The State of the WNBA, Part 1
About a week ago, the Washington Mystics won their first ever championship in franchise history. But the celebration didn’t last long because half of the team’s players are heading overseas for international play. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the Women’s National Basketball Association and one of the reasons why players are asking for better pay.
In February of this year, Maya Moore, the WNBA’s most prolific player, announced she would sit out for the 2019 season to focus on herself, her family and her ministry.
To fans of the game, like myself, this may have seemed like the perfect setup for a Michael Jordan-like comeback.
In her eight-year career, Moore has already won four WNBA championships, two Olympic Gold Medals, two FIBA World Championship Gold Medals, a WNBA Finals and Regular-Season MVP, Rookie of the Year and achieved a host of other records and accolades. She’s always sported the No.23, the same number Jordan wore for most of his career; but, most notably, she was the first women’s basketball player to sign an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand in 2011 at the beginning of her rookie season. So, if anyone could take a year off from the game and come back like she never left, it would be Maya… In an ideal world.
But, in reality, the face of the W taking off a year – in her prime – isn’t good news for fans or the league, especially knowing that Maya has shifted her focus to a laborious fight like criminal justice reform.
And it’s not like Maya sitting out was a difficult decision for her to make. She walked away from a league of players who are underpaid and undervalued.
Breanna Stewart, the former No.1 draft pick and league-reigning MVP, ruptured her Achilles tendon playing in the Euro League championship game and missed this past season because of it. Stewart, like other players in the W, has to play overseas to supplement her income here in the US.
Last year, Stewart’s base salary was $56,793. Meanwhile, she can make six to seven figures playing overseas.
According to research conducted in 2017, the NBA paid its players about 50 percent of league revenue, while the W paid its players less than 25 percent.
That same year, in its 21st season, the W’s attendance reached a little over 1.5 million, collectively. That’s an average of over 7,700 fans, which was a new high for the league since the 2011 season. The NBA, in comparison, didn’t draw crowds of this size until its 26th season, averaging a little over 8,000 fans per game.
Still, the average salary for NBA players was roughly $90,000 during the ’71-’72 season – which is about $18,000 more than the average salary of the W’s players today.
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, Phoenix Mercury Center, Brittney Griner addressed how players in the league aren’t valued. Her main frustration is that foul calls are lopsided in favor of smaller players and referees aren’t doing enough to protect her just because she’s bigger than everyone else.
Griner, who’s considered the league’s most dominant player at 6’8, is willing to leave the W, altogether, and solely play internationally where she can make millions of dollars.
“I feel like I’m not getting protected, I’m not being valued, getting beat up all the time. Why put my body through that when I can go overseas and make seven figures, and maybe play longer from taking off the summer and actually being able to rest my body, versus playing year-round?” Griner said.
Making millions makes sense, but one of the downsides of playing overseas is that players are away from their friends and families for months at a time.
But the good news is that the Players’ Labor Union has opted out of its Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was originally set to run through 2021, but will be terminated this month.
In part two, I’ll discuss some requests the Players’ Union can propose when negotiating a new agreement that can provide better marketing, exposure, pay and benefits for current and future players.
*W denotes WNBA