By Zac Cornell
The WNBA notoriously gets less attention than their male counterparts in the NBA, and over the years many NBA players from Kobe Bryant who was a huge supporter of women’s basketball to Stephen Curry who brings his daughters to watch games, have shown their support and sought to raise the profile of the women’s league. And this year many other players and celebrities got on board to express their fandom of the WNBA.
The WNBA and ESPN sent out the WNBA’s “Orange Hoodie” to celebrities which led to approximately 200 athletes and celebrities posting themselves in the hoodie before the restart of the season in the bubble. A number of NBA stars including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, P.J. Tucker, Victor Oladipo, Devin Booker, CJ McCollum, and more wore the #OrangeHoodie to promote the start of the WNBA season. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, Lil Wayne and New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas also posted themselves in their orange hoodies. NBA player Grant Williams took his support for the WNBA even further by wearing different players’ jerseys throughout the restart.
The NBA players’ support made a huge impact – according to sports gear retailer Fanatics, the orange hoodie is the best-selling WNBA item ever. In addition, viewership of the WNBA’s opening weekend was up 63% from an average game from the year before. The WNBA’s season opener between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury was the most watched first game since 2012.
Brooklyn Nets’ star Kyrie Irving just made a huge announcement in support of WNBA players, committing $1.5 million to help cover the salaries of WNBA players who choose to sit out this year no matter their reasons. Only players who are considered at risk for COVID-19 were covered by the WNBA to still get their salary even if they opt out. Irving said he was inspired to offer his support through his KAI Empowerment Initiative after he met with members of the WNBA who discussed the financial challenges that were hindering their options. Irving said, “I have learned about the challenges and opportunities of their decisions and how it will impact their lives, family, and overall well being.” In a statement, Irving explained, “This platform was created to provide support for all WNBA players in hopes to relieve some of the financial strain imposed during these challenging times.” He continued, “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.”
In January 2020, the WNBA players association signed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the WNBA to raise the leagues salary cap, offer better training and working conditions for the players, and a commitment to invest in more marketing and promotion to support the growth of the WNBA. The league also created the WNBA Changemakers, a unique partnership platform with businesses who will invest and commit to promoting the WNBA and women’s sports. AT&T, Nike and Deloitte are the inaugural partners. In the press release, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “We are launching the WNBA Changemakers platform to team up with organizations who have demonstrated unwavering commitment to women’s advancement and are pioneers in inclusive leadership.” She continued, “The support from these WNBA Changemaker companies will allow us to provide an enhanced player experience for the amazing professional athletes in the WNBA… because of the Changemakers support, we will begin to narrow the gap that exists for women sports, as only 1% of all global corporate sponsorship dollars are directed toward women’s sports. We look forward to other companies joining our vision to drive change toward a more equitable and inclusive ecosystem.”
It is inspiring to see these influential NBA players, corporations and celebrities using their platforms and financial positions to help the WNBA and women athletes get the attention and support that they deserve.