kyrie-irving.jpg

When the WNBA set its plan to tip off the 2020 season in a central location, it gave players the opportunity to opt out due to concerns about COVID-19, among other issues. However, the league said that only players who had medical exemptions from the league would receive their salary. That's beneficial for those who were able to receive medical opt outs from the league, like Tina Charles and Liz Cambage. Yet for players like Natasha Cloud and Renee Montgomery, who chose to sit out in order to focus on social justice issues in their communities, they knew they'd be sacrificing a paycheck.

Kyrie Irving, though, has ensured that WNBA players won't have to worry about not getting paid this season. The Brooklyn Nets All-Star created a $1.5 million fund that will go toward helping pay the salaries for WNBA players who chose to sit out for COVID-19 reasons, or to fight for social justice issues. 

"Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions," Irving said in a statement.

The money will come from the "KAI Empowerment Initiative," which Irving launched on Monday. The website created for the initiative says that in addition to helping pay for WNBA player salaries, it will also provide "access to a comprehensive financial literacy program provided by UBS." Per the website, the requirements for players to receive compensation are as followed:

  • Be an active WNBA player who has opted out of the 2020 season.
  • Share insight into circumstances surrounding reason to opt out.
  • Cannot receive support for salary from any other entity or organization.
  • Medical opt out considerations must be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Irving said, via the Associated Press, that Cloud and Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd helped him get into contact with WNBA players across the league to discuss the difficulties in making the decision to opt out of the season. While Irving is not playing in the NBA's bubble in Orlando due to a shoulder surgery, he has been a vocal critic of the league's plan, primarily due to the current national discussion being had about racial inequality and police brutality in America. The six-time All-Star held a television special calling for justice for the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police after they executed a no-knock warrant at her apartment in search of drugs, which were not found. 

The WNBA dedicated the 2020 season to social justice, and when games tipped off on June 25, all players had Breonna Taylor's name on the back of their jerseys. Players also wore "Black Lives Matter" shirts during warm-ups, and when the national anthem was played ahead of the first game of the season, both the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm players left the court. Both teams also held 26 seconds of silence in honor of Taylor's age when she was killed.