Why Did Liz Cambage Bounce From the WNBA's L.A. Sparks?

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Liz Cambage arrives at the 2022 ESPYs held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, CA on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Liz Cambage arrives at the 2022 ESPYs held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, CA on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Exactly why did Liz Cambage, the controversial WNBA star and influencer, decide to ditch the league’s Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday in what the team called a “contract divorce”?

Cambage hasn’t spoken publicly about why she walked away but her social media and the ups and downs of her career off the court offer clues to why what seemed like playing in a dream location ended abruptly just before the Sparks made a playoff charge.

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On May 5, Cambage tweeted stories from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, writeups that cast the beginning of her time in L.A. as a new beginning after several false starts with other teams. “The W.N.B.A. star is outspoken, confident and, finally, where she wants to be: in Los Angeles, playing for the Sparks,” the Times’ subhead blared.

Less than three months later, Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams announced Cambage’s departure as he spoke to media. If he had answers about why the Australian player ditched the squad, he wasn’t saying.

From the Los Angeles Times

“I have to respect what she wants,” said interim coach Fred Williams, whose relationship with Cambage began in 2018 when she played for the Williams-coached Dallas Wings. “Once a person gives you that verbally what she wants, you have to listen because it could be something else, could be something that’s not related to basketball.”

“It is with support that we share Liz Cambage’s decision to terminate her contract with the organization,” Sparks managing partner Eric Holoman said in a statement. “We want what’s best for Liz and have agreed to part ways amicably. The Sparks remain excited about our core group and are focused on our run towards a 2022 playoff berth.”

Cambage left her former team at an inconvenient time for the Sparks, who now have to try to squeak into the WNBA playoffs without a reliable backup center on their bench and despite a sub-.500 record. In the WNBA, the top eight teams by winning percentage make the playoffs regardless of conference standing. The Sparks are currently tied for the sixth seed with a .444 win percentage.

The team they’re tied with, the Dallas Wings, is one of several that Cambage has left early during a career marked by controversy and Cambage’s admitted struggles with anxiety and depression.

In a 2019 Players’ Tribune essay on mental health, Cambage attributed early ends to her stints with the Wings and the Tulsa Shock to bouts with mental health challenges.

My mental health played a role in my decision on where to play this year. I couldn’t make it work, in the end, in Tulsa or Dallas — in the middle of this foreign country without my support system. I remember flying back from Melbourne to Tulsa for the 2012 W season. And when we got off the plane during our layover in Sydney….. I’m not sure quite how to explain it….. but I just could not get back on. I couldn’t go back. 

Cambage was playing for the Las Vegas Aces at the time, but signed with the Sparks as a free agent this past offseason.

She also cited her mental health after the most controversial incident of her basketball career. In 2020, she left the Australian national team, the Opals, after a fight broke out between Cambage and several members of the Nigerian national team as both squads prepped for the summer Olympics in Las Vegas.

Cambage, whose father is Nigerian, was later accused of throwing an elbow at one of the Nigerian players and calling several of them “monkeys”. That accusation, which she has denied, might have also hurt her chemistry with a Sparks locker room that also includes starting forwards Chine and Nneka Obuwike, who are Nigerian-American.