The WNBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) calls for new prioritization rules to fully kick in next season in 2024, which makes it difficult for veteran players to play overseas and still return stateside in time for training camp without being fined or suspended for the entire season.
Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams recently criticized the W’s prioritization rule. She joined the Storm earlier this month, nearly a third of the regular season in the books after playing in France and recovering from a concussion.
“Something has to give,” Williams told ESPN. “France needs to have shorter seasons or the WNBA needs to [allow players] to make money and do both.” Williams signed a rest-of-season contract with Seattle on July 3.
Two WNBA veterans, Minnesota’s Naphessa Collier and Breanna Stewart, now with New York, announced the launch of Unrivaled, a 3-on-3 league for 30 top league players to start next winter. Just Women’s Sports reported that the new venture will pay competitive salaries that hopefully would help entice W players to stay home rather than go overseas. It is planned for 10 weeks in Miami from January to March, three games each week as well as a 1-on-1 tournament is being planned.
Collier told reporters, during a Zoom call that included the MSR, that the feedback about the news of Unrivaled has been mostly positive. “It has been really encouraging,” reported the Lynx forward.
When a reporter asked how it will help grow the game, Collier explained, “First of all, when we go overseas our marketing goes black for half a year. You don’t hear from us until the league starts up again.
“That is one of the big things we are focusing on, the PR side. Just making sure that getting our names out there and making sure the league is branded, because we want to increase our marketing.”
Furthermore, Collier stressed that Unrivaled will be “a new style of play—it will be 3-on-3, but it will be two-thirds the size of the regular court. I think we are just really excited about keeping us in-market, paying comparable to what you make in the league and overseas, and that brand recognition.”
If Unrivaled starts up, it will be running virtually the same time as Athletes Unlimited (AU), which is expected to start its third season next year. AU is a player-run league that holds a weekly draft where the four team captains, who are the top four point scorers from the previous week of games, play a five-week, three-games-a-week schedule between January and February. It started in January 2022, and featured many WNBA players, including Los Angeles’ Lexie Brown, who made the first AU all-defensive team.
Earlier this month, Brown was named chairperson of the AU Player Executive Committee. She and Megan Perry, the AU’s new director of basketball, spoke to reporters during a Zoom call on July 6.
Asked if the WNBA’s new prioritization rules will entice more players to play AU ball during the offseason, Brown told the MSR that the league is not just for W players, but for all women players seeking pro basketball experience in this country as opposed to going overseas.
“I think the timing of our league is great,” explained Brown. “I don’t want AU to be Plan B for people. I want us to be Plan A. I think it will be great to see more WNBA players not go overseas and play [instead in the AU].”
Added Perry, who joined AU after over 15 years of basketball experience, including working for the WNBA in managing player personnel and overseeing scouting and talent evaluation preparations for the draft, “When you look at the growth of women’s basketball, the opportunity here is to give athletes the chance to play in the United States of America.”
Both women when asked welcomed Unrivaled as another alternative to playing overseas.
“There is so much talent that we are aware of, even outside of what the WNBA is doing,” said Perry. “We are figuring out how to put out the best product for our season and give it meaning.”