Dearica Hamby didn’t choose the Sparks. Just speaking to the team on the phone when the Las Vegas Aces made it clear they intended to trade the two-time All-Star moved Hamby to tears.
But hearing the emotion from Sparks general manager Karen Bryant on the other end of the line made Hamby know the Sparks were happily choosing her.
“I kind of fell in love with that,” Hamby said Wednesday in her first public comments since joining the Sparks in a trade that rocked the WNBA after the expectant mother posted a statement on Instagram accusing members of the Aces of discrimination.
Hamby is one of the Sparks’ newest additions as the team remakes its roster under Bryant and first-year coach Curt Miller. The franchise announced the signings of free agents Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot on Wednesday, the first day of the WNBA free-agent signing period, while former Sparks free agents Brittney Sykes and Kristi Toliver joined the Washington Mystics.
Wednesday’s opening salvo of free-agent moves added to the Sparks’ previous trade acquisitions of Hamby and guard Jasmine Thomas, who last played for Miller with the Connecticut Sun.
Thomas gets to reunite with a familiar coaching staff, but Hamby will start fresh with just her second WNBA franchise of her nine-year pro career.
After winning a championship with the Aces, Hamby was unceremoniously traded. She wrote on Instagram that members of the organization questioned her commitment to the team, told her she “was not taking [her offseason] workouts seriously” despite working with team and personal trainers throughout her pregnancy, and doubted her ability to play this season after giving birth, resulting in her trade.
Hamby said she is still working out, but has cut back on basketball as her March due date approaches. She said she’ll “be back on the court soon” if things go as planned, but is prioritizing the health of her future son. She noted her blood pressure “was through the roof” several weeks ago.
The 6-foot-3 forward was on the cover of Slam Magazine last year with her daughter Amaya, showcasing the two-time sixth player of the year’s ability to balance basketball and motherhood. Because of her status as one of the most notable mothers in the WNBA, Hamby wanted to shed light on her experience in Las Vegas, even if it was painful to share.
“If that can happen to me, that can happen to anybody,” Hamby said. “I’m confident that the people and person that said these things or did these things will be held accountable.”
Hamby declined to comment on whether she will pursue legal action, for now deferring to the WNBA Players Assn., which announced it would investigate Hamby’s claims last month. Hamby said Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is the players union’s president, has been in contact with her.
“Nneka’s been very supportive since the very beginning,” Hamby said, “and also kind of a contributing factor with why I followed through with the trade.”
The Sparks stopped short of officially announcing Ogwumike’s return to the franchise Wednesday, but made it clear the former most valuable player and current unrestricted free agent will play a pivotal role in the organization’s next stage.
“She is a world-class human, and she is very committed to the Sparks, she’s been openly public about that,” Bryant said during a virtual news conference. “She has been a partner to Curt and I from the first day we both touched ground here in L.A. and that continues to be solidified.”
With the franchise still anchored by Ogwumike’s consistent performance, Brown bristled at the mention of a “rebuild” for the Sparks — even though the team is mired in its worst two-season stretch in franchise history, remade its front office and coaching staff, and entered free agency with the most cap space of any team in the league.
“I don’t really like the word ‘rebuild,’ ” said Brown, who re-signed with the team on a multiyear contract after shooting a career-best 39.8% from three-point range last year. “I think you’re setting yourself up to have low expectations and not achieve. If you guys want to call it a rebuild, that’s fine, but we have championship aspirations for sure this year.”
Adding Brown, Thomas and Talbot shows Miller’s intention to address the Sparks’ recent lack of three-point shooting around Ogwumike’s steady post presence. Ogwumike earned her seventh All-Star honor last year while the team ranked last in three-point percentage.
Thomas, who spent the last seven years with Miller in Connecticut, is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost her all but five games last season. In 2021, the 5-foot-9 guard shot 40% from three-point range and averaged four assists per game.
Talbot is a 37.6% three-point shooter during her five-year WNBA career. The Australian played the previous two seasons with the Seattle Storm.
The trades that brought Thomas and Hamby to L.A. also came with critical assets for the future: first-round draft picks in 2023 and 2024, respectively. The Sparks now have two first-round draft picks in the stacked 2024 class that could include stars like Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, Stanford’s Cameron Brink and Louisiana State’s Angel Reese.
He’s not calling it a rebuild, but Miller said the draft picks are “needed for the build in L.A.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.