How much money do athletes in the WNBA make? Do they have other jobs?
With men's basketball awash in money, we take a look at the women's game and how the finances stack up for the top WNBA players in the world
When the news broke that WNBA star Brittney Griner had been arrested in Russia, a common reaction amongst the general public was, “What was she doing in Russia?” And the answer to that reveals a shameful aspect of the WNBA. Griner was in Russia because she was travelling to her second job.
While the public perception of professional basketball players being multi-millionaires, bolstered by the headline-grabbing stories of contracts in excess of $40 million, the reality is that in the women’s game, the money is far more humble.
According to Yahoo Finance, the average WNBA salary in 2021 is $120,648. Unlike in the men’s game, most WNBA players don’t have the luxury of spending the offseason on a beach somewhere. The league’s “supermax” salary of $221,450 is only achieved by seven players, Brittney Griner among them. For reference, the minimum salary in the NBA is $925,258.
To top up their salaries, the top players in the WNBA regularly spend the off-season playing in other leagues, particularly in Turkey, China, and Russia. Brittney Griner has spent her winters, since 2014, playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League, where she is reportedly paid $1.5 million. She joins Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart in playing for the Russian powerhouse and has helped them win three SuperCup, four Euroleague, eight Russian League, and three Russian Cup titles.
The disparity of pay between men and women may be galling, but not entirely unexpected. But the gaping chasm between what the WNBA pays and what the Russian WBPL pays is a little shocking. It must be pointed out that the Russian league are not alone in valuing players this highly, China and Turkey offer similar financial opportunities for the games best talent.
The WNBA has reached an agreement with the players union to phase in pay rises, getting the average up to $130,000 and the top players over $500,000 by 2027. But that is still a pittance compared to what other leagues are willing to pay. If this is not seriously addressed, we could see a talent drain toward the east.