It's hard to miss Nneka Ogwumike. Not because she's 6-2 but because of the many other heights that define her: No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, 2012 WNBA rookie of the year, three-time WNBA All-Star, 2016 MVP and president of the WNBA Players' Association. All the more surprising, then, that Ogwumike claims she was terrible at basketball growing up. In fact, for The Magazine's ninth annual Body Issue, the power forward had plenty of surprising things to share with reporter Morty Ain, including her aversion to lifting weights and her No. 1 dietary need: doughnuts.
I'm a nerd, that's for sure. Most people would say it's because I went to Stanford, but I've been a nerd since well before then. I just love learning. I watch a lot of documentaries that have to do with animals. I'm huge into science and anatomy and physiology. A lot of people make fun of me because I know these random facts because I just Google everything.
I know a lot about what food does to your body. I know that cucumbers are the best thing to put inside your water. It has a lot of vitamins, but it also accelerates hydration. You should always drink a glass of cucumber water once you wake up and before and after each meal; I know that. My fridge is filled with cucumbers.
In general, tea is the way to go. If you drink tea, it'll save your life. I have like six cups of tea a day.
But doughnuts are my kryptonite, without a doubt. Krispy Kreme, specifically. I will eat a dozen doughnuts at one sitting. Easy. I'll do that once every three months. It's just when you know, you know. One morning every few months I'll wake up and say, "This is the day." I just wake up, and I'm like, "I'm going to the 'Hot Now' sign." [laughs]
Growing up, I was a gymnast, but my gym instructor told my mom that it would be too dangerous for me to continue. I was way too tall for the somersaults and the flips they were teaching. It was possible I could hit my head on the balance beam, but even when I was doing flips, my body was too long for what was being taught. I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was really sad. I had never ever expressed any interest in any other sport; I felt like I didn't know what to do. My life was crumbling at the ripe age of 10 years old! [laughs] So that's when I started playing basketball.
Compared to the other girls, I was like the zit in the middle of your forehead. I really thought that I was "it" when I started [basketball] because I was head and shoulders above everyone else, but my skills were subzero. Oh, man, I was just tall. I was 5-10 when I was 11, so everyone wanted me on the team. I guess maybe just for intimidation.
The two-ball dribbling drill [at AAU practice] was the most embarrassing moment of my life. It still haunts me to this day. I was just like, "Oh my god, this is totally not for me." I'm sure people were laughing, but they did a great job of hiding it.
I would categorize myself as a [basketball] novice even still today. I've only been in the league for five years, and even throughout such a tremendous season last year for my team, I could feel myself learning and getting better. And as I play overseas, I also still feel myself learning and getting better. Not just on the court but also as someone who assumes a leadership position.
Ogwumike translates to "warrior," and it wholly defines me. My dad told me that, so I'm assuming he wasn't lying! [laughs] He better not have, because it's a major part of my identity. I think that word alone can describe me and my experience in my 2016 season, without a doubt.
I grew up with three sisters, so the word "sharing" is probably listed somewhere on my birth certificate. It's kind of funny because it's three girls who are so into sports, it's almost like my mom had three boys. We all have a competitive spirit, whether it's on the court, off the court, in school ... anything that we do, we push each other because we know what we're all capable of. It's quite special.
I hope people don't think it's bad, but I am probably more prone to watching an episode of "Modern Family" than turning on a basketball game. My sisters will make fun of me because I don't really follow sports that much. I know. I'm just, I'm not a sports junkie. That's how I am as a player too. I play for the intangibles.
I don't keep track of stats either. The only thing I might log in my head are turnovers. Most times I don't really know who I'm playing until the day of the game. I just take it day by day. If I have practice, I have practice. If we're playing Minnesota, we're playing Minnesota.
I'm not trying to knock any shorties, but I think being tall is such a blessing. I'm very thankful for what my legs can do because I can jump super high. I don't know my exact vertical, but I can dunk. When you embrace your height, it's even more beautiful than just being tall.
I'm not sure if this is OK to talk about, but I'm going to anyway: Growing up, I didn't think having a big butt was good. I was very self-conscious when I was playing volleyball because we had to wear the Spanx, but after a while I was like, "Hey, this is awesome!"
My reflexes are amazing. One of my mantras that I always tell my guards is "any pass that I can catch is a good pass." I can catch almost anything. When it comes to dropping my phone, I almost always catch my phone. Always. And I'm pretty clumsy. I trip a lot, but I don't ever hit the ground. Or I should say I stumble, I don't fall.
Ugh, don't even say Olympic lifting around me. Even just thinking about lifting weights makes my stomach turn. I can put on muscle like it's my job. My junior year we were lifting weights, and I usually weighed between 185 and 190, and I came out of my junior year weighing 210-212. It was all muscle. I just can't lift too much. So I do a lot of, like, plyometrics, band work, medicine balls, BOSU balls, abs, core. That maintains my stamina without building.
An overarching deep struggle for me is knowing my worth. People can be humble, but I also think that you can be humble to a fault. You don't want to ever discredit yourself. It's OK to pat yourself on the back sometimes, and I've learned to do that. It has nothing to do with arrogance.
I was being too humble in college. I look back at my college accomplishments, and I'm like, "Whoa." I'm here for a reason.
In terms of basketball, I would say I'm good stock. I mean you're not going to lose money with me. Let's just put it that way. Yes, I would say I'm one of the best right now.
For more Body interviews: AJ Andrews | Javier Baez | Julian Edelman | Ezekiel Elliott | Kirstie Ennis | Julie and Zach Ertz | Malakai Fekitoa | Gus Kenworthy | Nneka Ogwumike | Isaiah Thomas | Joe Thornton and Brent Burns | US Women's National Hockey Team | Ashley Wagner | Michelle Waterson | Novlene Williams-Mills | Caroline Wozniacki