Diana Taurasi’s million dollar decision changes landscape of WNBA

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.

Bizarre chapter plagues brilliant basketball career of Brittany Griner

Having always marched to the beat of her own drummer, Brittany Griner’s career has been defined by both accomplishment and controversy. From not suiting up for the US at the 2012 London Summer Games, to speculation over being selected for the 2013 NBA Draft, Griner always seemed to be maligned. While she may just be understood, her courage in revealing her same-sex preference early in her WNBA career showed tremendous courage.

While she has established herself as one of the elite competitors in the WNBA, another bizarre chapter in her career has unfolded. Griner and her fiancée, Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson were both arrested for domestic violence under charges related to suspicion of assault and disorderly conduct.

Johnson’s sister summoned the police after the engaged couple became involved in a heated dispute (with objects being thrown at each other) at their new home in suburban Phoenix. Of note, there were minor injuries suffered by both, including a bite mark on Griner’s finger, although medical treatment was not necessary.

Although Griner did end up pleading guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, it remains held on the condition that she can successfully complete 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. Upon completion, all charges shall be dismissed. While Griner issued an apology through her lawyer, this is not the first incident in her career. During her freshman season at Baylor, she punched Jordan Barncastle, a player for Texas Tech.

Scheduled to marry next month, before the 2015 WNBA season starts, Griner disclosed to local members of the media that the couple endured stress over wedding plans and the purchase of their home. Last season, Griner helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a 2014 title, while setting a WNBA single season record for most blocks (129) in one season. Griner may likely face more questions from media about the arrest as the season starts, possibly making this her most difficult season, which may damper the Mercury’s hopes of repeating as champions.

In the wake of all the problems that the NFL has faced with domestic violence, the WNBA is suddenly dealing with such a grim reality. Said reality is that such an incident is a black eye on the game. Considering that the fallout has generated more publicity than most other WNBA-related events, it is a very sad reflection on the attention shown towards the fledgling league.

Although same-sex relationships are a much more public reality in women’s sports, one aspect that has never been given discussion is domestic violence among same-sex couples (men and women). Suddenly, the saga between Griner and Johnson brings this much hidden topic into the forefront, forcing awareness of the matter. In a time when many athletes are just looking to summon the courage to come out,

Taking into account that it is very rare for female athletes to be the victims of bad press, this is obviously new territory for the WNBA. It is up to the WNBA to show strong leadership and speak out on the matter. When Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, then-commissioner David Stern stood behind him at the press conference, showing his support.
Although this is a very different situation, the WNBA commissioner should have flown to Phoenix, met with team officials and hold a press conference discussing what transpired and working towards solutions. Going forward, the WNBA must not ignore this issue, as it would only tarnish its reputation. As a side note, there was not even any news on the WNBA site about the arrest.

The time is now for the WNBA to emerge and establish a program to work on awareness of same-sex domestic violence, through the availability of educational programs and counseling services. It would also set a very important precedent as other sports, including hockey and tackle football, consist of athletes that have publicly discussed their orientation. While it would be hopeful that such an incident never repeats itself, other sports now have to face the reality that such same-sex domestic violence issues could occur one day. Should awareness of domestic violence among same-sex couples increase over this incident, it would be the only silver lining in this otherwise very dark cloud.

Phoenix Mercury look for title to complement regular season record 29 wins

Sensational sophomore Brittney Griner is having the same impact in the WNBA as Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had in his early NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks. Griner has emerged as a key reason that the Phoenix Mercury ended their season with a league record 29 regular season wins.

The regular season finale versus the Seattle Storm, one of the WNBA’s signature franchises, saw Griner post 18 points and grab 10 for a 78-65 triumph, providing the Mercury with its 29th win. Her performance was complemented by Candice Dupree, who provided a 16-point output.

Ironically, the former record of 28 wins was shared by Seattle. They posted a 28-6 mark in 2010, which tied the Los Angeles Sparks, who reached the 28 wins plateau twice in franchise history (2000 and 2001). The loss finishes a difficult season for Seattle which saw the club post a dismal 12-22 mark, missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.

Adding to the irony is the fact that the first-round opponent for the record-breaking Phoenix franchise shall be Los Angeles. Of note, Phoenix swept the regular season series with LA, prevailing in all five contests. Last season, the clubs clashed in the postseason as Phoenix prevailed.

The jubilation for Phoenix was enhanced by the fact that the club shot 54 percent from the field, marking the 18th time this season they reached that they shot at least 50 percent from the floor. In the regular season, Phoenix had a 48.4 overall shooting percentage, a league record. The former record of 47.4 was set by the 2013 WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.

Of note, Phoenix and Minnesota met in the 2013 Western Conference finals, with Minnesota prevailing. Led by Maya Moore, it is highly likely that their paths shall cross again in the postseason. For Phoenix, the ability to dispose of Minnesota in the playoffs will only enhance their standing as the league’s best team this season. Just like the Chicago Bulls record-setting NBA season in 1995-96 that encompassed 72 regular season wins, a championship was crucial to justify their season.

Taking into account that Diana Taurasi, who played collegiately at Connecticut like Moore, won a title in 2007 and 2009, is accustomed to the pressure that comes with winning, she will need to be a crucial leader as Griner looks to win her first title.

Phoenix Mercury to host 2014 WNBA All-Star Game with Griner and Taurasi likely starters

For the second time in franchise history, the Phoenix Mercury shall host the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game. Scheduled for July 19 at the US Airways Center, the game shall be broadcast on ESPN in the United States and televised globally in more than 200 countries. Sponsored by Boost Mobile, the WNBA’s leaguewide marquee partner, the game should prove to be an exciting one for fans. Of note, the Mercury, one of the WNBA’s charter franchises, shall donate one dollar from all tickets sold to the Stars and Stripes charitable fund.

With Mercury center Brittany Griner entering her second year in the WNBA; it is highly likely that a strong support of voting from the hometown fans shall propel her into the starting lineup for the game. Voted as a starter for the 2013 edition, she was unable to play due to injury. Franchise legend Diana Taurasi, a six-time All-Star should also find herself voted into the starting lineup. Other Mercury players with All-Star experience include Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor, who have each played in three All-Star contests.

Mercury stars Brittney Griner (left) and Diana Taurasi part of early publicity for 2014 WNBA All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix

Mercury stars Brittney Griner (left) and Diana Taurasi part of early publicity for 2014 WNBA All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix

As the Western Conference has only hosted an All-Star Game twice (Phoenix – 2000, San Antonio – 2011), the return of the league’s annual showcase to Phoenix displays a commitment towards maintaining the strong fan base that exists in the West. Of note, the Western Conference have won eight All-Star Games, compared to three for the East.

Boasting an attendance of 17,717 fans, the Western Conference emerged with a victory. Lisa Leslie contributed 16 points, while Tina Thompson garnered Game MVP honors. Thompson would score 13 points while contributing a game-best 11 rebounds.

Mercury mascot points to pair of WNBA titles that franchise has won during All-Star Game press conference

Mercury mascot points to pair of WNBA titles that franchise has won during All-Star Game press conference

The opportunity to possibly become Game MVP on her homecourt is one that must surely be compelling for Taurasi. Competing in the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game, it held high emotion for Taurasi, who would log three points in the contest. With the 2013 edition being hosted at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, it was a homecoming of sorts. Having played her collegiate basketball with the University of Connecticut Huskies, she led them to three consecutive NCAA titles. The outpouring of support from fans in attendance was a feel-good moment.

Barring injury, the opportunity to compete in one of the WNBA’s showcase games in front of her home fans at Phoenix, known affectionately as the X-Factor, shall be a tremendous highlight in her remarkable career. Expect a long standing ovation for the superstar that helped bring a WNBA championship to Phoenix.

One of the WNBA’s rising stars, Brittney Griner will be poised to provide fans with an electrifying performance. While she has already made an impact in the WNBA as the first player to make two slam dunks in her league debut, the 2014 All-Star Game should be her coming-out party. The opportunity to compete against the league’s elite on her homecourt should serve as high motivation for an outstanding performance.

In the same case as Taurasi, injuries would be the only obstacle preventing Griner from participating in the league’s annual showcase. With Phoenix serving as one of the league’s most loyal fan bases, there will likely be a roar of approval should Griner manage to accomplish a slam dunk in the contest.

Coming off a season where the Mercury returned to the postseason, fans are excited about the possibilities for 2014. Should Griner continue to reach her potential as a promising superstar, the All-Star game may be the launching pad towards a strong postseason push that may culminate in another title by season’s end.

Images obtained from: http://www.wnba.com/mercury/photogallery/allstar_announcement_2014_15.html