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Australians, Nigerians, Americans Unite In Inspiring Global Effort To Debunk Liz Cambage

There was a time when I thought I might never have to write about Liz Cambage again. Having pissed off the last two teams willing to roster her—the Los Angeles Sparks and the Australian national team—she had essentially retired from the spotlight when she quit the Sparks mid-season last year, in what was said to be a dramatic postgame exit. “I can’t do this anymore. Best of luck to you guys,” she reportedly told her teammates before storming out of the locker room on the night of an 84-66 loss to the Aces in Vegas. 

Happy is probably not the right word for my reaction then, but relieved might be. Cambage always gave me something to blog about, and at her peak there was no WNBA player quite so dominant. Everything about her was big and exciting and extra: her post play, her trash talk, the way she demanded more of the league. I just much prefer writing about great basketball to, like, breaking down esoteric Instagram Live beef. At a certain point in her career, when it seemed she was only ever worth covering for the second reason, keeping up with Cambage began to feel like a real chore.

But I should have known Cambage never leaves the spotlight. This week, she explained away her many late-career controversies in a long interview with Bleacher Report's Taylor Rooks. Rooks focused on Cambage's sudden departure from Los Angeles and on the now-notorious pre-Olympic scrimmage between Australia and Nigeria in 2021, the last time Cambage played for the Australian team. A Daily Telegraph report from last May on the "five minutes of mayhem that ended Cambage's Opals career" described in detail what previously had been reported as "a physical altercation, as well as a charged verbal exchange." The report said Cambage was getting tangled up with the Nigerian player guarding her, elbowing her in the head and whacking her in the face. The Nigerian player retaliated during a timeout, running up to Cambage and punching her, which led Cambage to unleash "a verbal barrage at the Nigerians." Nigerian players interviewed in the story said Cambage called them "monkey" and told them to go back to their "third-world country."

Cambage would not be the first athlete Taylor Rooks has expertly goaded into saying something outlandish. (Jaylen Brown has a little over a year to win the five NBA rings he told Rooks he'd win by age 28.) But this interview was particularly weird. To give you some sense of how it went, Cambage said this...

Cambage: I don't play games. I don't lie. I'm a very honest, truthful person.

...not long after she said this:

Rooks: There was a time when you were saying that [playing in L.A.] was when you felt the most safe and supported, when you first got there and you were talking about how much you were enjoying your time in L.A. When did that switch happen?

Cambage: Oh, girl, I was lying. I was really lying.

The biggest [citation needed] moment happened about an hour into the interview, when Rooks brought up the Australia-Nigeria scrimmage. Cambage claimed to be so innocent of the "verbal barrage" charges that she was actually planning to play for the Nigerian national team. (Her father is Nigerian.) “We’re filing for me to leave the Australian national team so I can represent Nigeria,” she told Rooks. “I’ve been in cahoots. I’ve been talking with them since all of this happened. This is what I mean. People don’t know the truth.”

Promise Amukamara, a member of the Nigerian team, piped up on Twitter to say this was definitely not true and to confirm all the previously reported details about the scrimmage. Colin Udoh, a Nigerian sports journalist, later followed up with the Nigerian Basketball Federation, which told him that they had never been in talks to switch her affiliation. "The very exact words used were 'it would be easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle, not even a camel' than for Cambage to play for Nigeria," Udoh tweeted.

New video of the scrimmage leaked right after. Later, a PR firm that follows Cambage on Twitter—and has been vigorously posting in her defense—uploaded a full video of the scrimmage, this one nearly 90 minutes long. Both videos basically confirmed the parts of the report that could be confirmed with one's eyes: Cambage threw some elbows, and she did indeed get punched for it.

"Contrary to false claims, I did not use racial slurs or refer to anyone as a monkey, which is evident from the footage," Cambage wrote in a statement on Tuesday. It's not actually evident; little in the video is audible. One of the few clear exchanges in the video was between Cambage and Opals captain Jenna O'Hea, who pleaded with Cambage to stop after she said something to the Nigerian players. (Last summer, O'Hea said in a TV interview that while Cambage might be living in "her reality," the accounts from Nigerian players were "all 100 percent correct.")

Back in Los Angeles, fact-checking Cambage became an even more intercontinental cause. In the interview, Cambage said she left the WNBA in part because no one on her Sparks team could pass to her. If you find it hard to believe that WNBA players would struggle to make entry passes to a 6-foot-9 big, you are right to be skeptical. Jordin Canada, the Sparks' point guard, tweeted: "I usually keep to myself and mind my business but Bleacher Report if y’all want the REAL TRUTH, call me."

A truism about people comes to mind with Cambage: When everyone you encounter is a villain out to get you, there is a decent chance the villain is you.

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