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New WNBA CBA increases average salary to nearly $130K, maximum salary above $500K

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WNBA players were pushing for higher salaries, better travel accommodations and more attention.

It sounds like the players – who opted out of their Collective Bargaining Agreement – achieved many of their goals.

WNBA release:

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) announced today that they have reached an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), pending ratification by the players and the league’s Board of Governors.

The new eight-year CBA, which commences with the 2020 season and runs through 2027, provides the foundation to chart a new course for women’s professional basketball. The 2020 CBA features significant investments by the league and its teams aimed directly at increasing player salary and compensation, improvements to the overall player experience, resources specifically designed with the professional female athlete in mind, as well as a commitment to implement an integrated marketing plan league-wide.

Foremost among the deal terms is a 53 percent increase in total cash compensation, consisting of base salary, additional performance bonuses, prize pools for newly created in-season competitions, and league and team marketing deals.  Under the new CBA, the league’s top players will be able to earn cash compensation in excess of $500,000, representing a more than tripling of the maximum compensation under the prior deal.  Other top players will have an opportunity to earn between $200,000 and $300,000.  And for the first time in WNBA history, the average cash compensation for players will exceed six figures, averaging nearly $130,000, resulting in an increase for all players from rookies to veterans.

Additional highlights include enhanced player experience with respect to travel and child care benefits, and expanded offseason career development opportunities.  The landmark agreement also features a more liberal free agency system, and a more robust and equitable revenue-sharing model based on league revenue growth.

“We approached these negotiations with a player-first agenda, and I am pleased that this agreement guarantees substantial increases in compensation and progressive benefits for the women of the WNBA,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.  “I want to thank the players, led by WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike and the WNBPA Executive Committee, as well as WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson, for their hard work, innovative thinking and professionalism throughout the process.  I also want to thank the league’s Labor Relations Committee and Board of Governors for their investment, commitment and leadership as we look forward to working together to make the WNBA a sustainable and thriving business for generations of women’s basketball players to come.”

“Cathy Engelbert, the first WNBA Commissioner, brought her perspective as a former women’s basketball student-athlete, her experience as a business professional and her passion for the game to these negotiations,” said WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike.  “We found common ground in areas that confirmed the league’s and the players’ intentions to not only make meaningful improvements in working conditions and overall professional experience, but also to improve the business with strategic planning and intentional marketing that will keep the WNBA front and center year-round.”

“With cautious optimism and trusting the league’s renewed commitment and investment, the players demonstrated a willingness to ‘lean in’ themselves and show an even greater commitment and investment in the W,” described WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson. “There are significant gains all across the board in this new agreement, and everything is in place for our players and the league to thrive.”

The following are the key elements in the new 2020 WNBA-WNBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement:

  • Additional cash compensation elements:

o Minimum of $1.6 million in off-season league and team marketing agreements, that both recognize top performance and highlight the diversity of the league, and would create up to $300,000 in additional annual cash compensation for select players.

o Minimum of $750,000 in prize money for special competitions beginning with the 2021 season.

o New 50-50 revenue sharing beginning with the 2021 season, based on the league achieving revenue growth targets from broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals.

o Increases in cash bonuses for performance awards (such as for WNBA MVP and Rookie of the Year), and newly created cash bonuses (such as for each player named to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team).

  • Quality of travel elements:

o Premium Economy class status (such as Comfort/Economy Plus) for all players for regular-season air travel.

o Individual hotel room accommodations for every player.

o A collaborative effort to address travel concerns through the Player Advisory Panel.

  • Motherhood and family planning elements:

o Players to receive full salary while on maternity leave.

o A new annual childcare stipend of $5,000.

o Two-bedroom apartments for players with children.

o Workplace accommodations that provide a comfortable, safe and private place for nursing mothers.

o New, progressive family planning benefits of up to a $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment.

  • Free agency elements

o Unrestricted free agency available to players one year earlier than under the prior agreement beginning with the free agency period leading up to the 2021 season. Specifically, players who complete the playing services called for in their contract and have five or more years of service will become unrestricted free agents (if they are not designated as a “Core” player).

o Reduction in the number of times a player can receive the “Core” designation – from four to three beginning with the 2020 season, dropping to two beginning with the 2022 season.

  • Career development and other quality of life elements:
  • The WNBA will work with its affiliated leagues, teams and sponsors to provide off-season job opportunities designed to prepare players for their post-playing careers and will advance diversity in coaching initiatives for veteran players interested in coaching careers.
  • Enhanced mental health benefits and resources.
  • An augmented and holistic domestic/intimate partner violence program that includes education and counseling.
  • A joint Nutrition Council committed to identifying resources and address proper nutrition to optimize athletic performance.
  • Access to experts in women’s health and representation on league policy committees.

The WNBA also announced today the formation of a first-of-its-kind collective – WNBA Changemakers – which brings together values-driven businesses who lead the way in the advancement of women through sports. This new platform is designed to directly support the WNBA in its transformation across marketing, branding, and player and fan experience. With a fresh approach to sports sponsorship, Changemakers are deeply invested in driving positive change for the WNBA, women’s sports, and women in society.

The WNBA, backed financially by the NBA, has significantly spread the reach of the NBA – despite WNBA players often facing relatively difficult conditions. Many play overseas during the offseason. Commercial travel between WNBA games can be grueling.

These changes should improve the WNBA product. We’ll see whether that changes attention and revenue. But it’s a big step.

Good for the WNBA players for fighting for better treatment. And good for the league for striking a deal without a work stoppage.

Attacking Jamal Murray sparks Nuggets, who hold off Lakers for Game 3 win

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Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets backs were against the wall.

The Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.

Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…

“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”

Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.

“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”

Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)

In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.

The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).

LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.

Until the fourth quarter.

The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.

Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.

One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.

“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.

The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.

Zach LaVine reacts to Chicago hiring Billy Donovan: ‘Wow, that’ll be good’

Zach LaVine Billy Donovan
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Zach LaVine learned about the Chicago Bulls hiring Billy Donovan as their head coach while playing Call of Duty.

Which means there is a recording of his real-time reaction to the news.

“Damn, we just got Billy Donovan as our next head coach… wow, that’ll be good.”

LaVine also Tweeted about the hire.

He wasn’t the only Bulls’ player excited about the hire.

Bradley Beal, a former Donovan player at Florida, loved the hire.

Donovan takes over a Chicago team that seems on the cusp of something. How big a something remains up for debate. The roster has young talent: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter, and the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Donovan is an upgrade over Boylen, both in terms of player relations and tactics, making the Bulls better.

Even with Donovan, what is the ceiling for these Bulls? Next season they are not going to be better than the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, or Nets, and likely not the 76ers or Raptors either (unless Toronto tears down the roster). That’s six. And a lot of people would put the Indiana Pacers on a level above the Bulls as well. Bottom line: Even with a coaching upgrade and player improvement, the Bulls are likely scrambling for a bottom playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls are looking beyond next year. Expect Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to spend the next season deciding who fits and who doesn’t, and shake up the roster accordingly. By then the Bulls may be in a better place to be a threat in the East.

Whatever happens, the Bulls got better with this hire, and their biggest star likes it.

Vanessa Bryant sues sheriff over Kobe Bryant helicopter-crash photos

Kobe Bryant crash site
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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorized photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

After the Jan. 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was “shocked and devastated” by the reports, the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The victims died when the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, during cloudy weather. They were traveling to a youth basketball tournament at Bryant’s sports facility in Thousand Oaks. The National Transportation Safety Board has not concluded what caused the crash on the outskirts of Los Angeles County but said there was no sign of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76. helicopter.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously told news media that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene and he ordered the images deleted. The sheriff said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it does not apply to accident scenes.

“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva previously told NBC News. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did that.”

Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit alleges the sheriff’s actions constituted a “cover-up” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” the lawsuit states.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.

A statement from the sheriff’s department Tuesday incorrectly said such actions are now criminal. The bill has not yet been signed into law.

“Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take and share non-official pictures of this nature,” the statement said. “Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Gary C. Robb, declined to comment.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the allegations that the graphic photos had been taken and disseminated in February.

Bryant previously filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in May. The suit was filed Thursday.

Separately, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a lawsuit alleging the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.

The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, says it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.

Chicago Bulls hire Billy Donovan as coach

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder-Bulls
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Billy Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering a new contract. Maybe it wasn’t as much money as he desired to coach a team that could be entering rebuilding. But active head coaches rarely turn down an NBA job unless they know they’ll land on their feet.

Donovan will land on his feet – with the Bulls.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first broke the story, the Bulls confirmed it soon after.

“We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls. The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level,” Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago.”

This is a major credibility upgrade for Chicago, which fired Jim Boylen. Donovan is a solid NBA head coach who adapts to his players rather than putting them through extreme measures.

Considering they just hired Arturas Karnisovas as president, the Bulls might have the patience for a rebuild. Donovan will be tasked with overseeing the development of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft. Donovan’s time as a college coach at Florida shows he can help players progress.

But Chicago also frequently faces pressure, especially internally, to win sooner than later. Donovan inherits veterans like LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky. Donovan showed at Oklahoma City he could manage a team with immediate expectations.

Is this group’s long-term future inspiring? No. Is this group’s present inspiring? No.

But Donovan provides a little boost in both areas.