As the madness of the men's basketball season ends, the Women's National Basketball Association prepares for a winning season – but with a little less fanfare. The WNBA, which is 13 years young, has steadily gained popularity over the years, but if you think the women are making close to as much as the men, think again. The disparity is alarming, but things are changing.
Rookies get paid a minimum $35,190. Shocked? Well, consider this: The maximum WNBA salary for veteran players in 2010 is $101,000 – quite shy of the massive paydays and endorsement deals of their male counterparts. In fact, the average NBA player makes over $5 million.
Here's a look at some of the top paydays of the most recognizable WNBA players.
As an accomplished athlete, Marion Jones is sure to draw interest in the WNBA. The Olympic sprinter has joined the Tulsa Shock in Oklahoma as its newest point guard. Jones, once considered the fastest woman in the world, had admitted to using steroids for the 2000 Olympics. She had to return all five Olympic medals and spent six months behind bars for the incident and involvement in a check-fraud scam. Jones signed a one-year contract with Tulsa, receiving the league's minimum of $35,000.
WNBA veteran Lisa Leslie had been considered the most marketable and most dominant player in the league. She retired at the end of the 2009 WNBA season to be a mom and pursue other interests. The trailblazer for female basketball players had been in the league since its opening season and was the all-time scoring and rebounding leader for the Los Angeles Sparks. According to the AP in 2006, Leslie was making the maximum salary in the WNBA at $91,000.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist took advantage of her notoriety and dabbled in other careers. She signed a contract with the Wilhelmina modeling agency, has worked as an actress and has been in pursuit of a broadcast career.
Candace Parker was the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, which landed her playing alongside Leslie for the Sparks. She stands to earn more than any female player in the WNBA history. Her current endorsements with Adidas and Gatorade are estimated to be worth approximately $3 million. Although such contracts are the norm for NBA superstars, they are less frequent in the women's league.
Often called the "female Michael Jordan," veteran WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes made slightly less than the $99,500 salary cap right before she left the Seattle Storm. However, rosters were cut last year to free up money in order for the teams to stay within their salary caps and create parity among the players.
According to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Storm's coach needed to stay within a cap of $803,000 resulting in the valuable athlete being released from her contract.
This Olympic gold medalist also has had an endorsement deal with Nike, who created the "Air Swoopes" shoe.
The future of the WNBA
The Great Recession has challenged the WNBA by disrupting audience attendance, revenue and owners' financial interest. The WNBA is attempting to maintain its viability by discovering new sources of income, such as its eight-year TV arrangement with ABC/ESPN.
Meanwhile, WNBA players continue to head overseas to collect larger paychecks in places such as Poland, Israel and Turkey during the WNBA's offseason.