Griner’s home, but WNBA players still competing overseas

Brittney Griner is back in the US after a grueling 10-month saga in Russia. Still, almost half of their WNBA peers chose to compete abroad this winter.

Brittney Griner is back in the United States after a grueling 10-month saga in Russia. Still, almost half of their WNBA peers chose to compete abroad this winter to supplement their income.

For obvious reasons – Griner’s ordeal and the country’s ongoing war with Ukraine – none play in Russia, but 67 of the league’s 144 players play in Australia, Turkey, Italy and about half a dozen other countries.

“Our players will do what is best for them in consultation with their families and their agents,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “And we’re certainly here to help them think through the security risks and stuff like that. I think you’re seeing players taking other opportunities and we’re certainly going to give them more opportunities to do things with the league in the off-season and keep the momentum around the great game they bring to the field every year .

Griner, an All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested for drug possession following her arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February while returning to Russia to play for her foreign team. She was found guilty in Russia and sentenced to nine years in prison before the US and Russia held a high-level prisoner swap Thursday that allowed her to return home.

Griner has not spoken publicly or announced her career plans since her release. But if she wanted to return to the court, she would be welcomed back by the WNBA, the Mercury and USA Basketball.

Engelbert said she would give Griner and her family some space and time before discussing a return to the league, whose season begins May 19. South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who coached Griner on the 2020 Olympic team, feels playing again could be helpful for the dominant center.

Playing abroad brings in salaries in excess of a million dollars for a handful of WNBA players. It’s a lucrative alternative to the marketing deals the WNBA offers players to stay in the US and promote the league during the offseason; Top players like Griner can now earn $700,000 considering all possible revenue streams offered by the WNBA.

But there’s no denying that the pay gap between professional men’s and women’s basketball players — including Griner — is still wide. Top salaries for WNBA players are well below the minimum salary of about $953,000 for NBA players (excluding those on two-way contracts) for a variety of reasons, chief among them differences in profit margins and media rights.

NBA revenue surpassed $10 billion last season for the first time, and the league has a $24 billion nine-year television contract. The next one, scheduled to launch around 2025, is expected to be worth significantly more. The WNBA does not publicly release its revenue figures.

WNBA players have never asked to do the same as their NBA counterparts — they recognize that is impossible — but they have asked for an equal revenue share.

So the WNBA players are looking outside the US and Turkey has become the main destination for this winter as almost two dozen of them play there. Top players can earn a few hundred thousand dollars in Turkey – significantly less than what they could earn in Russia.

Breanna Stewart, who plays for the Seattle Storm, chose Turkey because it was closer to her wife’s family in Spain.

“They want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-court experience and just keep appreciating other countries,” she told The Associated Press during September’s FIBA ​​World Championship.

Last offseason, 73 WNBA players went overseas. Five years ago there were about 90 players. The decline hints at growing options in the U.S., particularly in marketing deals, which Englebert said has tripled this year.

“Owners really got on the player compensation side in this bargaining cycle,” Engelbert said at the WNBA Finals, “and I think the kind of quid pro quo for that was prioritizing showing up on time for our season.” “

Players can also compete in the Athletes Unlimited League, which launched in the United States last year. The five-week season has signed 13 WNBA players this year, up from two in the league’s inaugural year. Griner’s home, but WNBA players still competing overseas

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