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The State of the WNBA, Part 1

Kierra Wright

In February of this year, Maya Moore, the Women's National Basketball Association’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, this may have seemed like the perfect setup for a Michael Jordan-like comeback.

Because in her eight-year career, Moore has already won four WNBA championships, four Gold Medals, a Finals and Regular-Season MVP and Rookie of the Year. But, most notably, she was the first women’s basketball player to sign an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand in 2011. 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 a good look, especially knowing that Maya has shifted her focus to 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 , 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. 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, Phoenix Mercury Center Brittney Griner addressed how players in the league aren’t valued. 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.

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 was terminated this month.

In my next commentary, 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.

I'm Robin Boylorn, until next time, keep it crunk!

* The W denotes WNBA

Written by Brittany Young

Edited by Robin Boylorn



Brittany Young is Alabama Public Radio's Program Director and Content Manager. Brittany began her public radio journey in the spring of 2015 as a news intern for APR while in graduate school at The University of Alabama.
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