• Cameron Tabatabaie

Kyrie Irving Supports WNBA Players Skipping Season With $1.5 Commitment

Kyrie Irving supports WNBA players skipping season with $1.5 commitment

Amid the twin threats of the on-going COVID pandemic and our country’s moment of racial introspection, the WNBA has stood tall. The league’s players in particular have been vocal about right and wrong.

Headlined by Maya Moore, there are over a dozen pro ballers in the WNBA who have decided to skip the league’s 2020 season for either health concerns or to focus on advocacy. The median salary in the WNBA is close to $53,000.

As such, choosing to step away from the action, especially for an entire season, could be a very consequential decision.

It was announced NBA point guard Kyrie Irving would be committing $1.5 million to support any WNBA player who chose to skip the WNBA’s Bubble season down at the IMG Academy in Florida. Irving launched the KAI Empowerment Initiative on Monday.

The KAI Empowerment Initiative is designed to provide financial support for individual players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) who are active but will not play in the 2020 WNBA season due to personal, professional, health, and/or safety-related reasons. The KAI Empowerment Initiative is fully funded by Kyrie Irving who has committed $1.5 million to these efforts. In addition, the program will give all WNBA players access to a comprehensive financial literacy program provided by UBS.

The above is from the KAI Empowerment Initiative website. It goes on to outline the stipulations associated with receiving support. Players must apply by August 11th and will receive notification on their application by the 24th.

Per the site, the funds are available to current WNBA players who have opted out of the 2020 season. Each applicant must explain her reason for missing the year, and not receive other financial support during this time.

The Initiative seems to be in partnership with the KAI Family Foundation, a charitable group based in Tucson, AZ that supports education and the needs of the rural poor.

Irving said that he talked with Natasha Cloud - one of the players choosing to sit out for advocacy reasons - and Jewell Loyd. The two expressed the financial concerns shared by their WNBA colleagues. Irving’s long-time friend, Sue Bird, has also been a vocal advocate for using the league’s platform for good.

Though it is not yet clear how many players will ultimately qualify for support under the KAI Empowerment Initiative, Irving’s motives are clear.

“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.

Irving will not be with the Nets as his own league resumes action in Orlando; he is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Still, Irving has used his own platform to amplify not just the financial hardships of some of his peers, but also to continue to advocate for justice and change. Irving produced a television special centered on Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman shot and killed by plainclothes police officers in Louisville in March of this year.

The NBA has a long history of political activism, and this moment is no exception. That said, what Irving is offering here is pragmatic, creative, and quite generous. The world needs more Uncle Drews.