Does Liz Cambage calling out pay inequity of Becky Hammon's $1M salary indicate free agency plans?
Liz Cambage isn't popping the champagne for Becky Hammon's big payday in Las Vegas. She's blowing the top off the inequity of it all instead.
The veteran 6-foot-8 center reacted Tuesday to the news that Hammon, the newly named Las Vegas Aces head coach, will make at least $1 million in annual salary in the role. Aces team owner Mark Davis confirmed the news to reporters at a Las Vegas Raiders press conference. She is the first to reach seven figures; WNBA coach salaries are notoriously private and largely unknown.
Cambage, an unrestricted free agent whose return to the Aces is a large question mark, took to Twitter to blast the salary by comparing it to players' salaries and travel concerns.
ahhh yes the @WNBA, where a head coach can get paid 4X the highest paid players super max contract. lmao and y’all think imma spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight to get to games out of my own pocket.
— Elizabeth Cambage (@ecambage) February 1, 2022
"ahhh yes the WNBA, where a head coach can get paid 4X the highest paid players super max contract. lmao and y'all think ima spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight to get to games out of my own pocket."
Why is Hammon making more than players?
Both player compensation and travel were improved by the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, but are by no means where they need to be for professional athletes. The player supermax contract for 2022 is $228,094, which means Hammon's salary is approximately 4.4 times as much as the highest-paid players in the league. But most players earn a quarter of that supermax. The 2022 team salary cap of $1,379,200 for 11 to 12 players is only slightly higher than Hammon's salary.
Those numbers are put in place by the CBA on a year-to-year basis ahead of time. It increases every season and runs through the entirety of the CBA, which expires on Oct. 31, 2027. Professional sports leagues want to create fairness around the league and therefore set minimums and maximums so the richest team owners don't throw around cash other team owners might not have.
But when it comes to hiring coaches, as Skylar Diggins-Smith plainly put it in her own tweet, "no salary cap for coaches." Team owners can pay what they want, and Davis has deeper pockets than many owners. And he was trying to lure Hammon away from her NBA assistant job with the San Antonio Spurs. Money isn't everything — she said she wanted to be a head coach, and this was the place that wanted her to be one now — but it is a determining factor in any job change.
WNBA players pay for more
Players are often cramming their 6-foot-6 bodies into small seats, and some as Cambage alluded to pay for upgrades themselves. Diana Taurasi said she paid for her own charter flight along with Brittney Griner and Diggins-Smith after a playoff game to get back to Phoenix for the birth of her daughter.
There is constant controversy in the playoffs over travel issues and turnarounds that the league has often stepped in to remedy on a case-by-case basis. Liberty team owner Joe Tsai has said he's working to solve the issue with a league charter partner.
There are other financial factors to consider that other top-level professional athletes don't always have to deal with, or be as concerned about because of their higher pay. Breanna Stewart said she had to pay more than $30,000 out of her own pocket to get her recovery right following an Achilles injury overseas.
Is Cambage staying in Las Vegas?
Cambage, 30, has every right to speak up against inequity in her own league, no matter what team is in the crosshairs. The WNBA has built its legacy on activism, and calling out the differential is a form of activism.
It does add another question mark to Cambage's landing spot this offseason, if she lands anywhere at all. A'ja Wilson, the league's 2020 MVP, is up for a big payday from her rookie contract as an unrestricted free agent. The Aces might not choose to re-sign Cambage, who made the supermax of $221,450 under the core designation last season.
Cambage has often spoke out about the exact inequities she noted on Tuesday, and said the WNBA is not where she plans to stay long-term. She told ESPN in 2018:
"I've said this many times: [The WNBA] doesn't pay my bills ... playing here doesn't pay my bills," Cambage said. "We make more money overseas. I'm ready to have next summer off and focus on getting a European contract where its 10 seasons here worth the pay.
"I really don't get paid enough to be beaten up every game. I'm not a WWE wrestler and that's how it feels sometimes out on the court."
The former Australian national team player took a hiatus from the WNBA after the 2013 season. She returned in 2018 with the Dallas Stars and requested out, ending up in Las Vegas for 2019. The time might have come for another hiatus.