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What I’m Hearing: Owners and players come to a new agreement on salaries, maternity leave, and travel. USA TODAY

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Had a global pandemic hit four years ago, the WNBA may not have been able to salvage its season. Back then, the league had a labor deal that hardly supported the players as it does now.

“This last CBA signified the leap of faith in a lot of ways,” Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, the WNBA players’ union president, told USA TODAY Sports. “Without negotiating that last CBA, I think this negotiation would’ve been very different.”

Had daily protests over racial inequality and police brutality taken place four years ago, the WNBA may not have been able to salvage its season, either. Back then, the league  was uncomfortable with how its players spoke out on such issues.

“In the past, the league had reprimanded us for that,” Ogwumike said. “That was a sticking point with trying to figure out how we want to go about this season.”

And yet here we are. See all 36 selections

WNBA players had spoken out about these issues in 2016 without as much support.

Before one game, the Minnesota Lynx wore a T-Shirt that listed the names of two Black men (Philando Castile and Alton Sterling) who were killed by police. The front of the shirt read, “Change Starts With Us: Justice & Accountability.”  As a result, four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working security that night left the arena in protest.

Former WNBA president Lisa Borders supported the players’ protest, but issued a warning that teams need to follow the league’s uniform guidelines. The Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty ignored the warnings. Shortly after, they wore T-Shirts over their warmups with “Black Lives Matter” slogans. The league fined all teams $5,000 and all players $500 before quickly rescinding the punishments.

“Although fines were rescinded, they still happened,” Ogwumike said. “It didn’t show we were being supported by the league that we represented at the time.”

That did not deter the players. During the 2017 Finals, the Lynx stood on the court and linked arms during the national anthem while the Sparks stayed in the locker room. The WNBA did not issue any punishments. But as Ogwumike sensed, “rather than more support, I would say I felt less resistance.”

And now?  Ogwumike shared that Engelbert “really took accountability” and vowed “to work together to rectify our past” after joining the WNBA just last year.

“We can’t continue a cyclical relationship of ‘he-said, she-said’ complaining,” Ogwumike said. “There has to be a leap of faith at some point. I really feel this last CBA signified the leap of faith in a lot of ways.”

In January, the WNBA and the players' union agreed to a eight-year deal that entailed a nearly triple salary increase, full maternity leave benefits and an increased split in league revenue should it reach certain bench marks. That elation became shortlived when the coronavirus pandemic swept the country in March.

So for the past three months, Ogwumike has stayed at her 真人百家家乐官网网站home in Houston. There, she has completed two- to three-hour workouts six days a week mostly in her garage. She has completed Peloton workouts as well as strength training exercises using boxes, free weights and medicine balls. She also does sprints at nearby soccer fields. Still, Ogwumike has not shot a basketball other than occasionally trying on an outdoor rim that she quickly found “unproductive.”  

“I anticipate feeling very sore in places that I haven’t felt sore in a while,” said Ogwumike, who has won a WNBA championship, made six All-Star teams and won rookie of the year honors (2012). “Once you stop using those muscles, it feels a little different.”

Ogwumike has also kept her physique and mind sharp with disciplined dieting and mindfulness exercises. She has stayed away from red meat in favor of plant-based foods and fish. She has occasionally indulged in oatmeal cookies or donuts, but has made them herself so she can include healthy ingredients. She has also prioritized meditating and sleep to reduce stress with negotiating how to salvage the season, processing the pandemic and racial inequality.

“It hasn’t been easy. But you understand you are what you see, you are what you eat and you are what you listen to,” Ogwumike said. “I try to eliminate things that don’t serve me physically, mentally and emotionally. But I also allow what is happening around the world to fuel my drive to make a difference and hold myself more accountable.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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