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Unrivaled Holds Promise for WNBA Players in the Offseason


Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited


Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the struggles of WNBA players to have viable and safe careers as professional basketball players. WNBA seasons are about five months long (May-September) compared to eight months (October-April) for the NBA. This shortened season reduces the earning potential of WNBA players and the long offseason means they need to figure out how to stay in shape and improve their skills for the next season.


Two offseason playing opportunities include a league called Athletes Unlimited (which is going into its third season) or playing overseas. Athletes Unlimited is an opportunity for WNBA athlete’s to play in a short five week season sometime from January to March. This does allow players to make some additional money and continue developing as players without having to leave the U.S. Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud is a big supporter of Athletes Unlimited and said, “To have another league here in the States, that’s only five weeks of play, it’s an elite level of play, you get to be conditioned and get in game play right before the W season. It’s a protection of the W’s investment.” Playing internationally is what many other players do, and they get paid for doing so.

Courtesy of Jade Hewitt Media


While playing overseas provides opportunities for players to make more money, it also can be a lot for athletes to handle. The offseason is not only supposed to be a time for players to improve before the new season, but it is also supposed to be a time for athlete’s to enjoy other parts of their life. Spending time with family and doing other things they enjoy is difficult for those overseas. This can be both physically and mentally demanding, as they are expected to focus mainly on basketball. Along with this, player safety is a concern for those traveling out of the country. Making international play even harder is the WNBA prioritization rule, which states all players must be back for training camp, which often overlaps with the overseas league season. This makes players face a difficult choice of whether to stay or leave.


Former UConn teammates, forwards Breanna Stewart (New York Liberty) and Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx), are introducing a new U.S. women’s basketball league called Unrivaled. This league is set to launch in 2024 and will take place in Miami from January to March. Unrivaled will be made up of 30 WNBA players organized into six different teams who will come together to play 3-on-3 games. By creating this league, Stewart and Collier hope to provide another opportunity for players to improve their play during the offseason while making money.

Courtesy of Jessica Hill


The 3-on-3 game style is nothing new to many WNBA players as this is the format used for Team USA. Many agree that converting the skills they learned during 3-on-3 games can be passed on when they play 5-on-5 games. With less players on the court, more is expected from every player. Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum said, “I would say also it’s very good for development. It’s fast-paced. You have to make quick decisions. You can’t really lean on anyone offensively or defensively, you kind of have to figure it out, which is one of the biggest reasons for the development.”


While Stewart and Collier’s new league has drawn some excitement, the new format will need to be tested. Can Unrivaled draw a big enough fan base during an already busy time in sports with the NFL, NBA, and college basketball seasons in full swing? Is there enough space for Athletes Unlimited and Unrivaled to co-exist? Only time will tell, but for now it's an exciting time for fans and female athletes.


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