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Salaries remain an issue in WNBA

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 30. 2014 4:00AM

Mohegan

They were part of an original idea almost 20 years ago now, an idea instantly legitimate because of its ties to the National Basketball Association. Rebecca Lobo. Cynthia Cooper. Tina Thompson. The pioneers. The framers. The spinners and the bards of this wacky concept that women could play professional basketball in the United States.

And darn, if the WNBA hasn't become the longest running women's professional sports league in the history of the world. Surely, the Dianas and the Mayas and the Candaces have waved the flag beautifully. But without the framers, would the apocryphal flag exist?

Hence, a question all framers must ponder: If we knew they were going to act like this, would we have even bothered? It's sort of like wondering if the Tea Party Patriots knew so many dim bulbs would retard America's evolution over the next 241 years, would they have just skipped the tea and thrown themselves into the harbor?

This is the WNBA now. The sweat that went into building the longest running women's professional sports league in the history of the world has created the I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it crowd. Diva-ization Nation. It just happened to the Connecticut Sun with Tina Charles: Give me what I want or I'm not playing for you.

Charles isn't the first. Won't be the last. Maybe some of the framers don't care. Or maybe they bristle at how their league has become a personal pawn to some younger women who can't quite recite Helen Reddy.

The Sun held their first media opportunity in the Post Diva Era on Tuesday afternoon in Neon Uncasville. Lots of young faces, happy faces, fresh outlooks.

Amid the optimism, though, is the very real fact that the Sun got held up last month, mostly because Tina Charles could. Can the WNBA fix this, or is the league in need of a hostage negotiator?

"A team has the right to match a restricted free agent's offer (Charles was a restricted free agent). We had asked about a two-year contract, not a four-year contract, for her to see we were going in the right direction," Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko said. "Basically she flat out said no. We thought it was important for people to know what happened and for other teams to be prepared for these kinds of situations, too."

It comes down to what everything else comes down to: money. Women's basketball players make more overseas. Lots more. Kalana Greene said Tuesday "five and six times and more."

And so the threat of sitting out a season and losing a WNBA maximum salary of around $110,000 now is a duller ache when that's lunch money by comparison.

"What's unfortunate is that this is their home country where you'd think they have the most visibility or endorsement opportunities," Sienko said. "Ultimately if the salaries do grow, it might make people question decisions (of choosing to sit out)."

Greene: "A lot of people I know of, big players, players the league needs, contemplate whether they're going to play here all the time. Your body breaks down, lots of things. After some point, how much exposure do you need? If you made your mark here, how much more do you need?

"I understand why wages are what they are. I'm not nave enough to think they should pay us all millions of dollars if you don't have millions to pay. They're doing a good job with what they have. But players make five and six times, even more over there. It's hard, but it's the truth."

Sun guard Katie Douglas expressed her desire to return to Indiana after the 2007 season. Why? Because she could. Connecticut never got fair market value in return. It hurt the franchise.

Douglas, back with the Sun (and happy to be here) said Tuesday that if the league changes the structure of free agency - the league's new Collective Bargaining Agreement restricts players from becoming free agents for several years - then perhaps sanctions could be levied against players who refuse to play.

More money wouldn't hurt either.

"That would change everything," she said. "Then maybe players wouldn't be forced to go overseas."

The WNBA pays what it can to survive. More teams are turning profits. Corporate sponsorship grows. But the days of the $400,000 maximum salaries won't come for a while.

Maybe when the divas have their own kids.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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