Pictured here is Matee Ajavaon dressed in a business suit with a basketball balanced on the tip of her finger. You guessed it, basketball is her business as a guard for the Washington Mystics. In fact, basketball has been Matee Ajavon’s business for the better part of her life, leading the Malcolm X Shabazz Lady Bulldogs to back-to-back Tournament of Champions victories in New Jersey. Following her exploits at “The Doghouse”, as it is affecionately known in Newark, NJ. Matee played her college ball at Rutgers University under head coach Vivian Stringer. In 2007, Matee and her Rutgers University teammates took on the Tennessee Lady Vols (my favorite women’s college team) in the National Championship game, falling by 13pts at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Even without listing her outstanding statistics, it’s no wonder that Matee was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Houston Comets and eventually landed in Washington after the Comets organization folded in 2008. After having the pleasure to watch Matee since her elementary school days, I finally saw her play sitting courtside against the New York Liberty at the Prudential Center in Newark. And that is where my research began.
We all know of the enormous salaries that their counterparts in the NBA receive. And most professional athletes on average make hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year on average. So we’d think it’d be the same for the 13 year old WNBA. Not quite. Any player with 0-2 years of experience caps out at $37,000. Upon being a 3rd year player or more, salaries cap out around $55,000. Become a superstar akin to the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James and you like Candace parker can earn a maximum of of about $102,000 and no more. Compare that to the NBA and the average rookie who’s not a superstar coming out of high school or college is earning nearly $500,000 for likely sitting on the bench and receiving very little playing time. While the average 2nd year man is earning nearly $900,000. Candace parker has the rare blessing of being taller than most WNBA players at 6 foot 4 inches (as tall as NBA superstar Dwayne Wade), can dunk a basketball, and has a marketable look in more than just sports. Those attributes allow Candace pictured to the left to garner endorsements with Adidas and Gatorade totalling $3 million dollars.
The reason you ask…Interest. The ladies have doctors, trainers, coaching staff, training facilities and play in the same massive stadiums as their male counterparts, but don’t come even close to filling a quarter of the seats in the arena. Which means the overinflated costs of concession stands don’t bring int he same revenue and advertising dollars collected for commercials and sponsors isn’t the same. But the light bill, personnel, and administrative costs stay fixed. The game is sadly not as exciting as the NBA. It’s a bit more fundamental. There are few to no high flying dunks, alley oops, and few one on one match ups to look forward too. So people aren’t attending at a much reduced price, or tuning in on television. From what I saw when I attended the game, there are more male fans of the WNBA than there are female fans. This is of course my observation and has no statiscal evidence, but you’d think more women would be supporting the sport.
The only upside to the salary gap between the NBA and WNBA is that the ladies are able to earn their $37K - $102K is little more than 2 months during the summer, while the men’s season is nearly 10 months if teams play deep into the playoffs. So yeah, they might make close to or in some cases less than what you and I make. But we work all year around with few vacations. While they could kick-up for about 9 and a half months having earned their salary in a shorter period of time. Their only other course for a bigger contract is to venture overseas. In overseas leagues like Israel, Poland and Istanbul, top women can earn salaries from $200,000 to $400,000 per year.
So for those who are not superstar athletes with marketable faces like Candace Parker, their only solace is earning what they’d make if they put off basketball in a shorter time frame. Or going to another country which in most cases is a major cultural adjustment to make. Add that to being away from husbands and children and you could possibly have a very uncomfortable situation. Should it be so difficult to do what you love for a living and make something that’s at least midly comparable to the vast majority of professional athletes in America. Haven’t these ladies but in the same kind of effort and hard work that other top level athletes have? Of course they have, but they aren’t earning what other athletes do.
A great many people remark and whine about NBA, MLB, and NFL players being paid exorbitant sums of money for what is essentially a game for children. But I haven’t heard the outcry for the WNBA. And thus the truth rings true. Players in the NBA and other sports get paid their “exorbitant” sums of money because we are willing to pay $50 bucks to a few thousand bucks for a seat depending on our bank statements. But i’d take a $10 seat at a WNBA game long before a $50 seat in the NBA. Why? It’s a lot closer to the floor.