Liz Cambage opts to terminate contract with Sparks amid playoff race

Liz Cambage's time with the Los Angeles Sparks is over.

The team announced Tuesday they've agreed to a "contract divorce" with the 30-year-old center, just 25 games into her Sparks tenure. The WNBA uses "contract divorce" for what is essentially a buyout.

"It is with support that we share Liz Cambage's decision to terminate her contract with the organization," Sparks managing partner Eric Holoman said. "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."

This comes just five months after Cambage said “it was L.A. or out for me. There was nowhere else I wanted to be," after signing with the Sparks following two years with the Las Vegas Aces. She averaged 13 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game this season.

The Sparks (12-15) are sixth in the WNBA standings, but will have to fight to keep hold of their playoff spot over their final nine games. The Sparks, Wings (12-15), Dream (12-16) and Liberty (10-17) are all within two games of each other. The Lynx (10-19) are also in the race.

Cambage reportedly 'quit', experienced chemistry issues

"Chemistry issues" reportedly arose between Cambage, a 6-foot-8 center, and the Sparks as early as late May, according to Girls Talk Sports TV's Kristina Williams. Williams reported that Cambage "quit" and had "made verbal comments about her intentions to leave the Sparks to multiple people within the organization."

The timing is relevant because the Sparks fired head coach and general manager Derek Fisher on June 9.

Fisher's time with the organization became rather tumultuous after the team hired him in 2018 without ever looking at other candidates. He's most known in town for benching Candace Parker in a playoff game, and both Parker and point guard Chelsea Gray exited the team in 2021 free agency. Cambage was his big free 2022 agency signing after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

And the admiration seemed mutual as Cambage had long talked about wanting to be in Los Angeles. But things reportedly quickly soured, and video posted by John W. Davis of the Long Beach Post-Telegram began making the rounds. Fans noted the body language of her teammates sitting next to her.

Interim head coach Fred Williams also said Cambage struggled with conditioning and facing double- and triple-team matchups, according to the Los Angeles Times. She recently missed games after a bout with COVID-19 and was listed as out for "return to competition conditioning."

Cambage's Nigeria remarks made waves

Reported discord dating back to May would also line up with when video of Cambage calling Nigerian national team players racial slurs last summer first went public.

Cambage left the Australian national team before the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 for mental health reasons. However, it came out after her departure that Cambage used racially insensitive remarks toward players on the Nigerian team during a practice season and even physically assaulted a few players, according to Australian news outlets. Cambage denied these claims.

The video and more detailed reports came out in late May, weeks after the WNBA season started. The video shows her hitting a post player hard with an elbow. She allegedly called the Nigerian team "monkeys" and told them "go back to your third-world country" during the incident in a private scrimmage. She denied the allegations in an Instagram post that has since been deleted. In it, she said she was "physically assaulted" by a Nigerian player after an unintentional foul.

It drew eyes because both Nneka Ogwumike, who is having an MVP-worthy season, and Chiney Ogwumike are Nigerian Americans. Their parents were born in Nigeria and the four Ogwumike daughters hold dual citizenship. Nneka, Chiney and Erica Ogwumike, who was drafted in 2020, were all listed on the Nigeria provisional Olympic squad though Nneka's petition to play was denied. Coincidentally, Cambage's own father is of Nigerian descent as well, while Cambage's mother is from Australia.

Is Cambage's WNBA career over?

The contract divorce may extend to the WNBA as a whole. She's having her worst scoring and rebounding since she was a rookie and has at times looked uninterested in using her height advantage and physicality at 100%.

Cambage, who was drafted in 2011 at the age of 19, returned to the WNBA in 2018 after a five-year hiatus where she played professionally in China and Australia. She set the WNBA record for most points scored in a game with 53 against the New York Liberty when she played for the Dallas Wings in 2018.

Cambage was traded to the Las Vegas Aces in 2019, where she played for two seasons until signing with the Sparks in 2022. She sat out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liz Cambage's tenure in Los Angeles appears to have ended this week. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Liz Cambage's tenure in Los Angeles appears to have ended this week. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)