The highest paid WNBA players ever might surprise you. We all know there’s a gargantuan (unjust!) salary gap between NBA and WNBA team players. But it’s less clear how our women stack up against each other. However, this is important knowledge, especially amongst players.
In order to be fairly compensated, you need to know what to ask for. And while agents negotiate on players’ behalves, knowing your own worth ensures you get more of the type of monetary gain you deserve. That’s why, for office professionals for example, sites that provide pay transparency like Glassdoor have been so clutch in addressing pay gaps. Basically, knowledge is power!
So today, we break down potential revenue streams for our favorite female athletes. And approximate what some of them might have made during a peak playing year. In addition to their WNBA yearly salaries, there are other variables in the equation: endorsement deals, overseas contracts, and merit bonuses awarded to each player based on their individual and team achievements.
But before we get started, let’s set some ground rules: We used 2020 salaries as the springboard for our rankings. We did not include revenue sharing in our calculations, which jumps from the current 20 percent to 50 percent in 2021 per the recent CBA. Also, there was no 2020 All-Star game, which would’ve netted players chosen a bonus of $2,575. Now that you’re locked in, let’s see the results.
Thanks to the hard-fought increases in the 2020 CBA (thank you Nneka!), WNBA players are earning more than they ever have – and it’s well-deserved. Let’s see which WNBA superstars have pocketed the most cash money over the past few years.
While these might not necessarily be the exact total pay figures or players, we did the best we could directionally. Of course, athletes don’t always see all their endorsement earnings in a single year, but we’ve included the guesstimated total amount for simplification.
While Candace is on the lower-end of the pay scale for WNBA stars, she’s made our list for all the other money she’s raked in – and for being a WNBA rock star. She’s been named league MVP twice, has been an All-Star 5 times, including being named the All-Star MVP in 2013. She’s also won a championship with the Los Angeles Sparks, for whom she was the first-round pick in 2008. Obviously, she’s worth every penny of her (too) small WNBA income and then some!
Amazingly, in her 13th season, Candace was awarded the coveted 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. Which added $5,150 to her earnings. Plus, she was named to the 2020 All-WNBA First team, which added $10,300 in merit bonus cash to her wallet.
Candace played overseas for 10 seasons, in Russia, Turkey and China. Where she made 10-20 times more than her WNBA salary! Do the math (we’ll take an average 2019 salary of WNBA players at nearly $75,000). And it’s easy to see that there’s a good chance Candace made close to $1.5 million dollars during her overseas reign.
Candace’s bread and butter come from her lucrative endorsement deals, which reportedly net her a whopping $3 million dollars! She’s signed contracts with Gatorade, Adidas, and Beats by Dre, among others. And she’s part of Carmelo Anthony’s basketball video lessons program.
No doubt, this WNBA veteran is a superstar. In Diana’s 16-year career, she’s broken WNBA records and has attained a plethora of accolades – including being a 3-time WNBA champion. And did we mention that she’s also the league’s all-time highest scorer?
The Phoenix Mercury point guard also earned the title of having the most All-WNBA First Team honors – a total of 10! And to top it off, she’s earned four Olympic gold medals – which makes it easy to say that, as a basketball player, she’s earned her weight in gold.
The Mercury made it to the second round of the playoffs but lost to the Minnesota Lynx. Even so, that feat earned Diana another $1,803. She scored again by being selected to the 2020 All-WNBA Second Team, adding a bonus of $5,150 to her pay. And Diana and Sue Bird were instrumental in seeing to it that members of Team USA were paid decent wages for their training. That concerted effort bared its fruit, garnering each member of the team $100,000.
While Diana no longer plays overseas, her career there was an extremely lucrative one. She made $1.5 million per season with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. And famously sat out the WNBA 2015-2016 season. So that she wouldn’t get injured and not be able to play for UMMC. And thus still earned her $1.5 million salary!
Diana struck a deal with BodyArmor, a sports drink, in 2018, which she still endorses today. While her endorsement pay (including TV commercials) has been kept private, we’ll take a modest estimate of $250,000. Adding to her wallet, Diana also makes $20,000-$30,000 per speaking engagement. And she signed on to exclusively wear LeBron James’ signature line on court. With all these ancillary ways to make money, Diana’s WNBA salary is just a drop in the bucket!
At 40 years old, Sue Bird has been in the league for an astonishing 18 years, breaking records and dazzling fans all over the world. So it’s no wonder she’s amongst the seven players who top the list in annual salary.
Known for her amazing ability to win championships (she has four WNBA titles under her belt) as well as accolades too numerous to mention (okay, we’ll mention that she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader and an 11-time All-Star, to name just two), the superstar point guard has started in 508 games. And has never come off the bench!
Not surprisingly, Sue Bird made the salary cap of $215,000 in 2020. Just a year before, prior to the new CBA, she capped out at $117,500. So she now rakes in almost $100,000 more than that.
Since Sue’s team, the Seattle Storm, won the 2020 WNBA Championship, each player pockets an additional $11,536 for that feat. Sue is also a part of Team USA. So she will now receive close to $100,000 to train for United States.
To supplement her WNBA income, Sue has played overseas during the WNBA off-season for much of her storied career. She primarily plays in Russia, where she earns anywhere between $400,000 – $1 million dollars per overseas season. Due to injuries and other factors, Sue hasn’t played overseas since 2014. But we can average out the 11 seasons she did play in Russia at a modest $500,000. And add that to her bank.
Sue is one of the few WNBA stars who have endorsement deals. Sue has been with Nike since 2003. But she recently signed deals with life insurance company Symetra (along with her life partner, Megan Rapinoe). And has had deals with State Farm and American Express in the past. She, along with 7 other WNBA players, also has a Glossier deal.
It’s a bit of a mystery how much money Sue makes for her sponsorship deals. But we can assume it’s a good amount. Because after the NBA’s Kyrie Irving saw her wearing his shoes, he told Nike, “Okay, yeah, give her whatever she wants.” So, we’ll factor in another $2,000,000 into her income for good measure!
Breanna Stewart signed a two-year $375,500 contract with the Seattle Storm, including an annual average salary of $187,750. So in 2020, she earned a base salary of $185,000. And she deserves every bit of it. After being drafted as the #1 pick in 2016, Stewie swept the WNBA Regular Season MVP and WNBA Finals MVP. In 2020, she let the league know she was back in business after her achilles injury. Earning a second WNBA title and a second WNBA Finals MVP award. Most recently, her impact was big enough on and off the court to net her Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.
Breanna’s team, the Seattle Storm, won the 2020 WNBA Championship. So she pockets an additional $11,536 for that feat. Plus, she was named to the All-First Team so she gets $10,300. And she was the WNBA Finals MVP (which probably doesn’t get the $15,450 the season MVP gets). Breanna is also a part of Team USA. So she will now receive $100,000 to train in the United States.
Breanna Stewart has signed with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia for 2020, and will return to EuroLeague play this season. She is also signed for next season with UMMC. And made her mark immediately overseas by winning the Euroleague MVP award. Previously, she played for Shanghai Baoshun Dahua in China’s WCBA – since the 2016-17 season. Overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season, and Breanna sure is elite.
Breanna signed a multi-year deal with Nike in 2016. Speaking about the deal, Breanna said that it’s bigger than basketball. And that she hopes to have a lasting impact on her younger fans. A multi-year deal means big bucks and a big bet, so let’s add in another $1 million for her sponsorship.
The ability to dunk in the WNBA pays off handsomely, which is one of the reasons why the 6’7” Brittney is such a valuable asset. During her enviable pro career thus far, Brittney has been a 6-time WNBA All-Star. She’s a 7-time blocks leader, and has won a championship with her team, the Phoenix Mercury. And she’s only been in the league seven years! She continues to break records both offensively and defensively. So it’s no mystery why she’s one of the league’s top earners.
The Mercury secured a playoff spot but was knocked out during the 2nd round. Which earned Brittney another $1,803 dollars in bonus cash. She’s also currently a member of Team USA. Where she’ll make another $100,000 for training in the United States during the WNBA off-season.
Brittney is a powerhouse when it comes to overseas play – and she’s compensated pretty well for it. She pulls in almost $1 million per season abroad, which far outweighs her top-dollar WNBA salary. She started playing in China in her rookie season. But currently, she plays in Russia for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, where she continues to astound on the court.
Brittney signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike seven years ago in her rookie year. “It’s big-time, let’s just say that,” Brittney told USA Today in 2013. She was also the first openly gay athlete to sign with the company, which garnered her a lot of attention. While the terms of the Nike deal remains under wraps, it’s estimated that she earns almost $1 million for the contract.
A top-WNBA scorer, Skylar has been shooting hoops in the league since 2013. She’s racked up quite a resume. Including being named twice to the All-WNBA First Team and twice to the All-WNBA Second team. In her first season, she was named to the WNBA All-Rookie team. And throughout her enviable career, she’s been named a WNBA All-Star four times. Given those achievements, it makes perfect sense that Skylar is paid top-dollar.
Knocked out in the second round of the playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury, Skylar’s current team, earned her a team bonus of $1,803. Earning a spot on Team USA, she’s reaped another $100,000 during the WNBA off-season. And being named to the 2020 All-WNBA Second Team adds another merit bonus to her cap. Putting $5,150 in Skylar’s pocket.
Astonishing fact: Despite making our list of the highest paid WNBA players, Skylar has never lined her pockets by playing overseas! As she puts it: “I’ve never been overseas to play. I’m with Roc Nation, where I’m the only woman signed. And I take my off-season and use it to explore other opportunities…like my basketball camps.” And Jay Z’s company has boded well for Skylar.
While the details of her Roc Nation deal haven’t been divulged, its Sports President, Juan Perez, says that Skylar has earned “far more” than if she’d played abroad. In addition to Roc Nation, Skylar also has deals with Sprint and Nike. In the past, she’s had contracts with Puma and BodyArmor.
So given those facts, we’re going to take a stab at her endorsement income and estimate it to be at least $1.5 million. We arrived at that modest figure by calculating that “far more” than an average overseas salary of $400,000 equals at least $1 million. Plus Skylar’s additional endorsements, guess-timated to be near $500,000.
The current record-holder for most points scored in a WNBA game – an astonishing 53 points! – it’s no wonder why Liz Cambage makes the salary cap. The 6’8” center for the Las Vegas Aces has been selected to the All-Star team three times. As well as earned All-WNBA First Team and Second Team honors. However, she’s often been very vocal about the low pay for WNBA players.
Liz medically opted out of the 2020 WNBA season due to the coronavirus pandemic, so she didn’t earn any bonus or award money. However, she did receive her full pay, thanks to the new WNBA CBA.
Liz Cambage has played in China, where, way back in 2012, she reportedly netted $297,100 ($400,000 Australian dollars) for her overseas stint. In Australia, she currently plays for the Southside Flyers. Liz herself said, in 2018: “I’ve said this many times. [The WNBA] doesn’t pay my bills … playing here doesn’t pay my bills … We make more money overseas. I’m ready to have next summer off and focus on getting a European contract where [it’s] 10 seasons here worth the pay”. Considering Liz was making $117,500 in that year, a quick calculation tells us that her overseas contracts have been close to $1 million dollars a year.
Other than speaking engagements, which net current WNBA players anywhere between $10,000 – $50,000, Cambage hasn’t had any endorsements.
Originally from Belgium, the Washington Mystics forward brings in the WNBA salary cap due to her seven seasons of solid play for the team. She helped the Mystics bring home a championship in 2019, where she was also named the MVP. She struggled a bit during her 2020 season. And her future in the league is anyone’s guess. As she only signed a 1-year deal with the Mystics, making her a free agent for next season.
In 2019, with the Mystics taking the Finals crown, Emma added a fair amount of merit bonus money to her till. However, this past season, the Mystics only made it to Round 1, which only added another $1,136 to Emma’s income.
Her overseas play is really Emma’s bread and butter. She started playing for Belgian domestic teams when she was only 16. Then began a career in Russia for Spartak Moscow in 2014. Then finally went to UMMC Ekaterinburg for whom she plays today. While no hard data can be found regarding Emma’s salary with the UMMC, based on other superstar players of her status, she stands to gain at least $500,000 in the WNBA off-season.
In 2019, after her tremendous gameplay in the WNBA Finals, Emma signed an endorsement deal with Nike, according to Atticus Sports Management, her rep. Even though most Nike deals are kept under wraps (other than their top contracts, such as LeBron James’ $30 million dollar deal), we think we can safely guess that Emma earns at least $500,000, at a minimum.
Elena, a superstar small forward/point guard who’s been in the league for seven years, certainly earns her keep in the WNBA. In 2015, she was named the MVP, as she averaged 23.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds. Sadly, due to her battle with Lyme disease, she had to sit out the 2020 season. But she is still one of the top players in the league.
Unfortunately, Delle Donne didn’t bring in any merit bonuses during the 2020 season. But she did the year prior, when the Mystics won the WNBA championship. Delle Donne is also a member of Team USA, which adds another $100,000 to her pie.
Elena is one of the few women in the WNBA who doesn’t play overseas. She played briefly in China in 2017, but had to leave the team early when her Lyme disease flared up.
Elena is sought after for endorsements, with estimated deals adding more than $250,000 to her income. She’s signed contracts with Nike, DuPont, and Octagon. The Nike Zoom UNVRS sneaker was made with her input. On top of that, she topped the WNBA’s jersey sales. She also nets some dough from speaking engagements. Which, as an estimate, can garner a current WNBA athlete anywhere from $10,000 – $50,000.
In her 9th year in the WNBA, Courtney Vandersloot is much more than a contender. She was the first player to have 300 assists in a single season. She has made the All-Star and All-WNBA Second Team twice, and the All-WNBA First Team last season. Plus, she has received the Peak Performer Award four times! It isn’t hard to see why this record-breaking guard rakes in nearly top-dollar playing for the Chicago Sky.
With her keen eye for finding open shooters, Courtney helped the Sky earn sixth seed in the playoffs this season. But they were defeated in the first round by Connecticut. That achievement added $1,136 to her earnings. And she was on the All-First Team so she gets $10,300.
Courtney wins the award for playing overseas for the most teams. She’s had stints in Turkey, Croatia, Italy, her native Hungary, and Poland, where she played alongside her wife and fellow Sky teammate, Allie Quigley. Currently, she is a star player for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia. Players often make at least three times more overseas than their WNBA salaries. So we’ll make a lowball estimate that Courtney pulls in at least $600,000 per annum.
Unfortunately enough, despite her WNBA prowess, we were unable to find any endorsement deals for Courtney.
Dynamo point guard DeWanna has been setting records in the WNBA since 2009 and shows no signs of stopping now. She’s claimed two WNBA championships with the Phoenix Mercury, plus was chosen for the All-Star team three times.
No wonder she makes the league’s top dollar amount. But only because she received a $30,000 trade bonus when she went from the Mercury to the Connecticut Sun. Not to mention, DeWanna is a superwoman both on and off the court. She won the Associated Press’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2018. After giving birth to twins Cali and Demi in 2017!
With the Sun making it to Round 3 of the playoffs, DeWanna netted another $2,839 after losing to the Las Vegas Aces. Plus, she earned another $5,150 in merit bonus cash for being chosen for the All-WNBA Second Team. Most likely due to some of her amazing achievements including starting in all 22 regular games and 7 playoff games. And ranking 3rd during the season in total points.
Overseas play has been very lucrative for DeWanna, as she’s played abroad for most WNBA off-seasons since 2011. Most recently, she played for Russia’s Dynamo Kursk, which will pay superstar players up to $500,000. With her phenomenal talent, we’ll include her in that category and add $500k to her till.
Surprisingly, we weren’t able to find any endorsement deals for Bonner. However, she does speaking engagements, which can net her anywhere between $5,000 – $50,000. If we average in what other female athlete speakers make, we’ll add $10,000 to the mix.
The highest paid WNBA players are certainly not paid enough. And they might feel threatened to share their salary information with peers who they feel they are competing for dollars with. But the reality is, the more brands that pump money into women’s sports, the more the sport is going to thrive.
So helping everyone win higher paid overseas contracts and endorsements is actually lucrative for everyone in the long run. As they say, a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
In fact, Deloitte predicts elite women’s sport revenues could top almost a billion dollars next year. “Women’s sports events have demonstrated their mass-market appeal, and thus monetary potential, on multiple occasions…In sports where men’s and women’s games have relatively equal marketing support, their commercial impact has been roughly equivalent.” And we’d like to see as much of that money as possible go into our players’ pockets.
Written by Cynthia Cohen, writer/producer and basketball fan.
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