Illustration by Tanya Bearson
Nneka Ogwumike is one of the highest paid Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players, and she reportedly earned $110,000 last season. Stephen Curry on the other hand, the highest paid player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), earned $34.7 million for the 2017-18 season, meaning Ogwumike’s WNBA success earns her only a third of a cent for every dollar Curry makes playing for the NBA.
UC Berkeley Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb has seen some of her athletes go onto the WNBA and attributes the low salaries of the league to its lack of support and resources: “The WNBA is still relatively young, and the league needs to continue to gain revenue and exposure to be able to get to a financial model where the players make more money.”
Gottlieb said that there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy women’s basketball, but just haven’t been exposed to it.
“In my opinion, basketball fans who say that women’s basketball is ‘boring’ aren’t true basketball fans. The key to get more people invested in the women’s game is increased exposure,” she said.
The NBA was founded in the 1940s, while women’s professional team sports didn’t become popular until the 1990s, and the WNBA is only 21 years old. Gottlieb acknowledges that the WNBA “may never be as popular as the NBA,” but she does think that it has come a long way and that the future looks bright for women’s sports.
Gottlieb says that players she has coached who have gone onto the WNBA mainly play because of their love for the sport. Unfortunately, “Even though women’s basketball has evolved and the pros is an option now, the vast majority will not make enough money from basketball to retire off of it” she said.
UC Berkeley hosted an event for its female athletes last month called Women Breaking Barriers. The event hosted a panel moderated by sports broadcaster Taylor Rooks which featured five successful female leaders including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Kaiser Permanente Vice President of External Affairs Yvette Radford.
Regarding the role of female leaders and athletes, Derryck said that, “It’s great to be the first, but your job is to make sure you aren’t the last.”
While being a professional female athlete may not be the highest-paying job, it is a rewarding one, and these athletes are paving the future for all women in male-dominated fields.