Las Vegas Aces’ Liz Cambage says skipping Olympics was right call

11:15 PM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Las Vegas center Liz Cambage said she thinks not playing in the Olympics essentially saved the rest of her WNBA season for the Aces.

“I had no idea how exhausted, stressed and broken I was,” Cambage said Sunday after the Aces’ 84-83 comeback win over Washington. “I pulled out [of the Olympics] and slept for a week. Then it took me another three days to get out of bed. Then I went back to work.

“I was in a place where I was like, ‘I’m exhausted, I can’t give anyone anything.’ Thinking about coming back here after the Olympics, I was just overwhelmed. So I’m really happy that I took the break. Because if I went to the Olympics, there would be no way I could have a chance to play [the second part of the WNBA season]. And it’s happened before.”

Cambage was referring to the 2012 season, when she planned to join her WNBA team — then the Tulsa Shock — after the London Olympics, but couldn’t force herself to do it.

“I really don’t think people realize how tough it is to just slap the Olympics in the middle of the season,” Cambage said. “I have no idea how Sue [Bird] and Diana [Taurasi] have done it five times.”

The WNBA re-started Sunday after the month-long pause for the Tokyo Games, with all 12 teams in action. Some prominent Olympians, such as Seattle’s Bird and Breanna Stewart, rested and did not play.

There was some controversy surrounding Cambage’s decision in July to not compete for Australia in the Tokyo Games. Cambage was involved in a physical and verbal altercation with Nigeria in a closed pre-Olympics scrimmage in Las Vegas on July 13. The next day, she was on the bench for Team WNBA for the All-Star Game but didn’t play. She announced on July 15 that she needed to focus on her mental health and well-being and would not compete in the Olympics.

Cambage played in the 2016 Olympics, but didn’t compete in the WNBA at all from 2014 to 2017.

Cambage said once she returned to workouts during the Olympic break in Los Angeles with trainer Chris Johnson, she started to feel rejuvenated. Johnson has worked with many NBA players, some of whom — such as Ben Simmons, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Bell and Jordan Clarkson — have inspired Cambage.

“It really helped me lock in again and want to chase greatness,” Cambage said.

The Aces won Sunday after rallying from their biggest fourth-quarter deficit — 14 points — in franchise history, dating back to 1997 when the team was in Utah during the launch of the WBNA. They trailed in the game by as many as 21, the second-biggest overall deficit the franchise has erased in a victory. The biggest was 22 in 1999.

Cambage had 17 points and seven rebounds. A’ja Wilson, who won gold with the U.S. Olympic team, led the Aces with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Another U.S. Olympian, Chelsea Gray, hit the game-winning shot for the Aces. Las Vegas also had a player on the Korea Olympic team, JiSu Park, and two on the gold-winning U.S. 3×3 team, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum.

“Going into this game today, I really focused on bringing the energy because [the Olympians] are tired,” Cambage said. “My job is one of the best games in the world: in Vegas, with a bunch of dope girls, fans, staff, organization. We can get really caught up in how serious it is, but at the end of the day, I hoop for a living. And it’s the biggest blessing in the world.”

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