UCLA Health and Los Angeles Sparks announce new multiyear partnership

UCLA Health to provide comprehensive medical care for the WNBA team

The Los Angeles Sparks and UCLA Health are now partners.

UCLA Health will provide comprehensive physical and mental health care for LA Sparks players, who will wear the UCLA Health logo on their jerseys. Under the new partnership, announced Wednesday, April 27, the two organizations will also join in community outreach to address health care disparities in Los Angeles.

“It’s exceptionally important for us to put out there in the world that women’s sports, and women’s professional sports, are just as important as men’s sports,” says Sharon L. Hame, MD, a UCLA Health orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist who will serve as the Sparks’ team physician. “We are really striving to create equitable medical care — not only for these athletes, but for the community.”

The Sparks’ 2022 season opens May 6 against the Sky in Chicago. The home opener will be May 17 at Crypto.com Arena against the Minnesota Lynx.

Dr. Sharon L. Hame, a UCLA Health orthopaedic surgeon, will be the LA Sparks team physician. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

UCLA Health also is the official health care partner and provides team doctors for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Dodgers and UCLA Athletics. Dr. Hame is a team physician for UCLA football, women’s basketball, women’s indoor and beach volleyball and men’s tennis.

“I’ve taken care of college athletes pretty much all of my career,” says Dr. Hame. “To step up the level to professional athletes, it’s a great learning experience for me to see how these systems run. How do the women I treat in college get to the next level and play professional sports?

“Also, looking at the differences between the men and the women — how they get their care and how they’re treated — and trying to improve things for women. Not just the medical care, but everything around it.”

UCLA alumna Jordin Canada has joined the LA Sparks this season. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

Dr. Hame notes that female athletes are subject to different medical issues than men, including an increased risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

“There are so many aspects of women’s sports that we’re beginning to address but have not been fully addressed and paid attention to,” she says. “That (knowledge) can trickle down from the WNBA level to the college level to high school and community players to everyday people — and little girls everywhere who want to be professional basketball players. This is a great platform to get the word out there and inspire these young athletes to take care of their bodies.”

For UCLA alumna Jordin Canada, who joins the Sparks this year after playing her first four seasons with the Seattle Storm, the partnership between her new team and her alma mater feels like a homecoming.

“I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with UCLA Health,” Canada said after Wednesday’s press conference, while sporting the Sparks jersey with the UCLA Health logo. “So I’m super excited about the partnership. I think it’s a great thing, not only for the organization, but for the league as a whole.”

It’s a push toward equity for a women’s team to receive the same level of care as male players do, she says.

“We’re professional athletes as well and we deserve to have the same treatment that the Lakers or any men’s professional team has,” Canada says. “We want to invest in women and show people that women athletes and women in general, we deserve equality and equity, so this is a step in the right direction.”

LA Sparks general manager and head coach discussed his team's new partnership with UCLA Health at a press conference April 27. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

That move toward greater equity in health care is part of the mission of the new partnership, says Sparks general manager and head coach Derek Fisher.

“With most of our team being women of color, we think we have a big opportunity to help lead the charge in terms of reducing unfairness in the system in terms of health care,” he says. “UCLA Health is a great partner in that regard.”

Johnese Spisso, MPA, president of UCLA Health, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences, says UCLA Health is proud to partner with the Sparks, which “has shown its commitment to equity, justice and improving mental and physical health.”

“Our collaboration strengthens our commitment to serving greater Los Angeles,” Spisso says, “and allows both our teams to empower women and families throughout the community.”