Taurasi has been ripped off

The Norwalk Hour - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

UN­CASVILLE — She is the all-time lead­ing WNBA scorer. She is the great­est en­ter­tainer in women’s bas­ket­ball his­tory. Four­time Olympic gold medal­ist, three-time WNBA cham­pion, three-time NCAA cham­pion at UConn, you got it.

There is no greater cham­pion than Diana Taurasi.

Nor has there been any cham­pion ever ripped off worse by Amer­i­can bas­ket­ball. Red, white and screw you, D.

Af­ter a decade and a half of pro bas­ket­ball, Taurasi is mak­ing $115,233 this WNBA sea­son. You know what they call $115,233 in the NBA?

Chump change.

Take a guess what per­cent­age of her ca­reer earn­ings have come from play­ing in the WNBA.

“Maybe nine per­cent, a frac­tion,” Taurasi said be­fore her Phoenix Mer­cury lost 91-87 to the Sun. “It’s just not a lot of money.

“At this point, I’m play­ing for health in­sur­ance.”

The Suns’ De­An­dre Ay­ton, No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, told re­porters he freaked out when Taurasi walked over to say hello. He was star struck, speech­less. He called Taurasi the Michael Jor­dan of the WNBA.

Taurasi is mak­ing one eighth the NBA rookie min­i­mum. A’ja Wil­son, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 WNBA draft, is mak­ing $52,500. Ay­ton will make $6.8 mil­lion.

Rus­sia isn’t a pop­u­lar word these days. Yet Putin’s Mother Rus­sia is where play­ers of Taurasi’s ilk have been able to reach seven fig­ures. This is why women com­pete all year all over the globe. This is why they push their bod­ies to the break­ing point.

There was some­thing pro­found and won­der­ful in the Sun’s cel­e­bra­tion “Pride Night,” on Fri­day. Di­ver­sity and equal­ity are the might­i­est of as­pi­ra­tions. The WNBA is a place where the LGBTQ com­mu­nity has a friend, a place where au­then­tic lives can be led.

Taurasi knows this as well as any­one. She mar­ried for­mer player Penny Tay­lor last year. And in March, Tay­lor gave birth to their son, Leo.

“Tonight is a small mo­ment in a long-his­tory of time to take a deep breath and look how far, even if this lit­tle piece of so­ci­ety has moved for­ward a lit­tle bit,” Taurasi said. “A Fri­day night game doesn’t change any­thing in the grand scheme of things. But maybe for one mo­ment, for one per­son, you can feel nor­mal.”

Yet “Pride Night” also screams

of how far we must travel. Name an openly gay ac­tive player in the NBA right now, the NHL, NFL or MLB for that mat­ter. Stop. There aren’t any. Men are still afraid of the back­lash in the locker room, in the board room, in the stands. We can­not rest as long as this fear ex­ists.

At the same time this night screams to the hu­mil­i­at­ing pay dif­fer­en­tial be­tween the NBA and WNBA. Di­ver­sity and equal­ity must be part­ners if all boats in our so­ci­ety are to rise.

“Our (fe­male) move­ment comes in the form of money,” Taurasi said. “On the male side, it comes from the move­ment of men­tal evo­lu­tion, which takes a lot longer for males to do, be­cause in­se­cu­rity runs wild in their blood.

“Not un­til we ei­ther take dras­tic mea­sures as play­ers, to re­ally look at our­selves in the mir­ror with the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment. We folded. We got scared. We didn’t want to men­tion the word strike or pay raise or any­thing that came with los­ing your job. Last time I checked, the NBA has had a strike, the NHL has had a strike and they have mil­lions to lose. So, if we’re not will­ing to los­ing every­thing as play­ers, we don’t re­ally have much to gain.”

No, WNBA pay shouldn’t be

equal to the NBA. But does it have to be 60 times less? There’s no deny­ing the NBA is a multi-bil­lion dol­lar rev­enue in­dus­try and the WNBA is only a frac­tion of this. Yet NBA play­ers get 50 per­cent of the rev­enue. WNBA play­ers get 20 per­cent.

“(Di­vid­ing rev­enue equally) would be the easy so­lu­tion,” Taurasi said. “But that 50 per­cent would cut into those own­ers pretty harshly and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be around ei­ther.

“You would have to look at some­thing that would re­ally make a dif­fer­ence and the only way that can be pos­si­ble is if the NBA would step up in any sort of way. It’s harder when you don’t have as many NBA own­ers now (in the WNBA). But I see them pump­ing the G League and Sum­mer League like it’s the great­est league in the world. Our league, we can’t even get a 20-minute snip­pet of who played that week. It’s truly a slap in the face.”

And then the Michael Jor­dan of the WNBA pauses.

“I’ve been in it for 15 years now,” Taurasi said. “At this point, it’s not my fight any­more.”

What? Women bas­ket­ball’s ul­ti­mate fighter doesn’t want to fight?

“My fight has al­ways been on

the court,” Taurasi said. “All I can do is put every­thing into bas­ket­ball. That’s the only way I can make any change. These young kids now, they’re speak­ing out, which is great. They’re go­ing to have a whole decade of speak­ing out on In­sta­gram.

“I’m not go­ing to sug­ar­coat any­thing. At this point, it’s the same con­ver­sa­tion I’ve had for 10 years about the pay raise and noth­ing has hap­pened. There’s a dead horse and we keep beat­ing it.”

Af­ter LeBron signed his $154 mil­lion deal re­cently, Wil­son tweeted, “We over here look­ing for an M, but Lord let me get back in my place.”

El­iz­a­beth Cam­bage tweeted: “To­day, I learnt NBA refs make more than a WNBA player and the 12th man on a NBA team makes more than a whole WNBA team.”

And D? She plays for health in­sur­ance.

“I have a baby now,” Taurasi said. “It’s very ex­pen­sive. Aetna’s very good. CIGNA, thanks for the den­tal care. And ob­vi­ously I play be­cause I play for a great or­ga­ni­za­tion. But there are play­ers who aren’t that lucky. They’re play­ing in Westch­ester, N.Y., in front of 800 peo­ple. That’s a slap in the

face to all the Lib­erty fans and the play­ers. And no­body seems to be both­ered about it.

“We’ve been on the road for 20 of the last 25 days. You think our Phoenix fans like that? You think that’s great for the prod­uct on the court? You blink and the sea­son is over. I don’t know what the pri­or­i­ties are. The world cham­pi­onships? If so, that’s great. We’ll be ready.”

The great NBA play­ers are sup­port­ive of the WNBA play­ers, but that doesn’t pay the bills.

“The re­spect we have they have for us and we have for them is un­wa­ver­ing,” Taurasi said. “That doesn’t move the nee­dle. That doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence as far as mak­ing this your ca­reer.”

Taurasi loves be­ing a mom and she jokes about Leo drool­ing and poop­ing all over the place. She calls Tay­lor a tremen­dous mother. And what would the Michael Jor­dan of the WNBA tell her son about bas­ket­ball?

“I would tell him there’s not bet­ter sport in the world,” she said.

See­ing he could make 60 times more than a sis­ter would, why wouldn’t mom say that?

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