Top WNBA Salaries: How Do They Stack Up?

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As the madness of the men’s basketball season ends, the Women’s National Basketball Association prepares for a winning season every May, but with a little less fanfare. The WNBA, founded in 1996, has steadily gained popularity over the years, but if you think the women are making close to as much as the men, think again.

Rookies in the WNBA were paid about $41,000 in 2018. As Black Enterprise magazine astutely points out, that was about half the median U.S. household income. The minimum was raised to $41,965 for 2019.

Rookies in the NBA made about $560,000 in 2018.

For the 2019 season, three of the WNBA’s top-five picks will be paid $53,537—Jackie Young, Lou Samuelson, and Teaira McCowan.

Shocked? Well, consider this: The official maximum WNBA salary for veteran players in 2018 was $113,500. Quite a bit shy of the massive paydays and endorsement deals of their male counterparts. In fact, mid-level NBA players were making $5 million to $10 million a year, with the top players raking in $26 million to $30 million.

  • The WNBA was founded in 1996 as the women’s counterpart to the NBA.
  • The NBA owned all of the franchises until 2002.
  • Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner will be the WNBA’s top earner in 2019 at $127,500.
  • In 2018–2019, Stephen Curry was the top paid NBA player at about $34 million, closely followed by LeBron James at $33 million.

It’s not a pro basketball thing. Not a single woman’s name appears in the Forbes magazine list of the Top 100 best-paid athletes in the world. (Serena Williams made it onto the list in 2017 at #52.)

It should be noted that there appears to be some slight flexibility in salaries beyond the published minimums and maximums. Actual contract terms are kept under wraps, but HighPostHoops.com writer Howard Megdal dug out some details of payment plans for the 2019 season:

Three top-five picks, including Jackie Young, Lou Samuelson, and Teaira McCowan, will be paid $53,537 for the 2019 season, a tad above the minimum and close to the median salary for the league’s players. Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner will be the league’s highest-paid player in 2019 at $127,500.

More than half of WNBA players spend the summers in Europe playing a second season for higher pay and more recognition.

Meanwhile, women’s pro basketball is gaining in popularity and audience, according to Nancy Lough, a University of Nevada professor writing for TheConversation.com. Total attendance for the 12 teams reached 1,574,078 in 2017. Attendance was up 17.8% for the Los Angeles Sparks, 15.3 percent for the Connecticut Sun, and 12.3% for the Minnesota Lynx.

It took the NBA 26 seasons to reach comparable crowd sizes.


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