Sparks stars Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver opt-out of WNBA season in Florida

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When the Los Angeles Sparks head to Florida for the modified 2020 WNBA season, they will be doing so without two of their biggest stars.

Both guard Kristi Toliver and forward Chiney Ogwumike opted-out of the season, the team announced on Friday night. 

Chiney Ogwumike out for medical reasons

Owgumike decided to skip the season due to medical reasons. The two-time All-Star has missed two full seasons already in her career, one due to a right knee injury in 2015 and another to an Achilles injury in 2017, and didn’t feel she had the time to prepare properly for the altered season in Florida.

“If you know me, you know that I have overcome some of the biggest challenges an athlete can face on the court,” Ogwumike said in a statement, in part. “My previous injuries have given me strength and built character, but unfortunately they require me to be careful with my preparation leading up to a season.

“This year is unprecedented in many ways, therefore my team and I have come to the decision to be proactively cautious and put my body first ... As much as I want to compete and win with my sister, I know it is best for me to sit this one out.”

The former No. 1 overall draft pick averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds with the Sparks last season, her first with the team after starting her career with the Connecticut Sun.

Kristi Toliver out due to COVID-19 pandemic

Toliver cited health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic as her biggest reason for sitting out.

The 33-year-old averaged 13 points and 5.9 assists last season while leading the Washington Mystics to a WNBA title. She signed a three-year deal with the Sparks this past offseason, returning to the team after a three-year stint with Washington. 

The three-time All-Star is also an assistant coach for the Wizards. 

“Though I want very much to compete with my team, to be a leader and show up for them, I am not comfortable with the risk to my physical health – short-term and long-term – given the many unknowns of COVID-19 and the risk of injury,” Toliver said in a statement, in part. “For me, the right decision under the circumstances is to opt out for the year.”

“During my time away I will get myself mentally and physically prepared for the 2021 season, and in light of the many social justice issues that are finally and rightfully front and center, I will find new ways to make a positive impact in my community.”

The WNBA will hold a 22-game regular season and a standard playoff format at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, next month, about 100 miles from where the NBA will resume it’s season in Orlando. The league has several coronavirus-related safety measures in place, however — just like in the NBA — there is reportedly a growing concern about the plan due to the recent spike in cases both in Florida and the country.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

There were more than 2.4 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Friday night, according to The New York Times, and nearly 125,000 deaths attributed to it. The United States set a new all-time daily record on Thursday with more than 41,000 new cases, too. Florida had nearly 123,000 cases as of Friday night, and has seen more than 5,000 new cases a day twice this week — a new state record. 

The two Sparks stars are just the latest to announce they will opt-out of the season, something WNBA players can do without penalty. Washington’s Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders each made the same decision, too, as did Sun star Jonquel Jones

Kristi Toliver, who signed with the Los Angeles Sparks this offseason, helped lead the Washington Mystics to a title in October. (G Fiume/Getty Images)
Kristi Toliver, who signed with the Los Angeles Sparks this offseason, helped lead the Washington Mystics to a title in October. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

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