Why Brittney Griner and Other WNBA Stars Play Abroad

Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in Russia as part of a drug investigation. She had played there for th...


Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in Russia as part of a drug investigation. She had played there for the UMMC Yekaterinburg professional basketball team during the WNBA offseason. The news of her detention on Saturday prompted questions about security and politics, but also about logistics, namely: why was one of the WNBA’s top players competing in Russia anyway?

Griner is a seven-time All-Star and won a WNBA championship in 2014 alongside Diana Taurasi, who also played in Russia. Trading off-season rest for international competition is common among WNBA players for many personal and professional reasons, but often the most pressing motivation is financial.

Here’s a quick look at what drives WNBA players to play internationally.

It could be anyone from top WNBA veterans to young players hoping to get extra playing time. It is believed that around 70 players will play for international teams this off-season, including more than a dozen in Russia and Ukraine. There are 144 spots on the WNBA’s 12-team roster. In recent years, some WNBA teams have released trackers showing players competing in China, Israel, Italy, Turkey, Poland, Australia and several other countries.

Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones, who won the Most Valuable Player award last season, was playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia but left after Russia invaded Ukraine. Jones tweeted airspace restrictions on Wednesday as she flew in from Russia and said: “I just landed in Turkey and all I want to do is cry. This situation was fine more stressful than I thought. Thank you God for always watching over me and protecting me.

Other big-name stars like Liz Cambage, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Sue Bird and Arike Ogunbowale have performed internationally.

The maximum salary for the 2022 season is $228,094; the minimum is $60,471.

It’s hard not to notice how low those numbers are compared to NBA salaries, where even underutilized bench players can make millions. The best players like Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant earn over $40 million a year. Their seasons are longer (82 regular season games compared to 36 in the WNBA) and the men’s league brings in much more revenue than the women’s league. But the vast disparity has been a constant source of debate in recent years, as gender and pay equity have become hot topics.

WNBA players lobbied for higher pay, and in 2020 their union, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, signed a new collective agreement which the league said would raise the average salary to six figures — nearly $130,000 — for the first time. The previous year, in 2019, a player could earn as little as $41,965 and no more than $117,500.

The new contract also created opportunities for players to earn extra money through a marketing program and an in-season tournament.

It varies by country, league, and team, but players can win several hundred thousand dollars and even over a million dollars. For many players, most of their income is not earned in the WNBA

Cambage, a four-time All-Star from Australia, recently told ‘NBA Today’ that his salary for foreign teams was five to eight times as much as she earned in WNBA Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who won the 2019 Rookie of the Year award, said going overseas was key for many players because lower WNBA salaries.

“For a lot of people, it’s not like you make enough to live off the rest of the year,” Collier said on his podcast in August, according to the website. Just women’s sport.

In 2015, UMMC Ekaterinburg reportedly paid Phoenix Mercury guard Taurasi $1.5 million to play for him and do not to play in this year’s WNBA season. “It was a very personal choice” Taurasi told The New York Times at the time. “My agent said it would be financially irresponsible not to.”

International teams tend to receive more government and corporate financial support than those in the WNBA, which explains the higher salaries.

No, not for everyone.

Game time is a key incentive for many gamers. With only 144 roster spots and easy to close contracts in the WNBA, it can be difficult for even talented players to stay on the rosters and in the game. Lauren Manis told The Times about signing with teams in Belgium and Hungary after the Las Vegas Aces waived her in 2020 and again in 2021. She has yet to play in a WNBA game – the Aces have waived her waived about a month after drafting her in 2020 – but she recently signed a training camp deal with the Seattle Storm.

The WNBA also attracts players from around the world, so the offseason gives many of them the opportunity to play in their home countries in front of family and friends. But playing all year can mean players are tired when it’s time to return to the WNBA.

Sometimes they don’t.

This can be a problem for players – little rest can lead to injury – and for the WNBA. The league and its teams have supported players’ international careers, with notes on their achievements included in their website bios, but the new collective bargaining agreement signed in 2020 has added heavy financial penalties to discourage play. abroad.

Many players have not completed their international seasons before the start of WNBA training camp in April and the start of the season in May. Last season, 55 players were late for training camp and about a dozen missed their season debuts, from The Hartford Courant. Players can be fined up to 20% of their salary for missing regular season games because they play in other leagues, and starting next season they might not be allowed to play at all if they are not back at the start of the regular season. season.



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