This is so necessary!
WNBA players Napheesa Collier and Breanna Stewart have teamed up to form a new offseason women’s basketball league, The Grio reports. “Unrivaled,” is a new league aimed at giving top women’s basketball players another option to play in the offseason that doesn’t involve them traveling overseas. Stationed in the U.S., the league will run from January through March, featuring 30 of the top women’s players on six teams playing 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 instead of the usual 5-on-5 games.
“We remain committed to the WNBA, however there’s a problem that exists, which is players having to choose whether to play overseas to maximize earnings in the winter or stay home with family. We’ve decided to create our own solution,” tweeted Collier.
That problem Collier speaks of was on front stage when two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time WNBA All-Star star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia. Playing overseas to make more income in Moscow with UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014, Griner had no idea that her offseason routine could have such dire consequences. Finally released after nearly a year in detention, Griner is now set to publish a memoir about the harrowing ordeal.
“That day was the beginning of an unfathomable period in my life which only now am I ready to share,” Griner said of her 10 months in a Russian prison.
Collier and Stewart’s goal is to give WNBA players a safer option, one that allows them to earn about the same as they would make during the regular season to offset the money they’d lose by not playing overseas. Currently, the maximum base salary for a WNBA player is just a little more than $230,000. A drop in the bucket in comparison to NBA players, many stars like Stewart have earned more than a million playing overseas in the offseason.
The league is set to launch just as the league’s new prioritization rules go into effect next year. Part of a collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2020, the new rules require players to return from their international teams prior to the start of WNBA training camps or risk not being able to play in the regular season. A huge conflict for players who play overseas, the abroad season usually runs through the middle of May, overlapping with the WNBA calendar.
The “Unrivaled” league will feature shortened full courts with more spacing, shorter games, and more scoring. Partnering with Athletes Unlimited (AU), the new league seems to be a viable option for players. AU currently boasts 44 players in its league and is coming up on its third season next year. Megan Perry, AU’s new head of sport, said this partnership is just what women’s basketball needs.
“I think the future is bright. The more opportunities they have to play the better it is. I don’t think we could be anything but excited about the new opportunities that exist domestically for women’s basketball. You look at the overall landscape of women’s basketball in the global community - it’s good for the game and speaks to the demand that exists. There’s room for everyone at the table,” said Perry.
The league also hopes to address another issue not often solved for in the league, maternal health. Collier and Stewart have both played overseas during their time in the league, Collier ending her offseason travels after the birth of her first child last year. Stewart’s wife is also expecting their second child in the fall, both women saying the league will give them more time to spend at home with their families and trail blaze a new era of women’s sports for young girls.
“Stewie [and] I both have daughters. It’s our responsibility to show them [and] every young girl that looks up to us that sometimes you don’t have to wait your turn. You can either beg for a seat at the table or you can build your own table. We’re building our own table,” said Collier.
“Unrivaled” games are currently set to be held at a custom-built soundstage in Miami, Florida.
Cover photo: WNBA players announce new “Unrivaled” offseason women’s basketball league/Minnesota Lynx player Napheesa Collier/Photo Courtesy of Abbie Parr/Associated Press