Jewell Loyd once joked that a professional women’s basketball player needs a good passport and a willingness to travel more than a reliable jumper.
Playing year round in the states and overseas has been a necessity and an oft-cited complaint that highlights the disparity between WNBA players and their NBA counterparts.
Following conversations with Loyd and Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving considered ways to mitigate the financial burdens that cause WNBA players to play across the globe during the offseason.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and put those plans on hold.
Still, Irving wanted to help and committed $1.5 million to provide a full paycheck to WNBA players who chose not to play this season due to health concerns or social justice reasons.
The financial contribution is being made through the KAI Empowerment Initiative, which launched last week.
“Ky has a very passionate and pure heart,” Loyd said. “He cares about the people he’s around and the queens in his life. I got to know Kyrie through Kobe [Bryant] and we’ve had a really good relationship and we talk every day.
“He’s a brother of mine. He didn’t want me going overseas anymore. And we started talking about why we have to go overseas and he wanted to learn more about the WNBA lifestyle and the things we sacrifice. He didn’t like that and he tried to find ways to make sure we’re all good.”
Since leaving Notre Dame and turning pro in 2015, the 26-year-old Loyd has played in Turkey, China, South Korea and Spain during the WNBA offseasons to supplement a Storm salary that’ll pay her $119,500 this year, according to Spotrac.com.
Following a newly negotiated collective-bargaining agreement, the WNBA’s top salary increased from $117,500 to $215,00 while team salary caps rose to $1.3 million.
It’s a significant advancement for the 24-year-old league, but the financial gains pale in comparison to the NBA salary structure.
Irving, who signed a four-year, $141 million deal in 2019, said in a statement: “Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions.”
To qualify, players must provide details around their decision to not play this season, verify that they are not receiving additional financial support from other organizations and show that opt-outs for medical reasons must be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deadline to apply is August 11 and recipients will be notified on August 24.
Fifteen WNBA players opted out of the 2020 season for various reasons, including stars Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Liz Cambage and Jonquel Jones.
Storm coach Dan Hughes sat out this season due to health concerns, but all 12 players are participating for Seattle (3-1), which faces Connecticut (0-4)at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
In addition to the funds, Irving partnered with the investment banking company UBS to provide financial literacy programs to all WNBA players.
“The majority of the league and the players are excited about it because it’s another opportunity for them to learn and benefit themselves,” said Loyd, a two-time WNBA All-Star who signed a three-year extension last year that’s worth $358,000 and expires after the 2021 season. “As much as we are in this league, the players run the league. There’s no league without the players.
“This is the time for us to value ourselves and make sure we’re doing everything we can beyond scoring basketballs to educate ourselves and spread the wealth and knowledge not just to us but the next generation of players and kids. People are excited about it and it’s more to come.”
— Sue Bird will miss Tuesday’s game as she recovers from a bone bruise in her left knee. The star guard also missed the Storm’s game against the Sparks to rest the knee. “It’s basically day to day. That’s where I’m at,” Bird told The Associated Press. “I thought resting that one game would be enough. It needs more time. Sadly, bone bruises are the type of thing you can’t continue to play on and it gets better. It needs rest to get to the point where you can play in the schedule we have. I have to give it time to cool down.”
— Breanna Stewart snagged the WNBA’s Western Conference player of the week honors after averaging 18 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals in four games.