Michaela Onyenwere — and her grandma — go viral celebrating ‘momentous’ WNBA draft

A screenshot of the ESPN broadcast of Michaela Onyenwere, center, being picked sixth overall in the 2021 WNBA draft
A screenshot of the ESPN broadcast shows Michaela Onyenwere, center, and her grandmother, left, celebrating after Onyenwere was picked sixth overall in the 2021 WNBA draft.

There was plenty of room in the biggest moment of Michaela Onyenwere‘s life for her family.

After the former UCLA star was picked sixth overall in Thursday’s WNBA draft by the New York Liberty, her maternal grandmother broke out a celebratory dance on ESPN’s broadcast and turned into an internet celebrity.

“I’m grandma!” she said, dressed in traditional Nigerian clothes, including an extravagant blue head dress worn for special occasions.

The night surely warranted such a joyous celebration for the Onyenwere family as Michaela became the fifth UCLA player drafted in the last four years. When her name was called, the family exploded off the couch and fired off confetti poppers. Onyenwere’s mother, Edith, showed off her sparkly jacket on the ESPN broadcast with a graceful turn before she was overshadowed by her own mother. Peter, Onyenwere’s father, who wore a tan suit and pink shirt, stayed composed during Onyenwere’s TV interview, but was bursting with excitement inside.


“It was one of the most momentous occasions in my life,” Peter said by phone Friday.

An elite runner from Nigeria, Peter came to the United States in 1985 to run track and attend Missouri. After college, he met Edith, who moved to the United States with her parents and brothers in the 1970s. They are both from the Igbo tribe. Their villages are about 15 miles apart.

Now their family was front and center during an international television event.

“Michaela’s draft was a combination of our culture and the draft and the excitement,” Peter said. “Her grandmother showcased our culture. ... We carry our culture so highly so it tells the world that our culture is never forgotten. You always go to your roots at any time.”

After staying quiet on issues of social injustice in the past, UCLA basketball star Michaela Onyenwere decided to take a stand after the death of George Floyd.

Jan. 11, 2021


Going through rapid changes — she’s traveled from L.A. back home to Aurora, Colo., then to New York in one month — Onyenwere can continue to rely on her family for support. Peter is already making plans to attend the Liberty’s first game May 14 in New York. Grandma, who is “aging gracefully” into her late 70s, will be there too, he says.

“Not many grandparents live to see this happen in their grandchild’s life,” Peter said. “So it was her day too.”

The internet was quick to celebrate the day with the Onyenwere family. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal tweeted with an emoji of a flexed arm. Memes and gifs were created.

“If your grandma don’t do a full-on praise dance in COMPLETE trad + gele for your big moment.... end the zoom!” tweeted “Insecure” actor Yvonne Orji, who is also of Nigerian descent.

The Liberty begin training camp April 25, when Onyenwere will compete to be one of fewer than 144 players to make the cut in the WNBA. After averaging 19.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a senior forward, the 6-foot Onyenwere is expected to transition more to the perimeter for the Liberty. Three-point shooting, where Onyenwere connected on 33.3% of her 69 attempts last year, is “going to be paramount” in New York’s motion-oriented offense, Onyenwere said Thursday.

The two-time All-American finished her career with the fourth-most points in UCLA history, but it was her defense that drew the most praise from her new team.

“There’s always going to be a learning curve, but from a defensive standpoint, one of the things that drew us to her was the concept that I think she can step in right now and defend at a WNBA level,” Liberty coach Walter Hopkins told reporters.

Onyenwere’s transformation into a top-10 pick was been stark. UCLA coach Cori Close once said the Bruins tried to “hide” Onyenwere on defense. Playing 3 X 3 basketball and helping Team USA to a medal in the Pan-Am Games strengthened Onyenwere’s defense and improved her game offensively.

It’s a stunning rise to Peter as well as Michaela. His daughter didn’t pick up a basketball until middle school. Now she is standing at the door of the top professional league in the world.

“Michaela is a super girl,” Peter said. “She knows what she wants in life. She is so determined. Whatever she says she will get, she will just work hard and get it.”