Adam Silver committed to working with WNBA, players ahead of CBA negotiations

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he wasn’t disappointed after the WNBA players opted out of their current CBA, and that he plans to work with both sides to find positive results. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he wasn’t disappointed after the WNBA players opted out of their current CBA, and that he plans to work with both sides to find positive results. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

The WNBA Player’s Association announced last week that they are opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement, which will now officially end after next season.

While the 2019 season will not be impacted, a new deal must be put in place for the 2020 season. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the fact that the WNBA players are opting out early can be a good thing and help communication improve between the NBA and the WNBA — something that has been severely lacking in recent years.

Silver told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel on Wednesday that he has heard from multiple players who felt they aren’t included enough in decisions about the league’s issues, and that he intends to address that going forward.

“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Silver told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. “And in a way, the silver lining of them opting out now is that, given that [WNBA president Lisa Borders] left when she did, my sense from talking to players and listening to what they’re saying publicly is that we seem to be missing a connection, a real engagement between the players and the league.

“It’s something I know we can do. I feel on the NBA side, we’re working very closely with [NBA union leader] Michele Roberts and her executive committee. It doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements, but I think everyone would say that we’re truly listening to each other and that there is a sense of real inclusion. To the extent there isn’t that in the WNBA for whatever reason — and this is to point fingers at no one — there’s an issue that needs to be fixed. By them reopening the agreement early … let’s begin these discussions now.”

The WNBA-NBA pay gap and select G League contracts

One of the biggest issues surrounding the WNBA has to do with compensation and the growing pay gap between the WNBA and the NBA. Many players have called out the NBA in recent months about this issue, especially after the NBA announced new select G League contracts earlier this fall.

The league announced that one-year, $125,000 contracts will be made available for select G League players — which is more than the current $115,000 maximum salary in the WNBA. It’s significantly higher than the WNBA’s average salary from last season, too, which reached only about $79,000.

Silver, though, said the move was in no way meant as an insult to the WNBA and that the two leagues are totally separate from one another.

“Each league is run independently,” Silver told ESPN. “And the investment that we have made over the last 22 years in the WNBA is many times greater than the investment we’ve made in the G League. And the G League right now is roughly a break-even proposition for the NBA and its teams.

“In the case of the WNBA, we’ve never at any point said that the measure [of investment] is about profitability in any given season. We’ve invested year after year and are going to continue to invest. There is no short-term business plan to turn the league into a profitable one, but that’s OK. We are willing to continue to invest for the long term, with the players as our partners.”

Though compensation has been one of the driving forces among the WNBA Player’s Association’s move to opt out of the current CBA, Silver knows it’s not the only issue. There’s a lot more at stake.

“As the players have pointed out, this isn’t just about compensation,” Silver told ESPN. “Of course, that’s an important issue for the players, but — listening to what they’re saying — it’s also about how the league is operated, their working conditions, how we’re marketing the league, how we’re connecting with their fans. So. I’d rather fix this sooner rather than later. If the opt-out didn’t exist in the collective bargaining agreement, we’d only be kicking the can on some real issues we need to address with the players.”

Finding a new WNBA President

Former WNBA President Lisa Borders stepped down last month to become the first-ever president and CEO of Time’s Up. Silver, who will have the final say in hiring a new president, said the league has started its search to replace Borders and fill the WNBA’s vacant chief operating officer position — something he hopes to do well before the start of the 2019 season.

While there are a number of factors he will consider when hiring new leadership, Silver said that marketing and sales are by far among the most important.

“Given what is at stake here, in terms of the future of the league, we want to make sure to properly vet all the candidates,” Silver told ESPN. “The quality of the basketball now is head and shoulders better than it was when we launched the league. The hardest thing would be if you had to fix the product; I don’t think there’s any fixing needed here. We have a wonderful game.

“The question is fixing sales and marketing. How do we do a better job connecting with corporations and convincing them to support the league?”

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