The most talented college basketball players in the nation were drafted into the WNBA for 2018, including top draft pick A’ja Wilson. Inevitably, the lives of 36 young women will drastically change now that they have realized their dreams of playing professional ball. However, along with this exciting new beginning comes the reality of pay inequality that they will face because of their gender.
During Wilson’s collegiate career, she was named 2018’s unanimous National Player of the Year and celebrated as University of South Carolina’s most decorated athlete in history. But even as the No. 1 draft pick, the standout will go on to earn a mere $52,564 when she starts playing with the Las Vegas Aces. Most of the other rookies in the league will earn even less with a starting salary of $41,202. That’s nearly $20,000 less than the median U.S. household income. In comparison, the starting salary for the NBA is about $560,000. On average, WNBA players make $71,635 while the maximum salary caps at $115,500 for veterans who’ve been in the league for at least six years. The average for the upcoming 2018 season, however, will be in the range of $79,000.
Even the most skilled WNBA players make just a fraction of what an NBA player who is benched for a majority of the season can earn. Reigning WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles, for instance, earned $109,000 last year. In comparison, NBA 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook made a whopping $28.5 million. Meanwhile, Leandro Barbosa earned $500,000 in the 2017-18 NBA season despite being waived by the Phoenix Suns in July, reports Forbes. As a result, Barbosa will earn nearly five times Fowles’ earning even though he is no longer playing for the Suns.
WNBA players are grossly underpaid compared to NBA players for several reasons. For one, the women’s league generates substantially less revenue and receives less money in its broadcast rights deal than the NBA. WNBA teams also play 34 games in a season for about four and half months if they don’t make the playoffs. By comparison, NBA teams play 82 games in the regular season for six months while the finals can stretch the season another two months.
The two leagues also have a vastly different pay model. The NBA pays its players about 50% of league revenue whereas WNBA players receive less than 25% of the revenue, reports Forbes. Nneka Ogwumike, one of the highest paid WNBA players, earned a mere $95,000 in 2016. Based on Forbes’ calculations, the 2016 WNBA MVP is underpaid by $881,787. Likewise, their calculations conclude that WNBA fan favorite Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Dallas Wings is underpaid by $716,364. Because of their low salaries, top talent in the women’s league play overseas during the offseason in order earn extra money. In fact, they can earn up to 15 times more than the salaries offered by the WNBA. As a result, they are forced to play basketball all year long without a break.
The top three highest NBA players, on the other hand, will take home almost $100 million, collectively, in the 2017-2018 regular season. According to CBS News, Paul Millsap will earn $31.3 million, LeBron James will make $33.3 million, and Stephen Curry will take home $34.7 million.
Furthermore, the best female players in the league are granted small bonuses for their hard work. According to the Altius Directory, the bonus for winning a WNBA championship is $10,500; MVPs earn a $15,000 bonus; the “Rookie of the Year” gains $5,000; and All-Star players walk away with an extra $2,500.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on April 18, 2018, to include that the average WNBA salary for the 2018 season will be around $79,000 and a comparison of the number of games that WNBA teams play versus NBA teams.