Elena Delle Donne was stunned at the negative reaction that came from her suggestion that the WNBA consider playing on nine-foot-rims.
When compared to the NBA, the women’s game already uses a smaller basketball and has a three-point arc that is closer. So, Delle Donne figured, why not lower the rims?
Fellow WNBA star Diana Taurasi took exception to the notion, suggesting if the league lowers the rims, it might as well put its players in skirts and force them back into the kitchen.
Delle Donne, the Sky’s reigning WNBA MVP, still rolls her eyes when she hears that one.
But Delle Donne said at Wednesday’s espnW: Women + Sports Chicago Summit in West Town that lowering the rims would level the playing field and provide more of a viewership for a league that will celebrate its 20th anniversary this season.
Delle Donne never intended for her suggestion to be a slight toward the league or her fellow players, but says such a move might help set the WNBA apart from the NBA.
“(NBA players) are about seven inches taller, their vertical leap is higher,” Delle Donne said. “Let’s even out the playing field and let us play on rims that make sense –or raise theirs to 12 (feet).”
Delle Donne, who posted a video on her Instagram account this week of herself dunking on a 10-foot rim, suggested Wednesday that by lowering the rims, the WNBA brand of basketball could generate more excitement and more revenue. More revenue could mean bigger paychecks for players which would allow for a start toward more pay equity for players in the WNBA, where the maximum salary is $108,500 and where the average player makes $72,000 as compared to the NBA, where the average rookie salary sits at more than $525,000.
Delle Donne believes there could be a trickle down effect from the wage discrimination lawsuit filed last month by five members of the U.S. women’s soccer team. The suit, filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation, is based on financial information that shows that women’s national players make a quarter of the wages earned by their male counterparts despite raking in more than $20 million more revenue last year than the men’s team.
And yet, Delle Donne realizes that before WNBA players can begin to make more money, the league needs to improve its financial standing. To Delle Donne, that means one thing: Putting more butts in seats.
“We don’t want something to happen where we say, ‘We need to be paid more’ and then our league goes away,” Delle Donne said. “For us, the important thing is that we have this league.”
Sky owner Michael Alter can appreciate Delle Donne’s position. He’s already a firm believer in pay equity and said from a business perspective, it’s what teams like the Sky and leagues like the WNBA are trying to move toward.
But at the same time, he knows that the WNBA doesn’t come close to generating the level of revenue as the NBA. But that in itself, Alter said, shouldn’t discount the level of performance from players like Delle Donne when it comes to how much they’re being paid.
“They certainly deserve it,” Alter said. “They work every bit as hard as the men do, they play as hard, the effort and time that goes into being an elite world class athlete is exactly the same.”
But the reality is this: Because the WNBA’s revenue stream isn’t that of the NBA’s, the pay scale can’t yet be equal leaving Alter with a very simple bottom line: NBA-level salaries would mean no WNBA.
And that’s certainly not what Delle Donne wants. But the time has come, she said, for moves to be made that bring salaries of women’s professional athletes closer to the level to what men make.
It will take time, but talking about it, Delle Donne said, is a step in the right direction.
“It’s tough to know what the proper pay should be and what that should look like,” she said. “It’s something that us players discuss about a little bit and have to figure out. But something like this – with what women’s soccer is doing is awesome and just generates people’s opinion.”
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