Exclusive: WNBA Star Chiney Ogwumike Is Married! Inside Her Fusion Wedding Week
Surprise… Chiney Ogwumike is married! The WNBA All-Star and ESPN analyst wed her husband, engineer and boxer Raphael Akpejiori, on November 16, 2023. The athletes hosted a Nigerian fusion wedding in Houston, Texas, and gave The Knot an exclusive look inside the five-day affair. Here, we share brand new details about Chiney and her husband's relationship, including how they met, when they got engaged, and why they've waited until now to profess their love story.
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Raphael Akpejiori and Chiney Ogwumike's Wedding Photos & Details
Chinenye "Chiney" Ogwumike and Ethasor Raphael Akpejiori's wedding took place from November 15 to November 19, 2023, in Houston, Texas. "I don't know if 'wedding weekend' is even sufficient," Ogwumike tells us of the lavish nuptials. "It was a wedding celebration, and celebrations have no timeline."
The couple currently splits their time between California, where Ogwumike plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, and Miami, where Akpejiori is based. But when it came time to pick a venue, one city in particular stood out. "Houston is affectionately known as Baby Lagos, which houses the largest Nigerian population in the US," Ogwumike explains. "It gave us the feeling of home."
With upwards of 1,000 guests in attendance throughout the five-day span of events, Chiney's wedding was a beautiful commemoration of culture, tradition, fashion and love.
The "Tip-Off Event" Welcome Party
Ogwumike and Akpejiori's wedding weekend began with a welcome party on Wednesday, November 15, where the couple's family members met and mingled before the ceremonies began. Following that was another celebration for the couple's loved ones planned by Nkem Igwebuike and 3Gems, aptly named after their shared love of basketball. "We called it the tip-off event," Ogwumike says with a laugh. "This is where we truly kicked off the celebration."
The Traditional "Royally African" Wedding Ceremony
The following day, November 16, was the couple's traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony, which allowed them to fully honor their respective heritages. "Even though we're both Nigerian, we come from two different cultures within Nigeria. [Raphael] is Edo, and I am Igbo," she shares. "These cultures have different nuances when it comes to weddings."
Looking back, she calls the fusion ceremony a "beautiful and colorful display of unity in our own authentic way as Nigerians." The event, which took place at Igbo Catholic Community Center, was attended by approximately 1,000 guests—a number that's actually quite common within Nigerian culture. "In Nigeria, traditional weddings are hosted by the father of the bride and occur at their family home," Ogwumike says. "They're open to the village, so there's no specific guest count. Anyone from the surrounding areas can participate."
Although Chiney's wedding didn't take place in Nigeria, their setting allowed the couple to have a nearly identical experience. "Because there's a strong Nigerian community in Houston, the venue served as a symbolic representation of my father's ancestral house. So, according to tradition, this wedding was open to the public to some degree."
In keeping with their desire to honor their heritage, the couple's theme for the traditional ceremony was "Royally African." It was a subtle nod to the groom's Edo lineage, which derived from the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria circa the 17th century.
The couple kept the color palette for the event, which was planned by Doyin Fash LLC. and Nkem Igwebuike, to a minimum, focusing on rich gold tones, ivory and accents of greenery—an ode to the Nigeran flag, which is green and white.
The couple wore ornate outfits adorned in silver and gold, thus allowing their guests to bring vibrancy to the celebration. "African attire is very bright, so the people were the color," Ogwumike reflects.
The food, much like the fashion and the design, was an eclectic blend of authentic Nigerian flavors and American favorites. "I wanted people to experience the merging of our cultures," Ogwumike explains. The menu included traditional dishes like jollof rice, kola nuts and the bride's favorite, egusi soup, as well as Texas barbeque and the groom's must-have sweet treat: ice cream. "The food told the story of who we are," Ogwumike muses.
The Surprise Burna Boy Concert
After the couple's Nigerian ceremony, Friday was going to be a day of rest for the newlyweds and their loved ones. That was, until, Chiney caught wind that Burna Boy, a popular Nigerian singer, would be performing at the Toyota Center in Houston.
There was no doubt that Chiney and her husband would be there. Their first official date was at a Burna Boy concert in Los Angeles, and they attended another show on their first anniversary. Then, in the middle of their wedding planning journey, they found out he had a show scheduled on the only free day during their wedding week.
Ogwumike worked with her friends at the Houston Rockets NBA team, whose home arena is the Toyota Center, to surprise her loved ones with tickets. During a conversation with The Knot ahead of the big day, she shared that her friends were already texting her about the coincidental timing without knowing they'd ultimately be in attendance. "Our guests have been hitting us up saying, 'Do you know Burna Boy's in concert? Are you gonna go?' They don't even know yet," she said with a coy laugh. "It's totally fate." While there, Chiney and her sister, WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, presented the performer (whose full name is Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu MFR) with a custom jersey.
The Church Wedding Ceremony
The fun was far from over. On Saturday, November 18, Chiney and her husband enjoyed their wedding ceremony, which followed Western wedding traditions.
With about 650 guests in attendance at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church, it was just as lavish as their first ceremony. "Gold was the common thread for the white wedding," Ogwumike shares, noting that her reputation as a "bling girl" inherently influenced the look of the event.
To bring her glitzy vision to life, the bride invited her loved ones to wear silver and gold as an extension of the aesthetic.
While much of the couple's wedding weekend centered around tradition, the ceremony was uniquely personal. "We are lovers of tradition, but we are also examples of what happens when you break it in the best way," Ogwumike reflects. "I think the beauty of Nigerian and American culture is that you can make [the wedding] what you want."
The Farewell Brunch
To conclude their dream wedding weekend, Ogwumike and Akpejiori hosted a farewell brunch to say goodbye to their guests and reflect on their favorite memories. For Ogwumike, one standout experience was seeing her husband for the first time at the welcome party. In that fleeting second, they had a shared moment of mindfulness: "We looked at each other and thought, 'Oh, my gosh, this is happening.'"
In an effort to be truly present, the couple committed to going unplugged for the duration of the week-long party. "We made a promise to each other to not use our phones, but to be together for every moment of it," she adds. "We were joined at the hip, because we wanted to look back on this week and have shared memories."
Chiney's Wedding Dress Details
Chiney Ogwumike wore 10—yes, 10!—dazzling outfits throughout her wedding weekend. While it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite, a few stand out from the rest. Ogwumike's mother sketched the design for the first traditional Nigerian wedding look, which was a vibrant shade of blue with red and coral accents. "I was planning this wedding during basketball season and I was like, 'Mom, I need help,'" she recalls. "She literally drew my dress on computer paper."
From there, Ogwumike asked her close friend, WNBA player Kristine Anigwe, to bring their vision to life. "Kristine has styled me and my sister [fellow WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike]. She also has her own fashion line, and she's Nigerian so she understands us. She finished the look that my mom sketched."
Another look that was nothing short of a showstopper was debuted at the end of the traditional ceremony. For the symbolic moment, Chiney wore a strapless red gown accented with strands of ivie, coral red beaded jewelry that's custom for Nigerian brides. "That dress signified that I crossed over from being an Igbo girl. I received the blessing from my parents and assumed my husband's Edo culture," she explains.
Another favorite was the white wedding dress she wore on Saturday, designed by Nneka Alexander of Brides by Nona. The ornate gown featured illusion sleeves embellished with crystals and angular cutouts on the bodice. When Ogwumike reached out to the Georgia-based designer, her husband was the one who insisted they work together. "When her husband heard that I reached out, he was like, 'Oh my gosh, do her dress because I watch her on TV.'"
It wasn't the only similarity that brought them together. "I found out that Nneka went to Queen's College in Nigeria—the same school that my mom, my aunts, and my wedding planner went to," she says of the serendipitous connection, which was just one of many throughout the entire planning experience.
Other outfits in Chiney's wedding wardrobe included a strapless yellow gown adorned with crystal embellishments, a strapless black reception gown, and a traditional white Nigerian wedding dress embellished with red and gold beads.
Chiney Ogwumike and Husband Raphael Akpejiori's Love Story
So, who is Chiney Ogwumike's husband? Ethasor Raphael Akpejiori is an engineer and professional heavyweight boxer based in Miami, Florida. Like many other couples today, Chiney and Raphael had a digital meet-cute.
The two matched on Hinge and instantly bonded over their shared Nigerian heritage. Ogwumike is a first-generation Nigerian-American, while Akpejiori moved from Lagos to the US at the age of 17 when he was recruited to play high school basketball in Wichita, Kansas. He went on to play basketball at the University of Miami before switching to the football team. He earned a spot at the Miami Dolphins' rookie training camp before transitioning once again to pursue professional boxing. He also holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering.
After talking virtually for over six months, Chiney made the first move by inviting Raphael to be her date for a Burna Boy concert in Los Angeles, California. "I had never asked a man on a date before, but for some reason, I couldn't let this one pass by," she says. Although Akpejiori was supposed to attend a boxing match in Las Vegas that night, he scrapped his plans to attend the show with his future wife. The rest is history: "We've been inseparable ever since," she says.
On December 24, 2022, Raphael Akpejiori proposed to Chiney Ogwumike after Christmas Eve mass. With the help of her sisters (and a little "Christmas magic," he says), he transformed a private room at Houston's Post Oak Hotel into a romantic oasis brimming with candles and roses—the perfect setting for a holiday engagement.
Although they often cheer for each other at their respective sporting events, Chiney and her husband Raphael have kept their relationship private… until now. "I have a mantra about relationships: 'private until permanent,'" she tells us. "I don't think everything is meant for public consumption, especially when you're trying to find your person. I valued that process so much, and I didn't want it to be compromised."
Despite her career in the public eye—both on the court and on television—she and her husband have reveled in the secrecy of their romance. "The reason why we haven't shared anything is because we love being private," she explains. "There's no judgment, and there's no tampering. You're not experiencing drama that society could potentially bring."
In fact, she didn't even confirm her engagement until the week of her wedding. "When we got engaged he was like, 'Okay, are you gonna post it?' And I was like, 'No!'" she recalls. "We're just enjoying our peace. But I am proud of who I'm aligning the rest of my life with." Akpejiori echoes this sentiment, calling Ogwumike "the woman of my dreams and love of my life."
It's for that reason that the two are finally ready to share their love story with the world. "Our wedding was a celebration of our lives, our culture and everything that we love," Ogwumike reflects. "So I'll share this moment, but don't be surprised if we disappear again!"
Chiney Ogwumike's Wedding Vendors
Nigerian Wedding Venue: Igbo Catholic Community Center; Church Wedding Venue: Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church; Wedding Reception Venue: Sans Souci Ballroom; Photographer: Stanlo Photography; Videographer: Bricks Group Media; Wedding Planners: Doyin Fash LLC, Nkem Igwebuike, 3Gems; Event Designer: Dave Oguama, D One Group; Florist: Mococulture; Officiants: Father Sean Horrigan and Father Romanus Muoneke; Bridal Styling: Kristine Anigwe; White Wedding Dress: Brides by Nona; Engagement and Wedding Rings: Happy Jewelers; Makeup: Fabiola Mercado; Hair: Hair Veda, Velvet Nelms; Rental Equipment: Audiotek Houston, Roar Over Texas, Events by Irene; Catering: Glorious Feasts; Nigerian Wedding Cake: Edet Okon; White Wedding Cake: Cakes by Lisa; Music: Marion Dubose, Seyi Alesh, DJ Prince; Entertainment; Houston Photo Booth; Transportation: Sam's Limousine & Transportation Inc.; Stationery: Nicole Joe