New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier plan to launch a US-based off-season basketball league for WNBA players.
The All-Stars spoke with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne about the proposed league intended to present an alternative for players who travel overseas to play in the league’s offseason. The new league would be called Unrivaled and would feature 30 players across six teams. It would run from January to March and include 3v3 and 1v1 competitions, all played in Miami.
WNBA players have long traveled to play internationally in the offseason due to lucrative contracts being offered overseas. Britney Griner was traveling to perform for UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia when she was arrested and ultimately held prisoner by the country’s government for 10 months.
Stewart told Shelburne that Unrivaled will enforce the league’s collectively negotiated “prioritization” clause, which came into effect this season and requires players to prioritize their WNBA contracts over others. In practice, that means showing up for the first day of WNBA training camp instead of staying overseas, where seasons can last until May.
Veteran players this season who failed to show up on the first day of training camp on April 30 were fined 1% of their salary for each day missed. Players unavailable for the first day of the season on May 19 have been suspended. Starting in 2024, players are subject to suspension if they fail to show up on the first day of training camp.
The clause was a point of contention on the part of the players’ union, but they eventually caved in for gains elsewhere in the negotiations.
“It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best players in the WNBA,” Stewart told ESPN of Unrivaled. “We can’t keep fighting [the WNBA’s prioritization rule]. It’s a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it’s still a rule.”
Stewart earned around $1.5 million a year in previous offseasons playing in Russia. She played in Türkiye this last off-season. The WNBA supermax contract is paying $234,936 this season.
According to ESPN, Unrivaled’s financial goal is to raise private and sponsorship funds to provide a salary that matches what players earn during the WNBA season. Stewart said she has been in touch with many potential business partners.
Stewart and Collier, who played together in college at UConn, came up with the idea over dinner alongside Collier’s husband, Alex Bazzell. Another league goal is to allow players to stay closer to their families during the offseason. Collier gave birth to her first child with Bazzell in 2022 and stopped playing overseas.
“I’m a homebody by nature,” Collier told ESPN. “I love being home for the holidays. Being away from family for six months is not easy. Then the idea of having a family trying to find childcare at the stranger. That was kind of the main reason.”
Stewart and Collier hope to launch Unrivaled in January.