The biggest move of the WNBA offseason may just be a coaching change. The Las Vegas Aces convinced Becky Hammon to leave her role as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs to accept the franchise’s head coaching position. There were early reports that Hammon would also become the Aces’ GM, but that’s reportedly not true. Regardless, Hammon is about to become one of the most high-profile figures in the W, and she’ll be the highest paid person working in the league, too.
Hammon will reportedly earn $1 million with the Aces, owner Mark Davis announced. The Aces likely had to pay up to get Hammon to leave her position with the Spurs, but it’s a big moment for the league either way. WNBA salaries are consistently a subject of intense debate because they are so, so much lower than the other of American professional sports leagues.
While seeing someone in the WNBA earn a $1 million check was a cause for celebration in some circles, Aces superstar Liz Cambage was not too pleased. Cambage has been one of the Aces’ best players the last two seasons, and is now an unrestricted free agent. She called out the inequality in the WNBA’s pay structure where a coach can make significantly more than any player.
ahhh yes the @WNBA, where a head coach can get paid 4X the highest paid players super max contract. lmao and y’all think imma spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight to get to games out of my own pocket.— Elizabeth Cambage (@ecambage) February 1, 2022
Cambage earned a little more than $221K last season for the Aces, which put her in a seven-way tie as the highest-paid player in the league.
The total WNBA salary cap in 2022 is just $1,379,200. There is of course no salary cap for coaches and executives.
It isn’t just Hammon’s higher salary that set Cambage off — it’s also the lack of accommodations the WNBA provides for their players. The league does not charter flights to games, which has created numerous travel horror stories through the years. This past season, the Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun endured major travel difficulties during their semifinal series. Teams are often split apart on numerous flights so taller players don’t have to sit in a middle seat.
Cambage says she pays out of pocket to upgrade her seat on flights. The owners or league should be able to handle that expense to improve the overall quality of the league.
What’s the WNBA supermax salary in 2022?
Breanna Stewart re-signed with the Seattle Storm in late January on a one-year supermax deal. It will pay her $228,094 next season.
Cambage really isn’t exaggerating much when she alleges Hammon will earn four times as much as the league’s top players. While the WNBA’s biggest stars certainly deserve a large pay bump, the league’s non-stars need a raise even more badly. Last season, Diamond DeShields earned about $58K for playing an essential role on the league champion Chicago Sky.
For his part, Davis said the right things when he announced Hammon’s salary. Davis, who also owners the Las Vegas Raiders, gave the following quote on Hammon as he introduced the Raiders’ new staff in the NFL:
After introducing Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels, owner Mark Davis, who also owns the Aces, confirmed that new coach Becky Hammon will be the first WNBA coach to exceed $1 million in annual salary: pic.twitter.com/bT8ZfnuEZ6— Sam Gordon (@BySamGordon) January 31, 2022
“Little girls, guys, anybody can look at her and say, ‘She’s just like me. A small basketball player whose retired and she got the job and she’s making a million dollars. I can do that, too,’ That was really important to me to bring in that kind of value.”
It’s great to see Hammon get paid out to be the coach of the Aces, but the player salaries definitely need to be higher. The league needs more lucrative sponsorships. It needs more merchandise and better merchandising options. It needs better media placement, and it needs to market its stars like actual stars.
The WNBA is an amazing product. The players deserve to get treated like the world-class athletes they are.