From Russia With Cash: WNBA Loses Diana Taurasi For 2015 Season

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Seven-time WNBA All-Star Diana Taurasi announced Tuesday that she will sit out the 2015 season. She'll make more money doing that than she would have if she'd played.

EspnW's Kate Fagan joined Bill Littlefield to explain.

BL: Kate, tell us about the offer made by the Russian club for which Taurasi plays during what the rest of the world regards as the basketball season...even though it's the WNBA's offseason.

People tune in to watch Taurasi. And I think that should be better rewarded.

Kate Fagan

KF: Exactly. Taurasi's played basically year-round since 2004 when she was drafted out of UConn. So she's always played in the WNBA during the summers, and, over the last probably three or four years, some of these Russian clubs, they've floated the idea to the people around Taurasi — and other players of her caliber — that they would be willing to pay her a bonus if she did not play for in WNBA.

Playing 11-and-a-half months out of the year leaves Taurasi, and it would leave any player, maybe not at their best every single night because of that schedule. You know, with the potential for injury, so because of the finite playing career that all athletes have, I think finally she was willing to consider sitting out the WNBA season in order to financially make more money than she would make and also extend her career maybe for a few years because of that offer.

BL: You have written that dozens of other players have received similar offers to sit out the WNBA season. Why has nobody accepted an offer like that until now?

KF: I think most WNBA players do feel a sort of solidarity with each other and with the concept of the league. It's 17 years old. It's young by professional sports standards. And they  have become more stable and financially they're moving in the right direction. And I think they want to be a part of that. So that has always been a key to them.

Now I will add the caveat that this is the first player who we know is taking the deal. And because she's Diana Taurasi and she's always been brash — she's just saying "it's about the money," right — and we don't know other players — maybe they were like, "You know, I'm nursing an injury. I'm gonna sit out this season for rehabbing" or any other reasons. We don't necessarily know they haven't taken this deal. But she is the first one, and it doesn't surprise me, to say it's about the money. And I think, if I know Taurasi a little bit, that's important to her — to point out some of the flaws in the system.

BL: Diana Taurasi earns about $1.5 million a year playing overseas in Russia — that’s nearly 15 times the WNBA’s max salary of $107,000. Given current WNBA revenues and expenses, is there any way the league can hope to address this imbalance?

KF: This is where I think it gets fascinating. The WNBA is very precariously balanced financially. Nobody who wants to see this league succeed suggests they should pile on more salary because that's just going to cause the WNBA to go the way of previous women's professional leagues.

[sidebar title="'The Reappearing Act'" width="630" align="right"] Kate Fagan played basketball for Colorado from 1999 to 2004. She chronicled her experience in a recent book. [/sidebar]But I did not know how many players in the WNBA made around max money. Because when you look at the NBA, you have max guys, and maybe a team has two. But because of those constraints, they can't have, you know, three or four. And the WNBA has over 40 players — 12 teams, 40 players — making the same amount of money as Taurasi.

That's the part where I don't believe that those players move the needle the same way. So there's certainly an opportunity there where the star players who are getting it done for the WNBA should be getting more. In the same way people tune in to watch Lebron, it's a smaller scale, but people tune in to watch Taurasi. And I think that should be better rewarded.

This segment aired on February 7, 2015.



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