Why Sparks’ Dearica Hamby pushed for a return to the court less than 3 months after giving birth
Dearica Hamby logged onto a Zoom call at 9 p.m., fresh-faced in a Nike Jumpman long-sleeve shirt, only a few hours removed from her last workout of the day. After putting her two children to bed in a Southern California extended-stay hotel, the two-time WNBA All-Star went right back into work mode.
“I’m very fortunate that they want to do this partnership,” Hamby told Yahoo Sports, referencing her endeavor with breast-pump company Willow to help educate working moms about their legal rights and protections in the workplace.
The 29-year-old has a lot on her plate. She’s adjusting to a new team, the Los Angeles Sparks, while caring for her 9-week-old son and 6-year-old daughter. At the same time, Hamby is reckoning with the hurt of being traded from the Las Vegas Aces during her pregnancy. After the January trade, she released a statement detailing “disgusting comments” and “discrimination” from the team with which she had spent her entire eight-year career.
After two investigations by the WNBA, the league on Tuesday rescinded the Aces’ 2025 draft pick and suspended head coach Becky Hammon for two games without pay. Part of the disciplinary action was in response to Hammon’s comments about Hamby’s pregnancy, the league found. Hammon denied those claims Wednesday, saying that she asked about Hamby’s pregnancy once, and her trade was because the team would get additional players.
Now in L.A., Hamby is already back in action. She spent Mother’s Day playing in a scrimmage against the Seattle Storm.
Her choice to get back on the court so soon started from a place of revenge and developed into something more profound. The two-time All-Star is playing to prove something to herself, accepting a role at the forefront of the fight for mothers’ workplace rights in the process.
The WNBA season starts Friday. The Sparks will have Hamby for their regular-season opener against the Phoenix Mercury, but they didn’t expect to.
“I literally called them a week before camp and was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming to L.A.,’ and they were like, ‘Really?’ and here I am getting ready to play,” Hamby said.
New Sparks head coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant spent months assuring Hamby that she was safe to take her time and urging her to do so. “No, I’m coming back to play,” she told them before she even knew when that would be.
As she sat in her Las Vegas home and watched athletes get ready for training camp on social media, she couldn’t deny the call of the court. Through injuries and her first pregnancy, the 6-foot-3 forward has never missed a season.
“I had sadness after the trade, and then I had to kind of dial into myself for a little bit,” Hamby said. “Because initially it was about proving the Aces wrong, and I had to be like, ‘Nah, that’s not OK. I need to do it for myself.’ That shouldn’t matter.”
Hamby resumed playing three months after giving birth to her daughter, Amaya. Now, she credits the “determination and willpower” to prove to herself that she can do it again as a motivator.
She informed her new team that she would skip any allotted postpartum rest time and head to training camp “four of five” days before it started — which is why she’s in a hotel temporarily.
“I’m comfortable here,” Hamby said of her “penthouse” digs. “They’re helping me find a new place.” In addition to assisting in the home search, the Sparks are “always asking if there’s any way they can help,” Hamby said. “If I ask something, it gets done right away. It’s just really encouraging and kind of a different feel from what I left toward the end of my situation.”
The experience lingers with Hamby so much that her hands started shaking when she spoke about facing her former team. The Sparks play the Aces on May 25 and 27. Hammon will be suspended during the first game. The second one will be in Las Vegas, following the Aces’ ring ceremony. Hamby played in the 2022 Finals for her former team while pregnant, but her presence for the championship banner unveiling won’t go as she imagined it would.
“I’m just going to try to be myself and play hard. I’m not going to try to do too much,” she said of how she’ll approach those likely emotional games. She’ll still be less than three months postpartum. “It’s not about proving them wrong; you’re where you’re supposed to be,” she said she reminds herself when she becomes too self-critical.
Even though she’s focused on Sparks basketball, her health and her children’s health now, Hamby noted a specific exchange that still holds weight for her.
“A person from the Aces staff made a comment to me when I said that I was pregnant: ‘Nobody asks you about your championships. They ask you about your kids.’ And despite everything, I kind of held that comment close to me, and I continue to live by that,” Hamby said.
In what seems like a perfect response, Hamby brought both of her kids to her first media day with the Sparks earlier this month. In addition to excitement and gratitude, she couldn’t help but feel how different everything was.
“Obviously, I’ve been in such a different situation for so long, so [it’s] just getting back comfortable,” Hamby said. “But it meant a lot to me. Obviously, Legend [her son] doesn’t understand, but Amaya is fully aware, and she understands. She asked questions like, ‘Did you do this with me when I was born?’” Hamby recalled.
In addition to asking questions and helping her mom with her younger brother, Amaya did an interview that the WNBA posted on social media. It offered a reminder of how often the league and Hamby’s former team highlighted her motherhood before the trade.
Not Amaya airing @dearicamarie out about her room 😂
For Mother’s Day we wanted to see how well Amaya knows her mommy, we’d say she got a perfect score 😇 pic.twitter.com/2AHBGPLxSW
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 14, 2023
“I debated about that when I had Legend, if I was going to kind of keep him a little bit more private,” Hamby recalled, “but honestly, I just try to be authentic to who I am, and it’s being a mom first. I think that’s what kind of makes me and my situation so special. It’s because my family comes first.”
With the Sparks, Hamby also will work to remain true to herself as a player. She is known to be a leader, bringing hustle and toughness to the floor. She’s still in the early period of seeing how her play style jells with the Sparks’ roster, but those key traits transition into her life.
When Hamby made her statement after the trade, WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike issued her new teammate a warning. “You know, this is going to put you in the forefront for working moms in our league, as this continues and it opens up more. Are you going to be OK with that?’” Hamby recalled Ogwumike asking.
Hamby’s response: “I think everything happens for a reason.”
Hamby wants to prevent her struggle from happening to anyone else. The Chicago Sky’s Ruthy Hebard recently became a mom, calling the WNBA moms club “elite company.” Phoenix Mercury’s Skylar-Diggins Smiith also recently welcomed her second child.
“It seems to become more common now. I mean, I think this past year, there are maybe five or six different women that are choosing to carry and have kids,” Hamby said. “It was kind of frowned upon early on in this league. You're just afraid of what would be next after basketball if this didn’t work out or you wouldn’t be able to play.”
That fear is part of her motivation to promote education and resources for parents and companies, even though she shied away from being too vocal early in her career.
”This is growth,” Hamby said. “When I had my first child and I was nursing, I was pumping in the open. It didn't bother me, but for some moms, it may be a little bit disturbing. We didn't have the resources six years ago.” She acknowledged that progress was made with the most recent CBA to allow WNBA moms their full salaries, but a pregnant player being traded was unprecedented.
“I’m kind of a staple player in this league, who has been praised for being a mom. Then I give birth again, and now it’s kind of like the opposite,” Hamby said. “So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Now being able to, I think I will be more involved in that [advocacy].”
In addition to being an advocate, Hamby told reporters at a Sparks practice Tuesday that “this part of it is over; me and the union will continue to explore more options.”
In the closed scrimmage Sunday, Miller reportedly gave Hamby substantial minutes to see how she plays through fatigue. Regardless of what approach he takes with her time on Friday, plenty of eyes will be on her.