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Kyrie Irving creates $1.5 million fund for WNBA players who opt out of 2020 season

NBA star Kyrie Irving announced Monday that he has created a $1.5 million fund to help pay the salaries of WNBA players who are sitting out of the 2020 season. The league allowed players who were deemed high-risk by a panel of doctors to sit out the season and still receive their full salary — but any other player who chose not to play was required to forfeit their pay for the year.

"Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions," Irving said in a statement. 

Payments will be distributed by the KAI Empowerment Initiative, which Irving launched Monday. To qualify, a player must explain their reasoning for opting out and not be receiving financial help from any other institution. Medical opt outs must be coronavirus-related.

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Kyrie Irving at Barclays Center on January 18, 2020, in New York City.  Al Bello / Getty

After being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the WNBA season finally got underway over the weekend — but multiple players chose to opt out due to the virus or social justice concerns. 

According to the Associated Press, Irving spoke with Natasha Cloud, who has opted out of the season, and Jewell Lloyd, who in turn helped get him in touch with several other WNBA players to discuss the difficulties of deciding whether or not to play this season.

Reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne had her request to opt out denied by the league's panel earlier in July. The Washington Mystics star said that she has chronic Lyme disease and that her physician said she is at high risk to develop complications from COVID-19 — but Lyme disease is not on the CDC's list of conditions that put someone at an elevated risk from the coronavirus.

Some players, such as Cloud, have chosen to sit out the season to focus on social justice issues. The league has dedicated this season to social justice, and all players wore Breonna Taylor's name on the back of their jerseys for opening weekend.

Irving is not with the Brooklyn Nets in the Orlando bubble for the restart of the NBA season because he's recovering from shoulder surgery. Irving has previously criticized the NBA and WNBA's plans for the 2020 seasons for both health and safety issues, saying he felt it was more important that players focus on activism and social justice. 

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