Diana Taurasi, one the biggest stars in women's basketball, will sit out the 2015 WNBA season because of her lucrative contract with a Russian club team for whom she plays during the year, the Phoenix Mercury announced.
UMMC Ekaterinburg, Taurasi's pro team during the non-summer months, offered her a deal larger than her WNBA season to not play at all over the summer. After considering her upcoming international duties and the many minutes she's played over the years, Taurasi accepted. She will return to the Mercury in 2016.
"The year-round nature of women's basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down," Taurasi wrote in an open letter to Mercury fans. "They offered to pay me to rest and I've decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing."
The news highlights one of the major issues the WNBA faces as it strives for legitimacy: low salaries. Taurasi earns just $107,000 per season for the Mercury, according to ESPN. She earns $1.5 million -- or 15 times her WNBA salary -- for UMMC Ekaterinburg. Once UMMC Ekaterinburg offered to pay her WNBA salary on top of her base earnings, the decision was easy. And Taurasi is one of the highest-paid players in the WNBA, though 36 other players approach that salary, per ESPN.
More teams that employ the WNBA's best may follow UMMC Ekaterinburg's strategy:
In the last decade, the league's top players have repeatedly made this emotional investment in the WNBA. But now that some overseas clubs are offering incentives to not play at all, WNBA players are facing a difficult question: How much money can they leave on the table?
Truth is, many within the WNBA worry that Taurasi's decision might spark a trend -- that other stars will begin sitting out the WNBA season in exchange for a bonus from their overseas club team.
The 32-year-old Taurasi teamed with Brittany Griner to lead the Mercury to a 29-5 season and a WNBA championship last year. She finished eighth in the league in scoring and second in assists.