G League players will receive a significant pay raise next season, the NBA announced on Tuesday. That raise, though, continues to raise questions about whether the developmental league can be a viable alternative to the NCAA for young professionals hoping to make a career out of playing basketball.
The G League will increase its base salary from a two-tiered system that paid players either $26,000 to $19,000 this season to $35,000 for everyone next season, according to the release. While that represents at least a 35 percent increase across the board, the figure comes under fire for only matching the salary for top-end video game players recently drafted into the fledgling NBA 2K League.
NBA 2K League first-round picks will earn $35,000 for their six-month season, one month longer than the G League campaign. Both NBA 2K League and G League participants receive healthcare benefits and in-season housing. NBA 2K League players will also compete for a $1 million prize pool dispersed over the league’s three in-season tournaments and playoffs. G League players, meanwhile, can earn NBA training camp bonuses as well as end-of-season playoff and award bonuses exceeding $50,000.
This season, the NBA allowed for a pair of two-way players per team. Those athletes were paid a starting salary of $75,000 in the G League and could have earned as much as $275,000, depending on how much time they spent in the NBA. Fifty G League players were called up to the NBA this year, and all but three NBA teams — Denver, New Orleans and Portland — will have a G League affiliate next year.
It’s also important to note that esports draw millions more viewers than the G League.
Still, if the NBA hopes to leverage the G League as a viable alternative for young players amid the NCAA scandal — an idea everyone from LeBron James to Barack Obama has floated and one NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems to be exploring — you can’t help but wonder how they expect to accomplish that by paying players less than many NCAA recruits are receiving under the table.
While Tuesday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go from $35,000 for the G League to raise its profile enough to make playing worthwhile compared to six-figure scholarships and contracts abroad that can reach into the millions. There’s been only one Darius Bazley, a McDonald’s All-American foregoing college to join the G League, and only one Andre Ingram, a 32-year-old who spent a decade in the developmental league before making his NBA debut.
There’s a chicken-and-egg debate going on here. The G League needs an influx of talent to get the increased viewership that would generate enough revenue for the NBA to consider six-figure salaries, but it may not get that talent without showing the money first. We shall see if this raise makes a difference beyond the extra Benjamin its current crop of players will take home after taxes each week.
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