes people think twice about coming to the basket. Liz changes that instantly. Offensively, we haven’t been an efficient team, and Liz changes that for us instantly. She’s as efficient a player as there is in the league.”
Fisher said another factor that helped the Sparks and Cambage come together was her willingness to sign a deal below the league maximum.
“She wasn’t interested in being the only person that could help the team,” Fisher said.
The hope is that Cambage, who stands 6 feet 8 and 235 pounds, will mix well with star sisters Nneka and Chimey Ogwumike and put the Sparks back in contention to hang their first banner since 2016. Cambage said she is “really close friends” with the Ogwumikes.
“They’re my Nigerian sisters, that’s half of me,” Cambage said. “I’ve been planning a trip [to Nigeria] and saying the girls need to take me and show me. I’ve never been. I get to learn a lot on and off the court with those girls this year.”
Cambage is a four-time WNBA All-Star and holds the league single-game points record of 53. She led the league in scoring that season too.
She will now be playing on the stage she’s always wanted, following in the footsteps of stars like Parker and Lisa Leslie. Cambage was asked Wednesday what she would think about one day being mentioned alongside names like that.
“Gotta get the job done!” she said. “For my name to even be in the mix with those women, those pioneers of the sport, I need to get the job done and bring a ring to L.A. And that’s my biggest dream as well. We get it done, everyone wins.
“I can’t wait for opening night. Going to be the start of something big.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.