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04 24, 2024

The Entrenched Pro Basketball System Fails Caitlin Clark And Women Athletes

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Legendary investor, Bill Gurley, once warned us that incumbents keep out new, innovative, and disruptive competitors by ‘gaming the system’ in their favor. It’s an age-old story; those with power often give lip service to change yet shun genuine innovation that threatens their supremacy. The massive business of sports is no different. How many great, cool things have we all been deprived of because of resistance to change? In sports, how many great innovations have been snuffed out because behemoths in charge use their market power to crush anything new? People are deprived of new, fun, amazing things when innovation is killed, and we all suffer when competition is killed.

Recently we witnessed phenomenon Caitlin Clark electrify not just fans of women’s basketball but seemingly captivate the attention and adoration of the entire American populace. While making attendance and ratings history, Catlin made lots of people lots of money and has just begun her journey. Social media posts from countless sports fans now decry the unfair state of women’s basketball that only pays Caitlin $76,535 as a rookie and locks her in at under $100,000 for each of her first four seasons in the WNBA. While I agree many women in the WNBA including Caitlin are pathetically under-compensated, I believe the blame is pointing in the wrong direction.

Players (labor) and consumers are not a priority to sports’ powerful incumbents when they exert their power. Worse, the biggest impediment to empowering female as well as male black and brown basketball players is the fact that white MEN run basketball. While the NBA C-Suite slickly bombards fans with “woke” catchphrases, do these suits in charge really want change? There are no Black or female owners of NBA teams, and NBA players might be well compensated but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t looked at and treated as the “hired help.” And crucially, the NBA holds the reins over the WNBA, perpetuating this imbalance.

Which brings me back to Caitlin Clark.

She not only represents an incredibly entertaining piece of business as an athlete playing for the BIG3, but she would also provide our league a perfect engine for driving the breakdown of further stereotypes and promoting diversity by showcasing a female competing at a world-class level with men.

That’s why we made an offer to Caitlin. On a personal level, we guaranteed Caitlin that Nancy Lieberman, the pioneering women’s basketball great and two-time Hall of Fame player, would be her coach. And financially, compared to her paltry WNBA salary it was a MEGA offer. Ten million dollars of salary over two years, a percentage of team ownership worth millions, fifty percent of merchandising revenues from her name and likeness, and ownership of a BIG3 documentary with a seven-figure advance. In total, we’re talking fifteen million dollars or more to merely play a ten-game season. While still allowing her to play in the WNBA. The absolute best of both worlds!

By playing in both leagues, her sponsorship potential would increase dramatically too. Kobe Bryant always believed that a female player would make it to the highest level to play against men professionally. Lieberman’s own experience competing against men and the resultant surge in her marketability served as a precursor to what could have been for Caitlin.

RELATED: Caitlin Clark’s 8-Year Nike Deal Worth Up To $28 Million: REPORT

Additionally, a two-league arrangement would benefit from the BIG3’s consistently growing domestic and international reach further amplifying Caitlin’s market value – especially given the BIG3’s higher television ratings and attendance, with regular-season ratings actually higher than that of even the NHL and MLS. A two-league deal for Caitlin would present the perfect solution to the very problem posted recently on X by President Biden, “Women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all. But right now, we’re seeing that even if you’re the best, women are not paid their fair share.”

But alas, men run the business of basketball.

And those men are driven to protect the incumbent system. The NBA will tell you the WNBA does not make money, but surprisingly a solid percentage of the NBA teams don’t either in any given year. Sports is about team asset appreciation and that is why all those owners are making billions. Yet, if the NBA siphons off the merchandising, sponsorship, and media money by using the WNBA in its deals, how can women benefit from the change in consumer preference?

When asked about the BIG3 offer during the NCAA tournament, Caitlin said “I found out about the BIG3 thing the same time you all did.” We have reason to believe these male agents and executives controlling the sport never even shared our trailblazing offer with Caitlin let alone facilitated Caitlin meeting with the BIG3 to discuss the opportunity. From our perspective, these representatives don’t seem to work for an individual client like Caitlin. They seem to work for the NBA mob, as their client list is a who’s who of NBA players. Do we expect them to prioritize Caitlin over the NBA – the top employer of their most highly-paid clients? The NBA commands by fear, and they make sure their industry of agents, lawyers, managers, and networks stay in line. And that line is to prevent BIG3 success, even if it stunts the growth of women’s basketball. Amid current negotiations of critical NBA new media deals, you can imagine the pressure on the NBA feeder system easily trumps any of Caitlin’s or other promising woman players’ best interests.

Don’t think so? These same agents, whose clients include Tiger Woods, let all their golf clients pass on over a billion dollars from LIV ostensibly because it was tainted “Saudi” money, yet here a diverse set of American backers of the certified Black-owned league BIG3 were seemingly stymied by them as well as an NBA that approved funding by Hamas benefactors Qatar. Were the backers the real reason, or were agents siding with the incumbent, ruling white men of the PGA when they passed on life-changing pay for their clients? In the end, even Rory had to admit LIV ended up getting them all better treated and compensated by providing an alternative that benefited even those who stuck with the PGA.

See a pattern here?

Ice Cube and I emphasized innovation for fans and athletes when conceptualizing our new league BIG3, now in its seventh season broadcast on sports powerhouse CBS and X worldwide. BIG3 was the first pro league to implement a mental health policy, favor CBD as a pain management alternative to opioids, enlist female coaches of men, and appoint a Black Commissioner in Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who is also pro sports first former player serving as Commissioner. Our inaugural CEO was the legendary, incomparable Raider executive Amy Trask. We hired coach Charles Oakley after the legendary Knick was disgracefully tackled and forcibly removed from Madison Square Garden where he had given 100 percent as a player. That’s us in a nutshell. Oakley gave the NBA his all just to get pissed on. These were not “woke” hires; this was getting the best and treating them like the best which is why our league succeeds. In fact, two “bests” – coaches Nancy Lieberman and Lisa Leslie – both won BIG3 championships. For fans, BIG3 offers hard defensive play, no garbage minutes, quick action, and innovations that have transformed backyard 3-on-3 into the professional sport Fireball3. Our success has given the NBA plenty of innovative ideas they’ve happily employed and declared their own.

Before BIG3’s first-ever game, we met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and daringly suggested that blocking former players who received appearance fees from their old NBA teams from participating in BIG3 – such as Hall of Famers George Gervin and Allen Iverson – was a modern-day form of plantation mentality. And contrary to Silver’s recounting, we NEVER asked for an investment. In fact, we offered ten percent of BIG3 FOR FREE, recognizing the same dynamic when the Mafia or a drug dealer demands a piece of the action in exchange for “territory” access. The basketball Don and his NBA mob instead tried unsuccessfully to kick us off “their corner” attempting unsuccessfully to crush us in service of their market share protection racket.

Unfortunately for them, Ice Cube and I are missioned to better society as we pursue business success. That potent combination makes it hard to knock us down. It also raises profiles and attracts esteemed recognition, as with the Basketball Hall of Fame establishing the annual Ice Cube Impact Award honoring those using basketball to better society. That’s right, Ice Cube has an exhibit in the very same Hall of Fame as BIG3 coaches Dr. J, Gary Payton, Nancy and Lisa, Rick Barry, Micheal Cooper, and future Hall of Famer and league champion Stephen Jackson.

As part of the brethren of basketball royalty, the NBA mob will NOT shake us!

For decades I fought the “system” on behalf of world-class film and music talent, achieving unprecedented control and prosperity for them while providing superior entertainment experiences for their fans. Often I heard, “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again,” but I ignored those threats. From my BIG3 partner Ice Cube to numerous other artists including Snoop Dogg, Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Enrique Iglesias, and Jennifer Lopez, I battled a system hellbent on maintaining the status quo so my clients could innovate on their terms and entertain audiences around the world.

RELATED: Can NBA Playoffs And LeBron James Keep Up With Women’s Basketball And Caitlin Clark In TV Ratings?

I ate a lot of lunches before deciding it was now time to innovate in sports. Cube and I along with our ragtag crew of believers in our vision dove into the world of sports with the intent to build a thriving and innovative entertainment sports business, which we have. But to do so, successful execution meant putting the right puzzle pieces together which also happened to perfectly serve our desire to fulfill a greater purpose – helping to break down stereotypes, promote diversity in sports, create opportunities for black, brown, and female athletes beyond the court, and to support the black community overall. And before anyone raises an eyebrow, we have never prioritized that mission over the capitalistic well-being of our league. Instead, our elevated vocation just happens to drive our success.

That’s not to say there aren’t innovators. As a league, the NFL is self-confident enough to allow the AAF, XFL, and USFL to take their best shots. Roger Goodell knows he can out-innovate any of them. In representation, Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk fearlessly forced revolutionary demands on the NBA creating enormous opportunities for the G.O.A.T. — opening doors for other players for generations to come. If only David Falk represented Caitlin, I bet the outcome would’ve unleashed innovation benefiting Caitlin, many of her female peers, and the women’s game overall.

BIG3 is forging a path of opportunity and recognition for Black, brown, and female athletes.

NBA superstar Jaylen Brown, also a high-ranking member of the NBPA, clearly gets it. He demanded to play in our all-star game at the O2 arena in London despite direct threats of fines and suspensions from the NBA brass including Silver himself, and he flew to London at his own expense and played for free. If Caitlin is reluctant to play in our defense-oriented and physical league, fair enough. We also certainly understand the pressure a 22-year-old faces, especially one focused on just competing and enjoying her sport. We don’t know or may never know if she would’ve been a BIG3 star, but the same could’ve been said of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson playing two sports, or of Billie Jean King, and even Jackie Robinson. Regardless of her eventual level of performance, our goal at the BIG3 was to make Caitlin on our court a legendary win for EVERYONE. Surely BIG3 would’ve benefited, the difference is we were not greedy to the point of not giving much of the benefit to the person helping to make it happen.

Cube and I view this moment as one when the tables could have been forever turned in the great favor of women athletes. However, this historic opportunity may have been lost. Stars like Britney Griner and others will still need to risk spending time in Russian jails because they must play abroad to eat and live. They can thank the men guarding the system for that. I can only imagine how many other great ideas were killed in the cradle by the NBA and their sycophant supporters who are often incentivized to sell out their client’s best interest for that of the NBA.

Resistance to change, especially when it crosses the line into anticompetitive behavior, hurts everyone.

Fortunately, the United States Department of Justice is currently investigating the NBA for its transgressions against BIG3. We’ll see how that plays out, and for female players around the world, I hope justice will prevail.

RELATED: Over 3,000 Current & Former Female Athletes, Coaches Urge NCAA Board Of Governors To ‘Protect Women’s Sports’

We are both proud and appreciative of our players, who are fairly and equally compensated as we build the BIG3 and fortify the league’s financial wherewithal. Caitlin could’ve been our Lionel Messi – resulting in a monumental rising tide raising all boats. Our players and Hall of Fame coaches yearned for such a revolutionary player to join our collective mission changing leverage across the sports world. It could’ve been our Billie Jean King/ Bobby Riggs moment in history. But no matter what happens from here, we believe in Caitlin. She will have reverberations for women athletes everywhere.

That said, a simple meeting with us would have better and more immediately impacted ALL female athletes. A simple sixty minutes would’ve given her leverage either by the threat of true competition with another league, or by the promise of exponentially calling her own market value. This could have set a precedent for the WNBA, prompting necessary changes in compensation and treatment. With the WNBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions on the horizon, the timing couldn’t have been more opportune.

Bill Gurley told us, “If you care about prosperity, and you kill innovation, you’re going to kill prosperity.” Boy was he right…