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Can Caitlin Clark mark a turning point for the WNBA?

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever reacts after a second half three point basket against the Dallas Wings during a pre season game at College Park Center on May 03, 2024 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever reacts after a second half three point basket against the Dallas Wings during a pre season game at College Park Center on May 03, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The NCAA’s all-time scoring leader Caitlin Clark begins her WNBA career on Tuesday.

Caitlin Clark helped elevate the game of basketball to new heights at the college level.

What impact will she have in the pros?

Today, On Point: Caitlin Clark’s turning point for the WNBA.

Guests

Rebecca Lobo, women’s basketball analyst for ESPN. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.

David Berri, professor of economics at Southern Utah University whose research specializes in gender issues in sports.

Also Featured

Theresa Runstedtler, associate professor of history at American University. Author of “Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The 2024 WNBA season tips off tomorrow, and fans are waiting for one phenom.

(ANNOUNCER) This, for college basketball history! (CHEERS) She does it with a foul shot! Caitlin Clark, becomes the all-time leading scorer in major college basketball history. Passing Pistol Pete Maravich.

CHAKRABARTI: Caitlin Clark is the all-time scoring leader in NCAA history, men and women, beating Pete Maravich’s 54-year-old record.

The two-time NCAA Player of the Year led Iowa to its second consecutive national championship game last season, and even though Iowa lost to a powerful South Carolina head coach Don Staley recognized Clark’s impact.

(NEWS REPORT) I want to personally thank Pete Maravich, Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport.

She carried a heavy load for our sport. And it just is not going to stop here on the collegiate tour, but when she is the number one pick in the WNBA draft, she’s going to lift that league up as well. So Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the GOATS of our games that we appreciate you.

CHAKRABARTI: And just 10 days later on April 15th.

(DRAFT ANNOUNCR) With the first pick in the 2024 WNBA draft. The Indiana Fever select Caitlin Clark, University of Iowa.

CHAKRABARTI: To absolutely no one’s surprise, of course. This is On Point, I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. And a month later, the Clark phenom has widened, encompassing more than just one player.

Obviously, Caitlin Clark has got to prove how she’ll do in the pros, but even more people are wondering whether the fandom and interest she brought to NCAA women’s basketball will translate to women’s professional basketball. And, of course, why women in pro team leagues are still getting paid a pittance in comparison to the men. Those are the questions that we’re going to take a look at today. So can Caitlin Clark mark a turning point for the WNBA’s future? And we’re joined first by David Berri. He’s joining us from Cedar City, Utah. He’s a professor of economics at Southern Utah University whose research specializes in gender issues in sports. Professor Berri, welcome to you.

DAVID BERRI: Thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, since we raised that question about pay right up here at the top, can you describe to us just overall in dollar values, in money terms, the differences between the WNBA and the NBA now?

BERRI: The NBA brings in about $10 billion in revenue per year.

And the WNBA brings in about $200 million in revenue. So they’re quite a bit different in size. It’s important to emphasize the WNBA is only starting its 28th season. And when the NBA was at its same point in history, it was about exactly the same size. So the WNBA is exactly where you’d expect the league at the end of its third decade to be.

It’s quite a bit smaller than a very mature league, has a smaller fan base, but before Caitlin Clark ever showed up. The league was already growing. The league has doubled its revenue in the last five years. So the league is doing exactly what you’d expect the league to be doing at this point in its history.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, that’s interesting. So comparing the two contemporarily today is not the right comparison, you’re saying, because of the relative lifespans of either league.

Okay, so we’re actually going to hold that thought in our mind for a few minutes because a little bit later in the show, we’re going to go back in time and remind ourselves what the NBA was like in its third decade back in the late 60s, early 70s.

But Still, Professor Berri, people look at that 50-fold difference in terms of money that you described today between the WNBA and the NBA now, and they just look, they say, they look at that and say there’s argument number one for why people shouldn’t be distressed about the pay disparity between the men and the women’s leagues.

BERRI: They should be distressed because that’s not the way to look at that, either. The NBA pays 50% of its basketball related income to its players. If the WNBA paid 50% of its $200 million to its players, the average salary in the league would be somewhere around $600,000. And the top players in the league would be paid over $3 million.

Right now, the average player is getting paid $130,000. So five times less than what they should be paid. And the top players are only being paid about $230,000. So way below what you’d expect them to be paid, if the WNBA was actually splitting its revenue. The WNBA is only paying a little bit less than 10% of its revenue to its players.

There is no point in NBA history that the men were ever paid this badly. Even when the NBA was a very tiny league back in the 1950s, when it was about 10% the size of the WNBA, they were not paying that little to their players. They were paying about 40% of their revenue to their players at that point.

So this has never happened to the men. It has only happened to the women.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Okay. So looking at the proportional revenue split, then there’s also a difference there. Can you explain why the WNBA says that it’s fine with only doing that 10% revenue share with players?

BERRI: I can’t explain exactly why they’re fine with that.

I don’t think the WNBA players should be fine with that. I don’t think the fans should be fine with that. I will say this is a choice. This is not something the WNBA has to do. It is something they are choosing to do. Again, the NBA never paid their players as badly. So if you’re going to argue the WNBA is unprofitable, which is what the WNBA has, oddly enough, said from the very beginning, that is not the reason why you’re not paying your players. One thing, the NBA has throughout its history claimed it wasn’t profitable either, yet it’s found a way to pay the men they were employing. This appears to be a case of gender discrimination.

You’re simply not paying the women, because you feel like you don’t have to.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Professor Berri, hang on here for just a second because you’ve just described the pro world that Caitlin Clark is about to step into. I guess she already has, because she’d probably signed her contract, but starting tomorrow, she’s going to be on the court in that pro world.

Now, I should say that my presumption is that in terms of overall income, Caitlin Clark might, is probably going to do pretty well given all the endorsements that she either has or will have in the future. But that does not mean to say that the differences in that revenue sharing split should be ignored.

So hang on for a second, because I want to introduce someone who knows this world, meaning the WNBA, women’s basketball, probably better than just about anybody. Rebecca Lobo joins us now. She’s a class of 2017 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She was on the legendary UConn women’s team and helped them to their first national title back in 1995 when the Huskies went 35 and 0.

That was the dawn of the UConn dynasty that we all recognize today. Rebecca Lobo is also one of the three founding members of the WNBA, and she’s currently Women’s Basketball Analyst for ESPN. Rebecca Lobo, what an honor it is to have you On Point.

REBECCA LOBO: Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So I was in college around the same time that you were and UConn was so dominant that I had to frequently remind myself there was also a men’s team at UConn.

First of all, we’re going to talk about the WNBA in a second here. But I think we should spend a few minutes really acknowledging Caitlin Clark’s impact on women’s collegiate basketball. How would you describe what she has done for the game at the collegiate level?

LOBO: Certainly. She’s a singular force like nothing we’ve ever seen when it comes to driving ticket sales, whether it was at home at Iowa or when she was on the road. Singular force like we’ve never seen when it comes to driving TV viewership, six different networks or streaming services had their highest rated game ever last year. Each time was with Iowa and Caitlin Clark game.

We’ve just never seen a phenomenon quite like this. Have we had great, talented, incredible women playing women’s college basketball? Absolutely. We have. Have we had incredible teams? Absolutely, we have, but we simply have never seen anything like we have over the course of the last year and a half, in terms of the popularity, driven primarily by Caitlin Clark, but also, Angel Reese played a big part in that. And sort of their feud and rivalry, as well, over the course of the last year and a half, but certainly the numbers prove we’ve never seen anything like this.

CHAKRABARTI: So what do you think it is that differentiated Clark in our current day, so that I think there’s been surveys that says that she’s the best-known college basketball player of anyone, men or women, and that U.S. fans recognize her, versus those who don’t recognize her, is a two to one margin.

And what is it about her that’s led to that real enormous crossover appeal into basketball fandom and even the general public?

LOBO: She plays unlike any other player we’ve ever seen before on the women’s side in terms of the range with which she shoots the basketball.

There’s no female comparison really to what she does. So you have to compare her to somebody like Steph Curry. She comes over half court and she can make shots from 35 feet, plus. We haven’t really seen that from a women’s player before. She takes them at a high rate and with confidence and shoots them at a high percentage.

You couple that with her ability to pass oftentimes in a way that just makes you say, wow, that was an incredible pass. How did she see that? She’s an exciting player to watch. When she was a freshman, Sue Bird, one of the legends of the women’s game said, Caitlin Clark is the most exciting player in the game right now.

And that has just continued over the course of the last four years. She’s simply a lot of fun to watch and much different, plays much different than what we’ve seen before. And a lot of people have really just fallen in love with that.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. Are you going to cover her opening game tomorrow?

LOBO: Yes, it’s quite a week opening week for the WNBA. Me and the Indiana fever are covering her opening game at the Connecticut Sun tomorrow, which is on ESPN2 at 7:30. Then Saturday, she has her first ABC game. That’s at New York. And then the two days later on Monday, she has her first ESPN game. And it’ll be a home game.

Quite a few games for Caitlin Clark on national TV in the first week. And that’s not a coincidence. We had a total of one Indiana Fever game on the ESPN network a season ago.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: I want to spend a couple of more minutes with Rebecca talking about her career, because it’s so instructive in terms of how we should understand the WNBA now. So back in ’95, as we mentioned earlier, Rebecca, you helped UConn to its first ever NCAA title, you were College Player of the Year, and then just two years later, you were one of the three founding players with the WNBA, including, geez, these are such huge names, Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie.

Can you tell me, can you remind us what it was like in those first years of the WNBA for you?

LOBO: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s really important to remember that between that ’95 college season and the launch of the WNBA ’96, we had the Olympic games in Atlanta and the women’s team did not win the gold medal in 1992.

And the USA basketball put together a national team, and the marketing arm was NBA entertainment. And we trained and traveled together for a year playing games against college teams all over the country, playing games internationally, as well. And it was the first time that women, professional women were in that era, at least in the ’90s, were playing in front of fans in the U.S. And getting, giving people a chance to see this sort of test balloon. They were selling our jerseys. They were selling posters. We were doing autograph signings after open practices. It was a real chance to see, is there an appetite for professional basketball for these different level athletes here in the U.S.? And then it was, In February of ’96, I believe, where David Stern announced the launch of the WNBA.

So what was interesting about the league in those early years, it started with eight teams. Everyone’s contract was with the league. You did not sign a contract with a team. So there wasn’t any kind of free agency. You were paid by the league. This is what you were offered. And this is what, if you wanted to play, this is what you took.

And I don’t think we formed, I was part of the first association, but I don’t think that was formed until ’99. It may have been 1998, but I think it was 1999. And in those early days, what we wanted out of collecting collective bargaining was year-round health insurance and a 401k. They were very basic kind of things that we were looking for.

And we got both of those in our first collective bargaining agreement. So it’s interesting to hear the professor talk about, where we are now. And next year as the CBA is opened again, what types of things the players will be looking for. Because in the early days it really was we want year-round health insurance, and we want to launch a 401k.

CHAKRABARTI: And that actually makes sense, right? Because as you mentioned, it’s the early days and so when you’re starting basically from zero, fighting for health care and retirement benefits makes total sense. But the larger question is about why has there been a persistent lack of advancement in the actual pay for women players?

Our producer John Chang, who’s by the way, a WNBA super fan, he’s put a lot of really compelling facts in front of me. Rebecca, back in ’98 I understand that you were the highest paid player in the WNBA, earning, I’m putting my tongue firmly in cheek here, whopping $52,000.

That was from a CBS news article we found from back in ’99. But that same season, Patrick Ewing made almost $19 million. Okay, so I get it. We were talking about the revenue differences, but the thing that Professor Berri pointed out is that the revenue split for the WNBA is persisting at 10% for players, and it was never even that low once in the NBA. Do you have an explanation for that?

LOBO: I can’t really speak to that. That’s not my area of expertise. However, how we have to look at this, a little bit too, I believe is, when the WNBA started, we were on NBC, we were on ESPN and we were on Oxygen. And at that time, ESPN did not yet have NBA basketball.

And so they were trying in some ways to prove to the NBA that we are worthy of carrying NBA basketball as well. So we are going to do our best job covering the WNBA, and the TV contracts once the NBA did go to ESPN, were coupled, it wasn’t like that there were separate, there was different money allocated to the NBA and the WNBA, but it was negotiated as one thing.

And now as the league has gotten so much more popular and you mentioned earlier, a tipping point for it, a lot of it driven by Caitlin Clark and all the other attention right now that’s on the college game. And we hope translates to the WNBA game. Is right now, they’re in the process of negotiating the TV deal that ends next year.

And that’s where most of the money is going to come from. That is the central character here. And the thing that will help drive those players’ salaries. And I do give the WNBA a lot of credit. They announced a week ago that they’re going to start chartering flights this season for their players, which they’ve never done before for the entire regular season.

And that’s not something that was collectively bargained. That’s something that they are doing for the players this season when they don’t have to, when they could have held that as a carrot to use in negotiation a year from now, and they’re not doing that. And I do expect the next negotiation, because I would imagine it’s going to be a much broader and bigger and more lucrative television deal, that the players will finally get a much, much bigger bump in their salary than what we have seen over time.

CHAKRABARTI: I, Rebecca must respectfully say that the cynic in me looks at that agreement from the league to start giving the players-chartered flights as a anticipatory move to prevent the world from seeing Caitlin Clark having to wait at Chicago O’Hare. For a public flight, sitting there being late for a game because she has to fly commercial with everybody else, which is what the players had to do until this announcement was made.

So I’m not entirely sure that it was done out of the goodness of the WNBA league’s heart, but more because they wanted to avoid a PR disaster. But Professor Berri, let me turn back to you, because Rebecca is making an excellent point about where the revenues come from. Now I’m looking at the NBA’s total $10 billion of revenue. And to her point, the money is really coming from, the majority from those TV deals.

A little bit more than 40% just from television and broadcast deals. Do you know, trying to find the numbers for how much of the WNBA’s revenues come from television deals?

BERRI: It’s reported that again, the league has $200 million in revenue, so it’s reported that the television deals are $60 million.

So it’s about 30%. And I share your cynicism. We’ve had players sleeping in airports before, and that did not motivate the WNBA to suddenly do charters. I do think the thought of Caitlin Clark sleeping in an airport, that made them feel a little bad. And they always had the money to do this, by the way.

This is not something that they couldn’t have done in the past.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So here’s what we want to do. And this goes back to your point earlier, Professor Berri, about looking at the WNBA now in terms of its maturation as a league, it’s entering, it’s in the middle of its third decade now. And comparing that to the NBA.

In its same sort of light point in life as a league, also in its roughly third decade, and it’s interesting because there may be some important parallels there. For example, as was said earlier, the men’s league, a half century ago was not, definitely not the billion-dollar business it is today.

THERESA RUNSTEDTLER: In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the NBA was a distant number three out of the top major leagues in North America, so baseball, of course, being up there and football and basketball was there. But it didn’t have the same kind of cachet that it does today.

CHAKRABARTI: Theresa Runstedtler is an associate professor of history at American University and author of Black Ball: Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA.

And she says there are plenty of parallels between the NBA in its third decade back in the late ’60s and early ’70s and the WNBA, which is in the middle of its third decade now. And surprisingly, pay may be one of those parallels.

THERESA RUNSTEDTLER: Proportionally, the players were not being paid according to the kinds of revenues that teams were raking in.

But of course, the teams, their strategy, anytime there is some kind of labor unrest among the players is to say, Hey, we’re not making a lot of money. We had a bad year, or we need to claw back, some of the money that we’re paying the players. Because they are putting us in financial precarity, but that’s a long-standing narrative that the leagues and the teams have used in order to try and keep player salaries in check.

CHAKRABARTI: Up until the 1970s, the NBA kept player pay low through practices such as the uniform contract, which mandated a player could only play with the team that drafted him, until his contract was sold or traded. If the player refused to sign the uniform contract, the reserve clause automatically renewed the contract for another year, under the same terms as the previous year, and the player had no right to negotiate with other teams.

THERESA RUNSTEDTLER: Oscar Robertson, who was the head of the NBPA back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, of course, major star in the NBA at that time, they brought this case against the NBA, basically arguing that the reserve clause, the draft system, and other mechanisms of control were keeping player salaries artificially low.

CHAKRABARTI: The goal was to block the pending merger between the NBA and its rival league, the American Basketball Association, or the ABA. Players argued that a merger between the two leagues would simply strengthen the NBA’s monopoly on pro basketball, and the courts agreed. Now, not only did the two leagues remain separate, players could also negotiate with teams in the ABA.

And after six years in court, the NBA and players ultimately began settlement talks.

Also, by 1976, the NBA and the ABA did merge, and the settlement ultimately helped create free agency, which removed the reserve clause and allowed players to negotiate with other teams once their contracts had ended.

RUNSTEDTLER: We start to see the league minimum going up.

You start to see the NBPA getting pensions for the players, getting more fringe benefits like health care. It used to be that they didn’t even have a trainer traveling with the teams. And by the time you get to the early eighties, they’re also able to argue for a share of the revenue as well.

CHAKRABARTI: Still, even as the league was entering the 1980s, the NBA was far from the league it is today. In fact, the late ’70s saw diminishing television ratings for the NBA, bad enough that CBS even aired NBA finals on delay at times. Back then, the public was souring on the league because of perceptions of drug use amongst players, lack of marquee stars, and racial tensions.

There was an argument made. Plausibly, I think that it was too Black a league for the United States of America in the late 1970s.

(HBO DOCUMENTARY)

You think about the Knickerbockers at the time. The running joke was it was the (expletive). It was the N word.

It’s turning off a lot of white customers that are coming to the game, why? I think there’s still, there’s a conflict between the white and the Black and I don’t enjoy going to the basketball and seeing all Black players.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s a moment captured in the 2010 HBO documentary Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals. And that rivalry would drastically shift the NBA’s trajectory.

(ANNOUNCER) Perhaps we’ve never seen a final game with two greater individual players than Larry Bird, the player of the year from Indiana State, and the magic man from East Lansing, Earvin Johnson.

CHAKRABARTI: During the ’78, ’79 college basketball season, Earvin Magic Johnson and Larry Bird began building what would become truly legendary careers. Johnson was a sophomore at Michigan State University, and he wowed basketball fans with his stylish passing and an unlikely six-foot eight stature despite being a guard. Meanwhile, Bird was a senior at Indiana State University. He led the country in scoring, helping a little-known Indiana State to a 33-0 record on his way to becoming the National Player of the Year.

When the two superstars finally faced each other, It was the kid from Lansing who took home the title.

CHAKRABARTI: That 1979 NCAA championship game between Michigan State and Indiana State remains the most viewed college basketball game ever played. More than 35 million viewers tuned in. When Magic and Bird then came to the NBA the very next season, they brought with them the attention and the perfect narrative that the league needed.

Here’s Teresa Runstedtler again.

RUNSTEDTLER: The potential of a quote -unquote great white folk. The East Coast, West Coast rivalry amid the early 1980s culture wars, and that seemed to resonate with fans and they really built on the rivalry that already existed between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson coming out of the NCAA and into the NBA. And continue to use that as a way to pull in a much wider fan base.

CHAKRABARTI: And with the new commissioner stepping in 1984, the NBA stepped into a brand-new era.

RUNSTEDTLER: It’s important to know that David Stern was there all throughout the 1970s, seeing how race and labor issues intersected. And in some ways, compromised the ability of the league to market itself. And he figured out through the Bird-Magic rivalry that in fact there were ways to lean into aspects of the Blackness of the league to also pull in African American fans and fans of color who they hadn’t been marketing to in the past and that really was the launching point.

For the new NBA, the NBA is not just a national powerhouse, but also a globally recognizable brand.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: With that history of the NBA that we just went through, do you think it’s an apt comparison or are there still nagging differences between the fact that one league is a men’s league, and another is the women’s that you think we can’t ignore?

BERRI: On one level it’s exactly the same because leagues, whether you talk about the NBA or the NFL or Major League Baseball or the English Premier League, they all have the same pattern where they start off with very few fans, and it does take decades to build a fan base.

And so the WNBA is following in the same trajectory. So I think we should every bit expect that in two or three decades, WNBA is a multi-billion dollar league, just like the men’s leagues. And so I think that’s definitely gonna happen. It is the case, women face issues that men don’t face. Women don’t get the same kind of public subsidies that men get.

The NBA’s received billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to build arenas, that WNBA does not tend to get that. It is the case that women don’t get the sports media coverage that the men get. Sports media coverage is still 85% to 90% tilted towards the men. Most of the sports writers tend to be men.

So it’s on one sense, it’s the same. There’s the same trajectory on the other set. And in another sense, there are issues that women face that men don’t have to face.

CHAKRABARTI: Rebecca Lobo, what do you think about that?

LOBO: I think you also, when you look at the league, the WNBA, when it first started, just a different cultural climate that we were in.

There’s a lot of gay women in the WNBA. There are a lot of gay fans of the WNBA. And in those early days, in some ways, that was ignored, or it was encouraged to be ignored just because we weren’t in a place culturally, I don’t think, where we were as accepting nearly as we are now.

And I don’t know if that was something at the time, and over the course of the first couple of decades of the league, or maybe decade and a half, that also was something that held the WNBA back. Now it’s very different. Women in society and women in the WNBA are much more out about who they are and owning their true selves.

And I think the WNBA over time has done a really good job of embracing the gay and lesbian fan base that they have. And so I think that, as something in addition, that has helped the WNBA grow as this stigma around that has changed in our culture over the course of the last three decades.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, that is a really interesting point because in a sense, then maybe there are some parallels, right?

Because with the NBA, we were talking about, you heard that tape earlier from a white fan in the late ’60s, early ’70s, saying that the game had gotten too Black, essentially. And therefore, the presumption being the public wasn’t too happy with that. And then, as you were saying, just now, perhaps in the early days of the WNBA, a perception that its fan base, its passionate fan base was largely lesbian women.

And so therefore, not, these aren’t my words, but I’m paraphrasing, not worthy of larger marketing efforts, for example. Okay. But that is changing now. And so then what about the Bird-Magic rivalry being a major propulsive force to be the narrative that a lot of fans or even soon to be fans would be able to follow?

Caitlin Clark alone, Rebecca, isn’t going to provide that kind of two-person narrative? And you had mentioned Angel Reese earlier. Oh, why don’t we actually talk about her as much as we’re talking about Caitlin Clark?

LOBO: It’s interesting, the Bird-Magic piece, because a couple of years ago, actually mostly last year, but even a couple of years ago, when it was Vegas and Seattle and Breanna Stewart was in Seattle and A’ja Wilson was with Vegas.

People were talking about Bird-Magic as it related to those two players, because they did have a rivalry in college and then it extended to the professional ranks. And then last year, when Breanna Stewart went to the New York Liberty, and those two teams met up in the finals, same kind of thing.

But it didn’t have the same fuel as we saw in the national championship game two years ago, when it was Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. And we do, we talk about Caitlin Clark a lot. And we also talk about Angel Reese a lot. She has an enormous following of fans and we’ve seen it with the uproar and there was a preseason game, Chicago’s first preseason game at Minnesota, and it wasn’t televised.

And there was a fan who was live streaming it on her phone. And it, I think, now has over a million views. There is a big appetite for watching Angel Reese, especially because of what happened when the two of them met in that national championship game, the ‘you can’t see me’ gesture, pointing at the ring.

It felt, oh, it excited both fan bases. And then when they met again and the elite eight this past year in Albany and Iowa was able to beat LSU. There was not that same kind of emotional, histrionics, but there was definitely some energy behind those two players. And I do think it extends to the WNBA.

The interesting thing is both of, Caitlin Clark is going to an Indiana team that hasn’t been in the playoffs for a number of years. Angel Reese is at a Chicago team now that while in the playoffs a year ago, they’re expected to be in a rebuilding sense. So will those two players be able to rekindle this in terms of playing against one another for championships, not their rookie year.

And who knows how many years it will take, but I think that’s the best comparison we’ve had in terms of an energized fan base, two teams going against one another, two players going against one another. And huge moments, national championship game followed by an elite eight game. And then if there are two teams in the WNBA, and can get to the point where they’re competing for things that matter.

I think that is the best comparison that we’ve had along the way to Bird and Magic.

CHAKRABARTI: That would be huge. And I also want to note that I love the respectful rivalry between Reese and Clark, right? They really do respect each other’s games and don’t hate each other. They’ve said that explicitly. And at the same time, I’m looking at a quote here from Angel Reese, who says, It’s just a super competitive game, and once I get between those lines, there’s no friends.

We’re not friends, we’re not buddies. I’m gonna trash talk you, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get in your head the whole entire game. So just the intensity of a true athlete is awesome. David Berri. So we talked about the potential comparisons between the WNBA now and the NBA several decades ago.

Does it make you think, though, that the WNBA will see or could see the same, not only just major growth in terms of its size as a league and its revenue as a league, but also how the players then benefit from that growth, as the NBA did several decades ago?

BERRI: I absolutely believe that what’s going to happen here as we go through time is the WNBA is going to get bigger and bigger.

And what’s going to happen here? We mentioned earlier in the broadcast, we talked about Oscar Robertson. Oscar Robertson, when he played in Cincinnati, played before about 3,000 fans. Nobody paid any attention to Oscar Robertson. Oscar Robertson became a big name and a huge figure because the NBA later on became big and people started making comparisons.

‘Magic Johnson reminds me of this guy, Oscar Robertson.’ And you’re going to see the same thing happen in the WNBA, that as we go forward in time and as this league gets bigger and bigger, you’re going to see fans in the future are going to say, this player here reminds me of Candace Parker.

This player here reminds me of Rebecca Lobo. They’re going to say that and us older fans will of course say, you’re totally wrong. That’s totally ridiculous. There’s no way that player is anything like those players, but that’s exactly how leagues develop. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.

CHAKRABARTI: But we have to say though, I don’t know, I’m just stuck on this pay issue because right now the highest paid player in the WNBA, and these are numbers that you went over earlier, Professor Berri, is paid $252,000.

Roughly $252,00. The highest paid player in the NBA is paying $52 million. Now, again the strict dollar values don’t really matter so much as the revenue percentage, but women who then play internationally when they’re not playing the WNBA here in the United States, internationally, they’re making way more, like $1.5 million is the highest paid international women’s hoop salary that we can find.

So Rebecca Lobo, let me turn to you on that. That is a significant difference, which I think puts the WNBA in not quite such a positive light. What do you think it would take to get the league to agree to raise that revenue percentage up above the 10% now?

I’m getting it has to be done in collective bargaining, but do you think that there’s an increasing appetite for that?

LOBO: Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, in the timing right now is exactly where you want it to be, in terms of negotiating the new TV deal now that ends next year, the players will opt out of their CBA next year and then be able to negotiate the following season following the 2025 season. And I’m sure the WNBA would argue in terms of salary that this is a four-month season.

This is a much shorter season than the NBA. In terms of that overseas money, a lot of the big-time payers overseas was the Russian league. And after Brittany Griner’s unlawful detainment, there’s not players who are willing to make that sacrifice to go overseas, especially to Russia, at least.

And also, with the new collective bargaining agreement or the current one, there’s prioritization, which means players who have two or more years of service in the WNBA have to report to training camp on time and the hard part of that is many international seasons are still going on. They’re in their playoffs.

So young players who aren’t making much in the WNBA, they can come late to training camp. The veterans in the WNBA cannot. So the league wants the players to prioritize the WNBA season over their international seasons. And with that, and again, in this next degree, CBA is going to have to come much higher salaries. Because you’re asking them now also to not play as much overseas and to not make that supplemental income the rest of the year.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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