It was a little bit curious when Liz Cambage did not play in the WNBA All-Star Game on Wednesday night, even though she was in uniform and had made an agreement with Team Australia coach Sandy Brondello, to be able to leave the national team’s pre-Olympic camp and play in the exhibition.
Despite not having Cambage, Team WNBA’s roster, consisting mostly of players passed over for the Olympic roster by USA Basketball, beat Team USA. And it turns out that game might wind up being the most challenging contest the Americans have, because Cambage has decided to withdraw from the Olympics.
That leaves Australia, the No. 2 team in the FIBA world rankings, without its top player.
Cambage giving up a chance at an Olympic medal to focus on her mental health is a decision that had to be excruciating to make, and it’s not to be taken lightly. There’s also some necessary context to the story, though, as Cambage’s withdrawal came hours after reports that she might be booted from the Australian team after an altercation during a closed-door scrimmage against Nigeria.
That incident, along with Cambage reportedly breaking COVID protocol to go out in Las Vegas, where she plays for the Aces, led to those in Australian basketball with something nasty to say about her seeing an opportunity to take their rips.
“At her best, Liz Cambage is one of the best couple of basketball players in the world,” said Chris Anstey, the former Chicago Bulls center from Melbourne. “At her worst, she’s unbearable to be around as a teammate.”
Andrew Bogut didn’t exactly disprove what Cambage wrote last month, that “Mr. Bogut’s obsession with me so strange,” as the former NBA center and current conspiracy theorist, reacted first to the news of Cambage’s dustup with the Australian team by posting a picture of her eating popcorn at the All-Star Game, then endorsed the idea that Cambage was hiding behind mental health “as an excuse for deplorable behaviour.”
There may be some truth to the notion that Cambage withdrew from the Olympics before her team booted her, but the source to take it from surely is not Bogut, who has a long-running beef with Cambage, and is just about the closest thing Australian basketball has to Aubrey Huff — a sad, washed-up loser who retweets alt-right garbage on the regular.
Even if Cambage’s withdrawal is somewhere in the realm of “you can’t fire me, I quit,” though, that doesn’t mean anything she wrote in her statement is less than the whole truth:
At the moment, I’m a long way from where I want and need to be.
It’s honestly terrifying for me. The past month I have been having panic attacks, not sleeping and not eating.
I know myself, and I know I can’t be the Liz everyone deserves to see compete for the Opals. Not right now at least. I need to take care of myself mentally and physically. It breaks my heart to announce I’m withdrawing for the Olympics, but I think it’s best for the Opals and myself.
There’s not a lie to be found in any of that. Maybe Cambage could have added an acknowledgment of her alleged transgressions over the past few days, but it also doesn’t need to be said when the world already knows about it, and her decision to forego the Olympics speaks louder than any words she could type into the statement about it.
Cambage may have made the decision before it could be made for her, but ultimately, she was the one who made the decision. She deserves respect and understanding for that, and support rather than mockery as she goes through a difficult time as an elite athlete who’s had to let go of a dream, and simply as a human being.