The 23rd season of the WNBA suggestions off in just a little over a month, and it appears to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court docket, the 12 groups and 144 gamers shall be seeking to capitalize on final yr’s blockbuster season, which noticed a wholesome enhance in rankings, a brand new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising begin, and a degree of league-wide expertise and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on an evening in, evening out foundation.
This yr, there shall be no small quantity of drama off the court docket as effectively, because the gamers shall be combating to safe themselves a much bigger piece of this increasing pie. Final October, they opted out of their present collective bargaining settlement, which can now expire on the finish of the 2019 season. In order that they’re not simply combating for wins and titles; they’re actually combating for higher pay, higher journey circumstances, higher advertising and marketing, and a greater future for the league they love.
Sadly, they’re going to must do all of this with out their reigning Most Helpful Participant (MVP), Breanna Stewart.
Final week, whereas taking part in within the EuroLeague Ultimate 4 championship recreation in Hungary together with her staff, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her proper Achilles tendon. It’s a horrible blow to a participant whose final 11 months have been among the many most achieved in basketball historical past. Throughout that point Stewart was acknowledged because the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Girls common season MVP. She took dwelling a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Workforce USA for good measure. Now, her harm will drive her to take a seat out your complete 2019 WNBA season.
Final week, when Stewart collapsed to the bottom in ache in the course of the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues all over the world stopped of their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a middle for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the sport reside from Turkey when she noticed Stewart fall. On the sight of Stewart’s harm, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a ahead for the Washington Mystics and good good friend of Stewart’s, was merely heartbroken.
And for the entire WNBA’s gamers, coaches, and followers, Stewart’s devastating harm highlighted how absurd it’s that the largest stars within the WNBA nonetheless must go abroad to play basketball in the course of the WNBA offseason to be able to earn their dwelling, as an alternative of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base wage this WNBA season is $64,538; abroad, elite gamers can typically earn $1 million or extra per season. The present WNBA most wage for veterans is $117,500.
“That is dangerous to our league. It results the product on the ground. And we’ve received to discover a resolution to this,” stated Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.
The gamers are actually making an attempt. The chief committee of the WNBA Participant’s Affiliation (WNBPA) — which incorporates Delle Donne and Williams, together with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Chicken, and Carolyn Swords — has been speaking with WNBPA management often in the course of the offseason to engineer a brand new path ahead.
“Enjoying abroad ought to at all times be a selection, however not a necessity,” Delle Donne stated. “There are such a lot of causes it is smart for the NBA and WNBA to spend money on us as gamers. Harm prevention is clearly a high motive.”
A few weeks in the past, the manager committee members who weren’t presently taking part in in abroad competitors had their first official assembly with WNBA brass — together with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and a number of other WNBA house owners. The assembly was basically a listening session, the place the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Wage and compensation, participant expertise, well being and security, and establishing an enduring enterprise mannequin for the league.
And whereas fostering the well being and security of gamers by limiting the necessity to search employment alternatives abroad was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s harm will add weight to to the dialog.
“This brings it extra to the forefront and brings some urgency to the trigger,” Williams stated.
Harm prevention isn’t the one motive why its essential to make sure that gamers have extra alternatives to remain in the US in the course of the WNBA offseason. Going abroad for lengthy stretches of time and taking part in aggressive basketball with out some type of significant break contributes to psychological, bodily, and emotional exhaustion.
“We nearly put our lives on maintain after we play abroad,” McGee-Stafford stated. “We miss holidays, occasions, time with family members. However moreover, we miss advertising and marketing moments and accessibility from our followers.”
Take Williams, for instance. She has solely had roughly three weeks of downtime for the reason that Dream misplaced within the semifinals of final yr’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s presently in Turkey, competing within the first spherical of their playoffs. If her staff makes it to the finals, she may very well be coming again greater than every week into Dream coaching camp subsequent month. After which the cycle would begin once more.
Equally, it’s an unbelievable frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend coaching camps unable to work with their full roster on account of so many absences due to abroad play; then, when gamers lastly return, they’re nowhere close to being refreshed and able to go.
“When our gamers come again, we’re always making concessions,” Reeve stated. “We’ve got to alter how a lot time we will spend on the court docket with them, so that you simply lose the power to have this particular person enchancment when there’s no offseason.”
After all, the one approach to resolve this downside is cash. And that’s the place the dialog often hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the truth that the WNBA continues to be a fledgling league, backed by the NBA. Partially due to these feedback, there was an erosion of belief between the WNBA gamers and WNBA management — a indisputable fact that isn’t helped by the truth that the WNBA nonetheless has not named its subsequent president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.
Silver has insisted that he’s dedicated to rebuilding that belief, however the one approach to really do it’s by making a major funding within the gamers throughout this collective bargaining session.
“I simply assume we’ve a singular alternative, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and so they’re an iconic model,” Reeve stated. “The thought of being a frontrunner in society, that might imply you’re the one placing your foot ahead and saying, ‘Do that with us, deal with girls this fashion with us.’ You sort-of create a series response by you stepping ahead and saying, ‘You’ll do that, as a result of it’s essential.’ And I believe whenever you see that chance, minds will change.”
Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the rooster vs. egg combat with funding vs. success to cease. The WNBA is rising. The followers are watching. The gamers are getting higher by leaps and bounds each era. However the one approach to proceed this development is that if the perfect gamers on the planet play within the WNBA. They usually can’t try this in the event that they’re getting injured taking part in for groups on different continents that pay them considerably extra money.
“It’s in everybody’s greatest curiosity, particularly the league’s and the house owners’, to spend money on us as gamers – our security, our bodily and psychological well-being – to develop the sport,” she stated.
“The whole lot else, and particularly the long run development of the sport, hinges on the WNBA being the perfect and most elite place to play basketball.”