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The US men and women’s basketball teams are both gold medal favorites in Tokyo, but their salaries are vastly different back home

Summary List PlacementThere is an eye-opening disparity between the professional salaries of the U.S. men's basketball team members and the U.S. women's basketball team at the Tokyo Olympics. It comes as no surprise that NBA players make more than their WNBA counterparts, but the gap between the two is still jarring, especially considering both are heavy favorites to win gold medals in Tokyo. For instance, Kevin Durant made $39.1 million in salary during the 2020-21 NBA season, the most of any player on the U.S. men's roster, according to Spotrac. Meanwhile, four women's players — Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and...

Composite image of Kevin Durant standing on a large pile of money next to Sue Bird standing on a small pile of money.

Summary List Placement

There is an eye-opening disparity between the professional salaries of the U.S. men’s basketball team members and the U.S. women’s basketball team at the Tokyo Olympics.

It comes as no surprise that NBA players make more than their WNBA counterparts, but the gap between the two is still jarring, especially considering both are heavy favorites to win gold medals in Tokyo.

For instance, Kevin Durant made $39.1 million in salary during the 2020-21 NBA season, the most of any player on the U.S. men’s roster, according to Spotrac.

Meanwhile, four women’s players — Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Britney Griner — share the lead for highest-paid on the women’s roster, at $221,500.

Jerami Grant, Draymond Green, Bam Adebayo, and Devin Booker smile on the court during the Tokyo Olympics.

In fact, the collective WNBA salaries of the women’s team add up to just $1.8 million — less than what Keldon Johnson, the lowest-paid player on the men’s team, made in 2020-21.

When added up, the sum of USA Basketball’s men’s players’ annual NBA salaries is a whopping 128 times higher than the combined WNBA earnings of the entire women’s team.

Check out the chart below, which shows the 2020-21 NBA salaries of the men’s roster vs. the 2021 WNBA salaries for the women’s roster, via Spotrac:

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The disparity could have been even greater. Bradley Beal and Kevin Love were forced to miss the Olympics due to COVID-19 protocols and an injury — the two players made $34.5 million and $31.2 million, respectively, in 2020-21. They were replaced by Johnson and JaVale McGee.

Meanwhile, players like LeBron James ($39.2 million in ’20-21), Stephen Curry ($43 million), James Harden ($44.3 million), and Chris Paul ($41.3 million) opted not to play in the Olympics.

WNBA players aren’t naive to the fact that their league brings in far less revenue than the men’s game elicits. Superstars like Sue Bird have even been vocal about the fact that they don’t think WNBA players “should get the same money as NBA players” — at least not right now.

Britney Griner and Sue Bird high-five teammates at the Tokyo Olympics.

What the WNBA needs, Bird argues, is “the same media coverage and the corporate sponsor looks” as the NBA — which is 50 years older and more established. Then, Bird says, “we can build the business and… when it’s really good — like the NBA is — then we can get that money.”

For years, WNBA players have also argued for a portion of the league’s revenues commensurate with what NBA players receive.

While often misconstrued as a bid for the millions stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry take home each season, the women’s players simply lobbied for a greater percentage of the pie. Whereas James and Curry have long enjoyed a near-50-50 revenue split, the WNBA’s figure hovered around 20%.

The WNBA’s new CBA, which came to fruition in January 2020, offers players a chance to earn that same split contingent upon the league hitting its revenue goals. It also included significant player salary increases, a deeper pool of marketing dollars, and additional cash compensation opportunities for players.

In 2021, the WNBA’s supermax salary cashed in at $221,450 — approximately $100,000 more than it was before the new CBA came into play. It’s still a far, far cry from the multi-millions NBA stars command, but with time and equal investment, the league could make strides in that department. 

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