The life of a WNBA player, if you have not guessed, is not so glamorous. The best women’s basketball players in the world assemble in the United States for top-level competition to play for an average of $72,000 in front of sparse crowds for the most part.
The state of women’s basketball is such that almost every player in the WNBA plays year-round, heading to Europe during the WNBA’s “offseason” to make their real living.
It also makes them something of experts on European basketball culture and life overseas. It is a necessity for the best women’s basketball players in the world.
“Spain or Italy, it’s beautiful, but they’ll find that the money’s not there,” Sky forward Michelle Snow told Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. “They may go to a country like Russia where you’ll find the money but there’s absolutely nothing to do (in small towns where some teams are located). I hibernate for seven months.”
There are language and cultural barriers that players have to overcome when they decide to play overseas. For many of these players the experience can be quite isolating. And unless you are Becky Hammon or Diana Taurasi, you simply are not making that much. Playing year-round is a necessity for these players.
It appears most of the NBA players are looking to go to more familiar territory — Turkey and China seem to be the favorites. The fact those countries are more Western could help NBA players transition. They certainly will have marketing opportunities than WNBA players might.
But there is another adjustment American players have to make. The basketball culture is simply different in Europe. And it carries over to the women’s game too. That makes you think the intensity of these games only increases for the men’s games and teams.
WNBA players report similar experiences about long practices and crazed fans as many of the men do. That is very different from the comparatively staid and corporate mannerisms of American fans and coaches. Snow said fans bring horns, smoke and banners, to cheer on games as if it were a soccer match. And if you look up soccer fans on YouTube I am sure you will get some interesting results.
Those same fans are also known to freely throw items onto the court — everything from batteries and extension cords to coins. It is not the same type of security for player safety. And throwing things at players goes for both home and visiting players.
American players will have to also fight national biases. As Snow explains, many Europeans blame the U.S. for the economic recession. They freely vent their frustrations at American players.
And then you get into the long, taxing practices that are the hallmarks of European coaches. It is easy to see how culturally different Europe can be.
As the WNBA players can tell NBA players, go to Europe at your own risk.