Infotainment Factory: Sad reality in basketball star's Aussie upbringing

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Friday, 8 March 2019

Sad reality in basketball star's Aussie upbringing


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Entering the conference room in the Twitter headquarters a day prior to International Women’s Day, the woman who is perhaps the most outspoken for women’s rights in Australian sport sits alone on her phone.

Liz Cambage sits at a table that spans the length of the room tweeting away, but her personality is so vibrant that the otherwise empty room is instantly filled the moment she speaks.

Last July, Cambage cemented her status as one of the most dominant players in world basketball by shattering a WNBA record.

Cambage’s two-game barrage of 88 points for the Dallas Wings included a career-high 53-point night followed by a 35-point, 17-rebound night and broke the record for most points in a two-game span set by Maya Moore back in 2014.

The Australian star also became the first player with consecutive 30-point, 10-rebound WNBA games since Moore in 2014 in her historic stretch.

While she may be a larger-than-life presence both on and off the basketball court, life wasn’t always this way for Cambage growing up as a coloured girl in Australia in the 90s.

The 27-year-old’s background is an interesting one. She was born in London to a Nigerian father and Australian mother, before moving to Australia with her mother after her parents separated when she was an infant.

Speaking exclusively to Wide World of Sports at an International Women’s Day event hosted by Future Women, ICC T20 World Cup 2020 and Twitter, Cambage is candid on her “interesting” upbringing in Australia.

Equality in women's sport

“I was a black girl growing up in a very white-washed Australia. I didn't really have too many role models to look up to here in Australia,” she says.

“I had Beyoncé and Rihanna on TV, but they were nothing like I could ever be. They were just out of this world talented women.

“I'm very lucky that my basketball career took me to America because that's where I really discovered myself and my true black identity living over there.

“I was so lucky to be raised here and I'm lucky that I am Australian and I'm so proud of being black and Australian and that there's myself for young POC girls and boys to look up to today.”

Liz Cambage

'More than an athlete' is a sentiment that has been coined by NBA superstar LeBron James, but the four-time MVP’s catch phrase could not be more applicable to Cambage.

She is proud of her 50-point games and her WNBA All-Star appearances, but seems to understand that her biggest calling is being a trail blazer for girls who are just like her growing up.

“I don't really think I truly realised how hard it was for me growing up until I reflected when I was in my early 20s,” she says.

“That's when I was really coming to terms with all the little things, all the little micro-aggressions and racist things growing up school and in society.

Cambage shatters WNBA record

“Being told I looked dirty so I wasn't able to play with certain kids in primary school. Things like that I didn't really understand until I was older.”

Appearing on a panel with sports journalist Mel McLaughlin, Southern Stars mainstay Megan Schutt and GWS Giants veteran Courtney Gum, Cambage causes the crowd to erupt in laughter when she mentions how much money she has lost for being herself throughout her career.

“Every other week I'm told that I'd have more sponsors, that I'd make more money, if I'd just shut up every now and then,” she tells the crowd.

“I probably would've been easier to market if I was blonde and white and if I played by the rules and wasn't outspoken.

Liz Cambage

“I've been told ‘Hide your emotions, suppress your emotions’, to keep it all inside since I was a teenager, but I'm not like that at all. [My emotions] get me ejected, they get me in to trouble.

“I'm lucky that I'm me and I've spent my whole life dealing with other people trying to shrink me and my personality, but at the end of the day, I love myself and I love being me and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Cambage is undoubtedly one of the WNBA’s biggest stars, but she has been vocal about the league’s mistreatment of its players in comparison to their male counterparts in the NBA.

While she has been outspoken, she understands that the disparity in pay in professional sport comes down to revenue.

Liz Cambage

Nevertheless, after a dominant season for the Dallas Wings, Cambage was forced to forgo a lucrative season playing in China due to a sore Achilles. She has requested a trade from the Wings and is unsure of where she will be plying her trade next season.

Despite the WNBA skyrocketing in popularity over the last decade due to the advent of social media and marketing for the league, the league’s stars are constantly harassed on their personal social media platforms by people who, according to Cambage, feel emasculated.

“It doesn't really bother me. Most of the time it's guys that loved basketball in high school and never really were good enough,” she says.

“Most of the time, they're the people putting hate on the internet. It comes a lot down to male insecurities and them feeling inferior to us women.

Liz Cambage

“It must be really hard watching a woman do everything you wish you could do in life, but you've got to sit in your office or be at home watching NBA or WNBA on ESPN through your phone or on your computer.

“It rubs them the wrong way so much that they have to put that negative energy out there when that's just a reflection of themselves.”

Throughout the conversation, Cambage’s true personality is apparent. She is bright, vibrant and full of energy, but her demeanour changes noticeably when talking about the treatment of female athletes in Australia compared to the United States.

She acknowledges that the country she dearly loves and is proud to represent has some major steps to take.

Liz Cambage

“We're so much more celebrated in America,” Cambage says.

“It's hard because I love coming home and I love my country, but they just raise women, or women of a sporting background or even women of colour in a totally different regard over there. We're really put on a pedestal and it really makes me feel special.

“I wish it was the same over here. I'm not sure when it comes down to the sport is because we have so much sport here. We are a small country and we've got so much sport going on and we have so much talent as well.

“I don't know if it comes down to that, but Australia needs to raise women up a lot more. I think women are getting pushed to the front and pushed to the top in so many different careers and in so many different ways.

“My mum is a CEO and being raised by such an influential and powerful woman has rubbed off on me. Seeing her build her way up through her career has really inspired me as well.”

Liz Cambage

At 27, Cambage is entering the prime years of a basketball player’s career. She admits she is obsessed with winning and “chasing that bling-bling”, but is incredibly proud of her lasting impact off the court.

“When I finish up with my career and hang up the boots, I hope my legacy is that I was an athlete who did it my way,” she says.

“I didn't play by the rules. I didn't sit there and be told how to do everything. I was myself and I spoke up for myself and I spoke out for others. I just did me and I focused on me.

“I worked hard and played hard and I hope that I can inspire others to just be themselves and not let anyone force them to be something they're not.

“Be your brightest most colourful version you can be.”

Liz Cambage

Despite her amazing career accolades, she turns back into the young girl growing up in Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula who idolised Beyoncé and Rihanna when it is explained to her that she might be a young girl’s own version of the musical icons.

“If a girl or a boy wants to pick up a basketball or play any sport because they've seen me or another female play, it really warms my heart,” she says.

“At the end of the day, I hope I'm just letting kids be themselves. I hope that's what they see when they see me is just a woman that gets to be herself, loves herself and has fun with it and is just living life to its fullest.

“Life is there to be lived. It's not there to try and be someone else.

“It's there to be you and I hope that is what everyone is trying to do these days.”

Entering the conference room in the Twitter headquarters a day prior to International Women’s Day, the woman who is perhaps the most outspoken for women’s rights in Australian sport sits alone on her phone.

Liz Cambage sits at a table that spans the length of the room tweeting away, but her personality is so vibrant that the otherwise empty room is instantly filled the moment she speaks.

Last July, Cambage cemented her status as one of the most dominant players in world basketball by shattering a WNBA record.

Cambage’s two-game barrage of 88 points for the Dallas Wings included a career-high 53-point night followed by a 35-point, 17-rebound night and broke the record for most points in a two-game span set by Maya Moore back in 2014.

The Australian star also became the first player with consecutive 30-point, 10-rebound WNBA games since Moore in 2014 in her historic stretch.

While she may be a larger-than-life presence both on and off the basketball court, life wasn’t always this way for Cambage growing up as a coloured girl in Australia in the 90s.

The 27-year-old’s background is an interesting one. She was born in London to a Nigerian father and Australian mother, before moving to Australia with her mother after her parents separated when she was an infant.

Speaking exclusively to Wide World of Sports at an International Women’s Day event hosted by Future Women, ICC T20 World Cup 2020 and Twitter, Cambage is candid on her “interesting” upbringing in Australia.

Equality in women's sport

“I was a black girl growing up in a very white-washed Australia. I didn't really have too many role models to look up to here in Australia,” she says.

“I had Beyoncé and Rihanna on TV, but they were nothing like I could ever be. They were just out of this world talented women.

“I'm very lucky that my basketball career took me to America because that's where I really discovered myself and my true black identity living over there.

“I was so lucky to be raised here and I'm lucky that I am Australian and I'm so proud of being black and Australian and that there's myself for young POC girls and boys to look up to today.”

Liz Cambage

'More than an athlete' is a sentiment that has been coined by NBA superstar LeBron James, but the four-time MVP’s catch phrase could not be more applicable to Cambage.

She is proud of her 50-point games and her WNBA All-Star appearances, but seems to understand that her biggest calling is being a trail blazer for girls who are just like her growing up.

“I don't really think I truly realised how hard it was for me growing up until I reflected when I was in my early 20s,” she says.

“That's when I was really coming to terms with all the little things, all the little micro-aggressions and racist things growing up school and in society.

Cambage shatters WNBA record

“Being told I looked dirty so I wasn't able to play with certain kids in primary school. Things like that I didn't really understand until I was older.”

Appearing on a panel with sports journalist Mel McLaughlin, Southern Stars mainstay Megan Schutt and GWS Giants veteran Courtney Gum, Cambage causes the crowd to erupt in laughter when she mentions how much money she has lost for being herself throughout her career.

“Every other week I'm told that I'd have more sponsors, that I'd make more money, if I'd just shut up every now and then,” she tells the crowd.

“I probably would've been easier to market if I was blonde and white and if I played by the rules and wasn't outspoken.

Liz Cambage

“I've been told ‘Hide your emotions, suppress your emotions’, to keep it all inside since I was a teenager, but I'm not like that at all. [My emotions] get me ejected, they get me in to trouble.

“I'm lucky that I'm me and I've spent my whole life dealing with other people trying to shrink me and my personality, but at the end of the day, I love myself and I love being me and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Cambage is undoubtedly one of the WNBA’s biggest stars, but she has been vocal about the league’s mistreatment of its players in comparison to their male counterparts in the NBA.

While she has been outspoken, she understands that the disparity in pay in professional sport comes down to revenue.

Liz Cambage

Nevertheless, after a dominant season for the Dallas Wings, Cambage was forced to forgo a lucrative season playing in China due to a sore Achilles. She has requested a trade from the Wings and is unsure of where she will be plying her trade next season.

Despite the WNBA skyrocketing in popularity over the last decade due to the advent of social media and marketing for the league, the league’s stars are constantly harassed on their personal social media platforms by people who, according to Cambage, feel emasculated.

“It doesn't really bother me. Most of the time it's guys that loved basketball in high school and never really were good enough,” she says.

“Most of the time, they're the people putting hate on the internet. It comes a lot down to male insecurities and them feeling inferior to us women.

Liz Cambage

“It must be really hard watching a woman do everything you wish you could do in life, but you've got to sit in your office or be at home watching NBA or WNBA on ESPN through your phone or on your computer.

“It rubs them the wrong way so much that they have to put that negative energy out there when that's just a reflection of themselves.”

Throughout the conversation, Cambage’s true personality is apparent. She is bright, vibrant and full of energy, but her demeanour changes noticeably when talking about the treatment of female athletes in Australia compared to the United States.

She acknowledges that the country she dearly loves and is proud to represent has some major steps to take.

Liz Cambage

“We're so much more celebrated in America,” Cambage says.

“It's hard because I love coming home and I love my country, but they just raise women, or women of a sporting background or even women of colour in a totally different regard over there. We're really put on a pedestal and it really makes me feel special.

“I wish it was the same over here. I'm not sure when it comes down to the sport is because we have so much sport here. We are a small country and we've got so much sport going on and we have so much talent as well.

“I don't know if it comes down to that, but Australia needs to raise women up a lot more. I think women are getting pushed to the front and pushed to the top in so many different careers and in so many different ways.

“My mum is a CEO and being raised by such an influential and powerful woman has rubbed off on me. Seeing her build her way up through her career has really inspired me as well.”

Liz Cambage

At 27, Cambage is entering the prime years of a basketball player’s career. She admits she is obsessed with winning and “chasing that bling-bling”, but is incredibly proud of her lasting impact off the court.

“When I finish up with my career and hang up the boots, I hope my legacy is that I was an athlete who did it my way,” she says.

“I didn't play by the rules. I didn't sit there and be told how to do everything. I was myself and I spoke up for myself and I spoke out for others. I just did me and I focused on me.

“I worked hard and played hard and I hope that I can inspire others to just be themselves and not let anyone force them to be something they're not.

“Be your brightest most colourful version you can be.”

Liz Cambage

Despite her amazing career accolades, she turns back into the young girl growing up in Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula who idolised Beyoncé and Rihanna when it is explained to her that she might be a young girl’s own version of the musical icons.

“If a girl or a boy wants to pick up a basketball or play any sport because they've seen me or another female play, it really warms my heart,” she says.

“At the end of the day, I hope I'm just letting kids be themselves. I hope that's what they see when they see me is just a woman that gets to be herself, loves herself and has fun with it and is just living life to its fullest.

“Life is there to be lived. It's not there to try and be someone else.

“It's there to be you and I hope that is what everyone is trying to do these days.”

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