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WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier launch new 3-on-3 league

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Posted at 4:55 PM, Jun 07, 2024

(CNN) — Amid the historic interest in women’s basketball, a new professional league in the US could grow the game even further and make it easier for stars to stay in the country during the WNBA offseason.

At least that’s what Unrivaled co-founders and current WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier are hoping when the new 3-on-3 basketball league starts in January with six teams and 30 players playing in Miami.

Stewart is in her eighth WNBA season, is a two-time champion with the Seattle Storm and now plays with the New York Liberty. Collier, with the Minnesota Lynx, is in her sixth WNBA season.

“For years, women have relied heavily on off-court sponsorships for a majority of their income,” Stewart said in a statement. “With Unrivaled, we’re revolutionizing the game by prioritizing investments in our stars and ensuring their on-court performance is reflected in their pay.”

Collier said that she and Stewart wanted “to create a league that would change the way women’s sports are viewed and ultimately how sports leagues operate.”

“We may have had the vision, but this isn’t just our league – it belongs to the players, and the Unrivaled model reflects that,” she said, adding that the league would be player-owned and would provide players with “equity opportunities.”

In addition to the equity stake, the duo said all salaries would be six figures, touting “the highest average salary in women’s professional sports league history.”

The WNBA has welcomed Unrivaled’s impending launch.

“On behalf of the WNBA, we applaud WNBA stars Napheesa Collier and Breanna Stewart on launching Unrivaled,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert wrote on social media. “The momentum for women’s basketball has never been greater, and we will continue to work with them to showcase the amazing players of the WNBA.”

The new league hopes to be able to help players to stay in the US, rather than play overseas in the offseason where their salaries are double or triple what they make in the WNBA.

Currently this year’s number one draft pick, Caitlin Clark, will receive just over $76,000 annually and Jackie Young, the highest paid player in the league, will make $252,450 annually.

While the higher salaries and playing opportunities in Europe and Asia have been alluring, the WNBA’s prioritization clause has made it harder for veteran players to play both in the league and overseas.

Beginning this season, according to the WNBA collective bargaining agreement, if players did not report to their team by the start of the season, they’d be suspended without pay for the year. Now, opportunities like Unrivaled and Athletes Unlimited, a pro basketball league started in 2022, would allow players to remain in the US.

Unrivaled’s launch comes after Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia. Griner was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months while she was playing for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason after authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage.

So far, Collier and Stewart said they have already secured “reigning WNBA All-Stars” to join the league and rosters will be announced later this summer.

Both Stewart and Collier themselves are top players in the WNBA. Stewart is the league’s reigning MVP and a five-time WNBA All Star, while Collier is three-time All Star. The two are also looking to make USA Basketball’s Olympic roster.

Stewart, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is hoping to make her third Olympic team. While Collier, a gold medalist with the team in Tokyo, is looking to play in her second Olympics.

Before Unrivaled debuts in 2025, 3-on-3 basketball will be on full display at the Olympics this summer in Paris. The event was first featured at the Tokyo Olympics where the US women’s team made history, winning the sport’s first gold medal.

“The marketability of women’s basketball players is at an all-time high and we view Unrivaled as a platform to help our athletes maximize their moment,” Alex Bazzell, president of Unrivaled and Collier’s husband, said in the league’s press release.

Off the court, Unrivaled has already drawn in star power with investors like soccer stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe and NBA greats Steve Nash and Carmelo Anthony. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who coached Stewart and Collier to the 2016 NCAA championship, is also one of the investors.

Two of the other investors, John Skipper and David Levy, “will be spearheading league media rights.” Skipper is the co-founder of Meadowlark Media and former president of ESPN, while Levy is the co-founder/co-CEO of Horizon Sports & Experiences and the former president of Turner.