Sparks' Chelsea Gray pushing for better conditions for WNBA players


Sparks' Chelsea Gray pushing for better conditions for WNBA players

SAN FRANCISCO -- Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray has been playing basketball since she was a child with the dream of playing in the WNBA. Now, having achieved her goal, Gray is living through the rigors of the WNBA and is working to change the league.

"I think the good is you're at the highest stage playing with the best athletes ever," Gray said during a recent episode of the "Runnin Plays" podcast. "We talk about Lisa Leslie. We talk about Ticha Penicheiro, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson. You talk about all these different players that's created this pathway for people, for me to do what I do. It's on the biggest stage, and be able to hold that jersey like you're in the NBA for the W.

"The bad, I think a lot of people talk about salary. You're at the highest stage, but you don't get rewarded for it," she added. "The player experience needs to be better."

Under the current structure, each team's hard cap is around $976,000. Seattle Storm guard Jewell Lloyd -- the league's highest-paid player last season -- makes $119,000, a small fraction of her male counterparts. The league minimum forces many players to play overseas in countries like Russia, Israel and Turkey during the fall to make ends meet, forcing them to have a year-round schedule and little time to recover.

"That's the place that gets us so frustrated," she said. "The payments and salary in the WNBA because we see this longtime grind. People that go from the WNBA to overseas back to the WNBA. You have like two weeks to chill and you can't really chill because then you're out of shape. It's crazy the amount of time and effort it takes to play at such a high level but also sustain the lifestyle you want to live."

All the while, the WNBA has been labeled as being not as athletic or exciting the NBA, which critics argue leads to lower ratings. This is a notion Gray disagrees with.

"It's definitely a cop-out," she said. "Because you don't know what you don't know. So if you're going to say 'Why would you watch golf?' Well, do you know golf, do you watch golf? Do you enjoy the game? I guarantee if they go to a game they will have fun, they will enjoy it, they will enjoy the experience, they will enjoy watching us play. The fundamentals, the athleticism. I mean we're not flying and dunking and we're not throwing alley-oops but I don't think that's all the game is about."

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At the moment, Gray and the rest of the players are gearing up for a fight with the league. Thirteen months ago, the WNBPA opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement. In negotiations, they've asked for a higher percentage of the league's revenue, better marketing around its stars, improved travel schedule and a more spaced out schedule.

"I think we should be treated in which we're a WNBA team. We're at the highest level," Gray said. "Why not have everything that's around us be that? With food, and the way we travel and the way we're paid. I think that's speaking to everything that we want."

Monta Ellis reveals 'We Believe' Warriors were doubted by Don Nelson


Monta Ellis reveals 'We Believe' Warriors were doubted by Don Nelson

2007 was an unforgettable season for the Warriors.

Entering the season with minimal expectations, Golden State climbed up the standings late in the year and secured the No. 8 seed, going on to knock off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in a legendary playoff series.

Monta Ellis, who was one of the catalysts for that “We Believe” squad, says that it wasn’t just those outside the organization who entered the season with doubts.

“The one that people really don’t talk about is,” Ellis told Slam Magazine. “That year, [head coach] Don Nelson even came out in the paper and wrote us off. He said we weren’t going to make the playoffs, and we might as well start getting ready for next year and seeing what we could get in the Draft and whatnot.

“We had a lot of veteran guys on the team, and me being a young guy and hungry, we took that to heart. We all came together as a team then. I think we ended up winning 18 of the last 22 or something like that to end up getting into the playoffs as the 8-seed. With that run that we made, it was crazy.”

Ellis was the young guy on a starting unit with veterans like Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Jason Richardson, and floor general Baron Davis.

But instead of fracturing the team, the players actually bonded over trying to prove their coach wrong.

“We didn’t like that [Don said that],” Ellis said. “So we all came together as a team and we just went out there and played. Off the court, you weren’t going to see one without seeing the other 12 or 13 guys. We go to dinner. 

“Whatever we did, we were always together. It carried over to the basketball court. When we were on the basketball court, no matter if the times got tough or anything, we were always able to stay together. We had heated moments. We had heated situations. But nobody ever got personal with it. Nobody ever took it to heart. Everybody was like, Alright, we’re just trying to get better. We saw that. We saw everybody getting better. We saw the team getting better. So we just stuck with it.”

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Although Golden State didn’t return to the postseason until 2013, this group remains one of the most iconic Warriors teams of the 2000s.

As some of the players have said in recent years, this team definitely knew how to have a good time off the court, even with coach Nelson.

NBA rumors: League 'angling' to cancel rest of season amid coronavirus

NBA rumors: League 'angling' to cancel rest of season amid coronavirus

As the sports world remains frozen due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA reportedly isn't optimistic it will be able to restart and finish its season.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst went on "SportsCenter" on Friday and gave an update on the league's current line of thinking and the realistic possibility that basketball won't return until next season.

"It's been a bad week," Windhorst said in regards to the feeling the season might not be salvageable. "I think there was optimism about progress a week ago, and some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what could happen. A big factor was what happened in China, where they halted the return of their league and one of the big reasons was they really believed that if they just tested the players' temperature all the time that it would. The Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country. They have just slammed the breaks on sports.

"The talks between the players union and the league this week -- I've talked to both sides of this issue -- and it is clear the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down. Now, they don't have to do that yet, and the way they are negotiating, they are leaving themselves an option either way. But they are not having talks about how to restart the league, they are having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down and I think there's a significant amount of pessimism right now."

The NBA reportedly had been looking at the idea of playing the playoffs in Las Vegas while keeping the players in a bubble without fans, but public health officials have poked holes in that idea.

Windhorst noted the NBA is walking a fine line in finishing this season without impacting the 2020-21 season, and the widespread availability of fast, reliable tests will be needed to finish this season.

"They do have runway here," Windhorst said. "I do think that they could go into August or September to finish this season. But I'm not sure they feel confident about that right now. A big factor is testing. We just don't have the testing. At some point, not only does there have to be a test that is quick and can tell if a player is healthy enough to enter the game, you have to know that you have the tests available so that you aren't taking them away from people who need them."

The NBA suspended its season March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Gobert and teammate Donovan Mitchell both have fully recovered from their bouts with COVID-19.

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Not finishing the NBA season would be a tough pill to swallow for the league, its players and its fans, but as we focus on social distancing and flattening the curve, it might be the only option.

As of April 3, there were more than 270,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and NBC News reporting.