First WNBA Game: A Battle of Sisters and a Pay Gap

Fenway Park Series Part 8: First WNBA Game

The genesis of this blog stems from the 100th birthday of Fenway Park in 2013 when I wrote a blog post about my memorable first game at Fenway Park.  This began the “Fenway Park Series” in which I also recounted my first Celtics, Patriots, college basketball, soccer and other sports experiences.  I have two new entries to this series, the first being my first WNBA game.

WHEN:  July 3, 2018 – it was the 18th game of the 34-game WNBA season – its 22nd season.

THE TEAM:  The Los Angeles Sparks have been one of the marquee franchises of the WNBA, reaching the finals five times (most recently in 2017) and winning three titles (most recently in 2016).  The Sparks also led the WNBA in attendance last year with an average of 11,350 per game.

The team is led by veterans:

  • 11th-year Candace Parker (6-4 F/C)
    2008 and 2013 MVP
  • 7th-year Nneka Ogwumike (6-2 F)
    2016 MVP
  • 13th-year Alana Beard (5-11 G/F)
    2017 Defense Player of the Year
    3rd in WNBA for career steals

At 12-5, the Sparks were tied for second in the Western Conference and only a 1/2 game behind league-leading Phoenix Mercury.

THE GAME:  WNBA games are the same as NBA games except played with a slightly smaller-ball, using the international three-point line and playing in four ten-minute quarters.

The Sparks faced the Connecticut Sun (9-7) who were a game behind Eastern Conference leader Washington Mystics before a crowd of 6,280 at the Staples Center.  More interestingly, the Suns were led by 6-4 forward Chiney Ogwumike, the 2014 Rookie of the Year and sister of the Sparks Nneka Ogwumike and this game would be a battle between the two sisters.

The Sparks flat out stunk in the first half, with the Sun lead by as much as 20-points before finishing with a 41-25 lead.  Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker led the Sparks back in the second half, with Nneka giving the Sparks the lead 65-64 midway through the 4th quarter.  Nneka converted a three-point play to put the Sparks up 72-71 with 27.9 seconds left.  Her sister Chiney, however, responded with a layup that put Connecticut up 73-72.

Chiney Ogwumike Inbounds Pass Her Sister Nneka Would Intercept

Nneka almost got the last word after stealing an inbound pass from her sister with 3.5 seconds remaining, but her half-court shot missed at the buzzer.  Nneka finished with 20 points, but her sister Chiney, just like her team,  was one point better.

It was “Take Me Back Tuesday: 90’s Night” with “T-Boz” Watkins from TLC and other recording artists in the house.  The announcers tried to keep the audience alive and entertained by playing clips from of the songs for the performers in the audience and urging the fans to make noise – which was not as difficult once the Sparks began to play in the second-half.

THE REST OF THE STORY:  After the game, I did some research on the WNBA and was shocked to discover the great pay disparity between the WNBA and NBA.  The highest paid player in the WNBA makes less than a starting referee in the NBA (although the WNBA season is less than half of the NBA).

Starting Salary
$50,000 NBA
Starting Salary
Median Salary
Max Salary
$117,500 NBA Referee
Starting Salary
Total Payroll
LA Sparks (est)
$1.1 million Abdel Nadler
Boston Celtics
Rookie (avg 3 ppg)
WNBA Total Payroll (est) $11.1 million Omer Asik
Chicago Bulls
8th Yrs (avg 1.2 ppg)
Pct of Rev Devoted to Salaries WNBA 21.5% NBA 50% (approx)
Sources: David Berri, Yes, WNBA Stars Should Be Paid More Than NBA Referees, Forbes (June 24, 2018); The Business Of Being A WNBA Player, Forbes (July 2, 2018);   ESPN NBA Player Salaries 2018-2019.

The low pay means that over half of the players play overseas for substantially more money during the rest of the year.  The demands of playing multiple seasons has its costs, as Chiney Ogwumike missed the entire 2017 WNBA season due to an achilles injury while playing in China.  For that reason, a club in Russia’s Premier League paid WNBA star Diana Taurasi (the 2009 WNBA MVP and career scoring leader) more than her WNBA salary to sit out the 2015 WNBA season – on top of her $1.5 million salary with the Russian team.

WNBA players can opt-out of the collective bargaining agreement with the league at the end of the 2019 season and you can expect a major battle over player salaries at that time.  The WNBA will have to deal with Nneka Ogwumike who happens to be head of the players union.




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