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Basketball's Salary Gap


Let's face it. We live in an age when many superstar athletes are overpaid... male superstar athletes, that is.

The net disparity between the NBA's top money makers and the WNBA's top salary earners is, for lack of a better word, gross.

Professional basketball's highest paid players, the WNBA's star Rebecca Lobo and the NBA's veteran Patrick Ewing, not only play in the same city, but compete on the same court in Madison Square Garden. Yet, Lobo, who reached the 1997 WNBA Championship Game with the New York Liberty, brings home an annual paycheck that is nearly 72 times less than what her male counterpart will deposit in the bank this year alone.

And those are just the star players. In fact, according to Bruce Levy, an agent who represents women basketball players, not one player in the WNBA took home more than $52,500 last year - which by itself is not too shabby for playing a kids game. It's even better when you consider that the average American makes nearly $20,000 less than that annually.

The issue for the WNBA, its players, and its representatives is not one of dollars and cents. The women are simply fighting for respect.

So to the bargaining table they went. And stayed. For negotiating a labor agreement was not as easy as the newly formed players' union first thought. At issue: the question of how to classify players from the now-defunct American Basketball league. The talks eventually broke down and this week's WNBA draft was postponed indefinitely.

But trying to figure out just where the players stand in these tumultuous times is good for the league, and good for the sport. So far the women have managed to outdo the men in their negotiations by not having to stoop to the level of a lockout - yet.

Nevertheless, the underlying principles here are simple. WNBA players are not looking to secure outrageous eight figure salaries, or reserve seats on a chartered plane so loved ones can attend a preseason game against the Hungarian National Team. They are fighting for equity; an income that is proportionate to what the WNBA owners take in.

Sounds fair, right? After all, if the women are running up and down the courts and busting their butts in pursuit a championship ring, they should be held in as high regard as the men, who have so far been flopping and flailing through this Jordan-less, lockout-shortened season.

And with the former ABL players and a powerhouse Class of '99 poised to enter the league, Rebecca Lobo and the New York Liberty have a better chance of bringing a professional basketball championship to The Big Apple than their slip-sliding male counterparts do.

Written by Kenneth Dancyger

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