The Dallas Wings star joined the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Jonquel Jones featured in the line of commercials. Still, a Google search for athletes in State Farm commercials quickly pops up the headline: Who’s the girl in the State Farm commercial with Mark Cuban?
“I’ve seen comments. … ‘Isn’t that the girl from the commercial?’” Ogunbowale said with a chuckle. “Like the WNBA was my side job and commercials was my first.”
That’s the paradox of Ogunbowale. She’s the type of player who gets labeled your favorite hooper’s favorite hooper. The third-leading scorer in the WNBA (21.6 points per game) is a lightning-quick guard with breathtaking crossovers, step-backs and hesitations that would have been at home on any And1 Mixtape, a style developed in her hometown of Milwaukee. Mystics guard Brittney Sykes, one of the best defenders in the league, labeled Ogunbowale a top-three guard in terms of handle. The résumé is impeccable for a 26-year-old — the No. 5 overall pick who led Notre Dame to a national championship as the tournament’s most outstanding player and will play in her third All-Star Game on Saturday in Las Vegas. In the 2021 showcase event featuring the Olympic team, Ogunbowale scored a game-high 26 points and was named MVP in her first appearance.
All of that style on the court is inseparable from what she emanates away from it. At a Final Four party in Dallas that featured Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Sheryl Swoopes and some of the biggest names in women’s basketball, it was Ogunbowale — rocking those chains, sunglasses, Christian Louboutin shoes and a multicolored patchwork jacket that stole the show — who grabbed the microphone and toasted the crowd.
Some, however, still ask, “Who’s that girl?”
“Arike brings just like a cool, smooth vibe,” Wings teammate Odyssey Sims said. “On the court. Off the court. Of course, it’s more dog-ish on the court because she’s such a competitor, and that’s what I love about her.
“But off the court is this, like, her aroma, just how she carries herself. It’s just like you can feel it when she walks past. When she comes in the room, it’s just like, give me some of that. I want to soak up some of that greatness, please. It’s a vibe, an aura that you don’t see or have often.”
Big brother Dare Ogunbowale, a running back for the Houston Texans, has seen it his entire life. While Dare had to walk on to the University of Wisconsin football team, Arike was a McDonald’s all-American and five-star recruit.
Dare and Arike now own homes about 10 minutes apart in Dallas and are tight. She declined to play overseas this past offseason for the first time, took part in the league’s player marketing agreement that supplements income and was able to train with Dare. It’s something they have done since they were kids, even when he didn’t want to and didn’t believe Arike needed to. He said she has been the better athlete since she was 7 but still always wanted to put in work, especially after Dare got his driver’s license. And he said Arike still owes him plenty of gas money.
A lot has changed since the days when their mother, Yolanda, who played softball at DePaul, would make them go on three-mile runs at 6 a.m. — something Arike hated. Her father, Greg, was even worse because he would follow them in the car during the runs.
“Me and her went to a Bucks game a couple of years ago in Milwaukee,” Dare said, “and one of the security guards started crying because she was such a fan and she was excited to get to meet Arike. That’s the crazy stuff that we can’t believe.”
Muffet McGraw can believe it. The former Notre Dame coach admits to being hesitant to embrace the so-called aura. McGraw loved the fearlessness, but it did take some time for Ogunbowale to grasp her coach’s concept of a good shot. Confidence was never an issue, and there was an internal drive that not only guided Ogunbowale’s own development but seeped into the rest of the team. That same mentality kept her from being overly frustrated when she did not make the Olympic team, instead earning MVP honors against those Olympians.
McGraw credited coaching Skylar Diggins-Smith and her hyper sense of confidence for helping to be ready for Ogunbowale.
“In her mind she’d just have that sense of ‘Huh, I’ll show you,’” McGraw said. “She just wanted to be the best, and she was going to do whatever she could to get there. She was never in a position where she didn’t feel like she could do something. And that is why we were successful as a team because they would just take a look at her.”
That ruthlessness on the court can be seen when you watch the Wings. She has never finished a WNBA season ranked lower than fifth in scoring and is 11th this season with a career-high 4.8 assists. Ogunbowale posted her first career double-double Wednesday with 18 points and 11 assists.
The commercials are increasing her fame, and her sense of fashion is becoming well-known beyond the league. That’s an industry she’s interested in becoming more involved in in the future.
But for now, Ogunbowale prefers to chill in the house with her dog, Kobe, and watch television as a self-described “reality-show fiend.” There’s not much drama in her own life, she explained, so she gets her fix with “Selling Sunset,” “Love Island,” “Love is Blind” and “Baddies.” She takes pride in her Nigerian heritage and being a role model from Milwaukee to across the Atlantic Ocean.
The basketball world has had eyes on Ogunbowale since high school, but everyone else is starting to see.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘Oh, you’re a lot nicer than what I thought you would be,’” Ogunbowale said with a laugh. “I don’t know why people compare how people are on the court to real life. Obviously, I will be a dog on the court. There’s no friends on court. But off the court, I’m super chill. Go with the flow. Really pretty adaptable person.
“A lot of people realize that once they get to know me.”