To say the insane wage gap between NBA and WNBA players has to do only with gender would be inappropriate, but to say that it has absolutely nothing to do with gender would be completely off the mark.
Recently, WNBA players have been speaking out about the astronomical difference between their average pay and the average pay of an NBA player. This was sparked by the $154 million deal LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
On July 1, Las Vegas Ace’s power forward A’ja Wilson took to Twitter, saying, “154M ……….. must. be. nice. We over here looking for a M but Lord, let me get back in my lane.”
She quickly followed with, “And I love Bron not taking nothing away from him.”
To put it in perspective, the average NBA player makes $582,180 a year. The median salary of a WNBA player is $71,635 according to Forbes.
NBA players play 82 games every season, while the WNBA regular season is only 34. More pay for more work seems fair enough, right? Except when you break down the numbers, that would mean NBA players make just over double what a WNBA player makes, when in reality they make eight times more.
The most common argument for the pay gap is the revenue income of the two leagues. According to Forbes, the NBA brings in $7.4 billion annually. While the WNBA revenue number isn’t known precisely, Forbes estimates it racks in $52.4 million every year. In this sense, it does make sense that men in the NBA are paid more.
But this outcome is not free of gender bias. When we look at which games basketball fans choose to watch, which they choose to attend and what gear they choose to buy, we must also look at the bias, intentional or not, behind those choices.
Why are young female basketball players walking around in Stephen Curry, James Harden or LeBron James shirts and jerseys, instead of Maya Moore, Skylar Diggins or Diana Taurasi, who is widely considered one of the best to ever play the game?
Because they are taught and conditioned from a young age to believe that female athletes are not worth as much to society as their male athlete counterpoints.
Every female athlete has experienced this at some time or another. When I played basketball in high school, my team was good. Our record was well above .500. Our players were set to play at the next level after graduation.
Our men’s team was not as good. They lost the majority of their games.
Yet, every Friday night the stands were empty for our games and packed for theirs.
You can’t say this didn’t have to do with the fact that we were women and they were men. We were clearly a better team playing better basketball.
This was a case of societal gender bias coming to light; it was proof that society would rather watch men lose than women win.
Harsh Twitter users hiding behind a faceless profile suggest another reason for the pay gap: WNBA players just aren’t as good as NBA players.
This is true, if the only way you decide a player’s talent level is a stat line.
Yes, WNBA games are not as high scoring as NBA games.
Yes, most WNBA players cannot dunk.
However, there is more than one way to determine what constitutes “good basketball.” If you sat down and watched a full WNBA game, start to finish, you will see a lot of things you would never see in an NBA game.
Count the number of times these women actually box out and fight for the rebound.
See how many passes they get in before finding the best shot option.
Watch how often they take the layup and get absolutely hammered instead of settling for an outside shot.
This is fundamental basketball. This is what the NBA is lacking and the WNBA has an abundance of.
Sure, dunks and long 3-pointers are entertaining to watch. But do they constitute a $500,000 pay difference? I don’t think so.
So yes, NBA players should make more than WNBA players. They play more games and their league brings in more revenue.
But when looking at the pay gap we cannot only look at these statistics. We must always take into account societal influence and unintentional bias of every kind.
Until we recognize that this excessive pay gap does in fact have to do with gender, we cannot go about fixing the problem.
I hope, for the sake every little girl lacing up her shoes tonight to shoot hoops in her driveway who has dreams of going pro, that this happens sooner rather than later.
Morgan Scheerer is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @_morganscheerer.