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Archive for January 29, 2022

Jan. 29, 2022 — Night One

This week, the Athletes Unlimited basketball league began.

It’s a league in which 44 players are broken up into four teams each and, like the players in the softball, lacrosse, and volleyball leagues, are rated through statistical metrics. The four best players in the league choose up sides for the following week after three games are played.

The games are played in Las Vegas, and so will the entire five-week league.

Thus far, the stars of the league are the ones you might expect. Natasha Cloud, a guard, was last seen in the WNBA hoisting the championship trophy for the Washington Mystics, but sat out the 2020 season because she wanted to do more work off-court on racial justice issues.

Lexie Brown, another guard, is from the WNBA champion Chicago Sky. Isabelle Harrison, a forward, is with the Dallas Wings. The AU league is very much a useful circuit to allow those WNBA players who are not gaining the multimillion-dollar deals to play in Australia, Europe, or Asia to get five weeks’ worth of conditioning and game play in an improvisational environment, as the teams do not have coaches.

Now, it’s only the first weekend of the season, but I do wonder out loud if the AU league will make an important change in the economy of women’s basketball: the moving of the needle when it comes to player pay. It’s well-known that the WNBA pays its players a mere fraction of what their NBA bretheren make. Too, players like Diana Taurasi and Becky Hammon have been known to take their talents overseas and make more money than here in the United States.

We don’t know exactly how much the players are being paid in the AU league, but we do know that the entire league salary cap was about $1 million for volleyball and $300,000 for softball. Let’s see if the league partnerships with its sponsors in basketball will help move the economy forward for women’s pro basketball.