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Hoops Happening: G League ‘Select Contracts’ are an affront to WNBA players

For the NBA, teenagers with neither collegiate nor professional experience are a worthy investment. Multi-champion WNBA players, though? Not so much. This is today in women’s basketball for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.

Skylar Diggins-Smith speaks on stage during the Q&A Puma #Reform Launch at Atlanta History Center on Oct. 6, 2018 in Atlanta, GA.
Photo by Marcus Ingram/WireImage

Just one week ago, Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne appeared in an episode of Uninterrupted in which she declared, “Women aren’t valued the same way that men are in the workforce” and stated her wishes for the NBA to “start a movement going” towards pay equity for WNBA players.

“If you’re not putting your dollars behind it and your marketing behind it, then it’s just lip service,” Delle Donne said. “So, I’m waiting for the dollars to actually get behind female athletes.”

Well, it looks like Delle Donne and the other elite talent of the WNBA will have to wait a little longer for parity — or become more ferocious in their fight for it — because the NBA has prioritized paying more to inexperienced male basketball players entering the G League, on newly-created “Select Contracts,” instead of increasing the salaries of WNBA players. Thus, implementation of the G League “Select Contracts” — called “a professional path” to the NBA — is a galling affront to WNBA players.

Teenagers with limited experience will earn more than WNBA veterans who’ve won championships.

The G League “Select Contracts” will pay $125,000 to 18-year-old boys who are not yet eligible for the NBA Draft but who also have not benefited from the experience of collegiate careers. Meanwhile, the maximum WNBA salary is $115,000. One would assume that superstars who’ve won multiple championships, like Sue Bird and Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi, would be at the maximum. But given their accomplishments — which also include awards and gold medals in international competition — paying G League players who haven’t done anything yet more than these WNBA greats is unconscionable.

G League players on “Select Contracts” will be getting something for nothing.

The vast majority of women who enter the world of professional basketball in the United States arrive in the WNBA with four years of college playing experience and college degrees. In fact, the WNBA has the highest percentage of college graduates of any sports league. In most jobs, pay is commensurate with education and experience, meaning any WNBA rookie has more education and experience than a player entering the NBA’s G League. Thus, the $35,000 originally paid to those in the G League is much more appropriate, with $125,000 being appropriate only if WNBA salaries are increased tremendously.

With “Select Contracts,” the NBA debunks its own assertion that losses prohibit it from investing more in WNBA players’ salaries and marketing.

In discussing the state of the league during the WNBA Finals, Lisa Borders addressed whether players could expect an increase in revenue sharing:

So unfortunately, running an arena or paying the coaches or paying the referees doesn’t change because it’s the women versus the men. We do not have the revenues today to support greater revenue sharing with our players, but it’s coming. We agree that they should be paid more. We challenge society. We challenge corporations. We challenge our sponsors. We love what we’re doing today, but we need to do more. And so we’ve still got work to do.

After Borders announced her resignation as league president, a WNBA source reported that the league lost $12 million during the 2018 season, and ahead of the 2018 season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blamed the WNBA’s struggles on low arena turnout stemming from lack of interest among young women.

It is true that the WNBA has lost money this way, with attendance at games dropping 12 percent from last year to “approximately 6,770 fans per game,” with overall attendance at “roughly 1.37 million.” And the NBA G League has experienced growth in recent years, with game attendance reaching 1.6 million in 2017-18. But the G League’s numbers are for 26 teams versus only 12 teams in the WNBA, meaning the G League is not exactly clobbering the WNBA in attendance. Thus, if WNBA salaries won’t be increased because of low arena turnout, why aren’t G League salaries determined by the same measure?

The G League is growing because of televised Summer League games during the WNBA’s regular season.

In response to Silver’s comments about the cause of low attendance at WNBA games, Delle Donne blamed the NBA’s failure to market the WNBA properly: “It’s hard to fall in love with a sport or a team or a player if you’ve never seen them and don’t know much about them ...” And this is a refrain that has been uttered by numerous players, including Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Dallas Wings, and ESPN broadcaster Jalen Rose.

The G League, however, has grown rather quickly — but why?

According to Candace Parker, a league will thrive with “exposure and opportunity” — two ingredients afforded the G League but not necessarily the WNBA. In recent years, the NBA has entered into broadcasting deals that bring Summer League games to a national audience. Some G League players participate in Summer League, leading to fan following and overall growth. Perhaps if more was invested to bring WNBA games to a national audience during the regular season, interest would increase and fans would fill arenas. Surely, it is unlikely that growth will happen without this exposure because, as Delle Donne rightfully said, people can’t develop an interest in something they haven’t even seen.

So, while the NBA says all the right things about equality and supporting women, its actions tell a very different story. What will it take for the NBA to pay more than “lip service”?

Drink up, link lush!

Skylar Diggins-Smith is pregnant!

View this post on Instagram

Can’t wait to meet you!.. ❤️

A post shared by skydigg4 (@skydigg4) on

She did not post any further information, so we do not know how far along she is. But it’s probably safe to assume that she will miss at least some, if not all, of the 2019 WNBA season. If Diggins-Smith does miss the entire season, wouldn’t that seal the deal on Liz Cambage being done with the W? And, without either player, what would that mean for the Dallas Wings?

Either way, congrats to her and her husband!

In other news ...

ICYMI: Some of the WNBA’s biggest stars went high fashion with In Style magazine.

  • Intern no more! Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver is a Washington Wizards assistant coach.
  • Face of the Las Vegas Aces A’ja Wilson has signed an endorsement deal with Mountain Dew Ice, making her the first WNBA player to represent the brand.
  • Baked Ziti is one of Lexie Brown’s favorite meals and she shares a family recipe for this pasta goodness right here.
  • The city of Seattle is not settling for its WNBA champion Storm not receiving government recognition for their third title. A government resolution was passed to celebrate their grand accomplishments.
  • Cayla George of the Dallas Wings sounded off in Players’ Voice, an Australian publication on par with The Players’ Tribune in the U.S.

Shine brighter.