Women’s basketball is evolving thanks to a recent move from New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier. The two WNBA all-stars have joined forces to start a new women’s basketball league called Unrivaled. This league aims to give players the ability to play in the US and be fairly compensated during the offseason as a response to WNBA’s new prioritization rules, which mandates that players have to return at the beginning of training camp to be eligible to play for the season. Here’s how Unrivaled was conceptualized, the role that the WNBA will play and what’s in store for the league ahead of its inaugural season.
The Formation of the Unrivaled League
The WNBA’s prioritization rules are a driving factor for Unrivaled being formed. This clause, agreed upon in 2020, won’t be fully enforced until next season. However, it presented a problem for many players who play overseas during the offseason for more lucrative opportunities. Why? Because the overseas women’s basketball season usually concludes in mid-May, which is when the WNBA season begins.
This dilemma weighed heavily on Stewart and Collier. They both expressed how hard it is to be away from family for months at a time while playing overseas. So, they began discussing the idea of starting a US-based women’s league during the WNBA offseason. “We went to dinner in New York and [Bazzell] was explaining the idea of being a part of this league where it’s like you’re on an all-digital basketball court, you’re playing 3-on-3, one-on-one, queen-of-the-court type thing where you hold bragging rights, but also make a salary that’s kind of set in stone but also can always grow bigger,” she said in a recent interview with ESPN.
With Unrivaled, players have the option to make substantial money in the middle of the offseason. They can do this while playing in Miami instead of an international league. “It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players,” Stewart told ESPN.
The WNBA’s Response to Unrivaled
Following the July announcement of Unrivaled, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert weighed in on the prospect of players staying in the US during the offseason. “We want to become the center of women’s basketball,” Engelbert said. “Not just during our season but all year round… We hope (Unrivaled is) successful and we’ll support them in a lot of different ways from a marketing perspective.”
Although the WNBA will be supporting Unrivaled from afar, they will not be funding the new league. Instead, funding for Unrivaled will come from private investors and sponsorships.
The Next Steps for Unrivaled
Unrivaled would run from January through March and include 30 of the sport’s top women players placed on six teams. Since this league plans on launching in January 2024, Stewart and Collier have tapped business and sports industry leaders from companies like Twitter, WWE, DAZN and the WTA to make this a reality.
“We’ve all been talking and realizing that we’re missing a moment, having a lot of our players be overseas or not playing basketball [during the offseason]. …” Stewart said. “I think top players, they want to be playing, right? They want to be home, they want to be playing, but it has to make sense. It has to be right and the money has to be right. And I think that’s what Unrivaled is trying to do.”
Keep reading for more stories highlighting women sports and athletes:
Featured image credit: Photo by Front Office Sports (@FOS) on Twitter