Professional basketball in the US has a pay equity problem. The median pay for a man in the NBA is more than US$4.3 million for an eight-month season; women in the WNBA have a season that’s half as long, but their average pay is between US$130,000 and US$228,000, which is far lower than half. As a result, WNBA players often spend the offseason playing in other countries like Russia, China and South Korea to earn more money.
But that’s a lot more complicated now. You may have heard about Brittney Griner, a WNBA star detained in Russia for accidentally “smuggling" in her weed pen around the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine back in February. After watching that play out, American basketball players are unsurprisingly deciding not to spend their offseasons in Russia anymore, which means they’re missing out on that extra paycheck.
So what about China and South Korea? Well, the thing is that those are two countries with really strict COVID guidelines, and neither one is open to WNBA players right now on that basis. On top of that, the tense relationship between the US and China makes it notoriously hard for Americans to get work visas in China – and even if WNBA stars were allowed to play there, it’s unlikely they’d get the visa in time.
To be clear, it isn’t like those are the only three places where WNBA stars can spend their offseason to help offset that gender pay gap. But in places like Turkey, for example, the pay isn’t even close to what it used to be. See, because the fat cats in the offseason industry are off the market, like the Chinese and Russian teams, a team in Turkey doesn’t have to pay nearly as much to stay competitive.
What’s the solution? Well, fixing the gender pay gap in the US might be a good start.