Irving commits $1.5M to WNBA players
Brooklyn Nets superstar guard Kyrie Irving committed $1.5 million to supplement the income for WNBA players who chose to sit out the 2020 WNBA season due to COVID-19 concerns or social justice reasons.
Irving said in a statement:
"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."
On Monday, Irving launched the KAI Empowerment Initiative that will fund the donation, and will also provide WNBA players with a financial literacy program.
The 6-time All-Star was a driving force behind a movement for NBA players to sit out of the restart in Orlando, leading a call of dozens of players to discuss the need to focus on social justice.
Irving connected with several WNBA players who explained the difficult decisions they faced about opting out of the season, especially in regards to salary, including defending champion Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud and Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd.
Cloud announced her choice to forego the season in order to aid in protests against racial injustice:
"There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can't matter."
The Atlanta Dream’s Renee Montgomery is another player who will not travel to Orlando in order to continue the fight for social justice.
Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage, Washington Mystics center Tina Charles, and Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike and guard Kristi Toliver are among those who will sit for health-related reasons.
The average WNBA salary is roughly $79,000, with the top annual salary at under $175,000. The majority of WNBA players only earn 20% of the minimum salary of an NBA player.
Last Saturday, the league started its 2020 season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
It's unclear how many athletes that forego the season will qualify for Irving's program.
Players must provide an explanation as to why they opted out of the season and cannot receive a salary from any other entity. In addition, sitting out for medical reasons must be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deadline for applications is Aug. 11, and recipients will be notified by Aug. 24. All information is available on the KAI Empowerment Initiative website.
FOX Sports NBA analyst Ric Bucher weighed in on Irving's initiative on Monday
"Irving seems to be saying, ‘If you don’t want to play basketball, give me a good reason why and I’ll take care of you.’ It is certainly a generous offer and I’m all for supporting the WNBA and social justice, but creating a one-man social service for professional basketball players who don’t want to play, for whatever reason, is not the first thing I think of as a dire need. I can’t help but feel on some level Kyrie enjoys challenging the status quo and being viewed as different, and that drives a lot of what he does."
Irving is not in Orlando for the restart of the NBA season, as he is still recovering from shoulder surgery and continues to aid in social justice reform.
This is a developing story.