In an unprecedented move, superstar Diana Taurasi has announced that she will forego the 2015 WNBA season. Honoring the request of her Russian Premier League team, financial reasons were the key factor in such a visceral decision. UMMC Ekaterinburg actually offered Taurasi more than her WNBA salary in order to sit out the season. Of note, this request was made in order to prevent injury to their prized player.
While Taurasi has issued an open letter to fans of the Phoenix Mercury, her WNBA club team, advising that she will be returning in 2016, the 11-year WNBA veteran (and three-time league champion) has altered the landscape of the league. Taking into account that many of the league’s superstars play overseas to supplement their income, Taurasi could be among the first of many more to undergo such a decision. As a side note, many other European clubs have offered their American star players financial incentives to sit out a WNBA season.
An additional factor to consider is how this will affect the Mercury, who enter the season as the defending league champions. Taking into account that star centre Brittany Griner was arrested on domestic disturbance charges, an ominous feeling defines the upcoming season for a possibly beleaguered club. Despite returning veterans including the likes of DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree, complemented by the WNBA Coach of the Year Sandy Brondello, it may not be enough to salvage the Mercury’s season. Opening their season on June 5 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena against the San Antonio Stars, the outcome of the match may possibly set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Considering that Taurasi has played practically year round since 2004 (not to mention her three Summer Games gold medals), she has given so much of herself to the game, that she has earned the right to sit out the season if she chooses too. While some in basketball circles may feel disappointment over this, the reality is that she has nothing to apologize for.
Sadly, such position not only augments conversation and stirs debate, but it places Taurasi in a lose-lose situation. If she suits up for the Mercury, she may draw the ire of her Russian team. Yet, if she sits out the WNBA season, some may view it as a betrayal to the league. If the money from her Russian team allows her to put together a nest egg for the future, placing her and her family in a possible position of comfort for the long-term, sitting out was the best possible move. Although Taurasi has plans to compete for the United States at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, the reality is that Taurasi has nothing left to prove.
Such a move is certainly a wake-up call for the WNBA and its salary structure. During the 2014 campaign, Taurasi was earning the league maximum of $107,000. As a side note, there were 36 other players in the WNBA making as much as Taurasi, who is the second all-time leading scorer in league history. Overseas, she was earning approximately $1.5 million. As the WNBA is regarded as the world’s most talented female basketball league, how can their players not be the best compensated? Taking into account that some WNBA coaches earn close to $300,000, its star players must work as a unified front to demand better salaries.
While the thought of a player strike would be a first in professional women’s sport in North America, it must be considered in the aftermath of Taurasi’s decision. Although many players opt to play in the WNBA out of loyalty (considering that the majority of players are American), it does not change the fact that compensation will only continue to be a growing source of discussion, and possibly tension.
Such players may be loyal in terms of helping the game grow, but have overlooked the growth of their own finances. Should more stars, such as Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Candace Parker exercise such options, it would open the floodgates, a possible harbinger of things to come. With the 2016 WNBA season also signifying its 20th Anniversary, a change in salary structure would be a strong building block towards gaining the confidence of future players.