Personal Finance

This WNBA superstar earns just 20% of an NBA player's salary

Key Points
  • WNBA superstar Nneka Ogwumike makes more than most league players, though it's a far cry from what men in the NBA take home.
  • She plays overseas during the off-season to supplement her earnings.
  • Ogwumike says most players in the league earn the bulk of their income on the side.
Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike (30) high fives teammates in Game 1 in the WNBA basketball final Sept. 24, 2017, in Minneapolis.
Stacy Bengs | AP

Los Angeles Sparks superstar Nneka Ogwumike made the game-winning shot to clinch the WNBA championship title for her team last year.

Yet when it comes to income, her paycheck falls short. In fact, side gigs make up the bulk of Ogwumike's earnings.

Even now as an MVP with a slew of awards and championship titles, she still makes a fraction what her male counterparts take home.

The average salary in the WNBA starts at around $50,000 and caps at $110,000. By comparison, the starting salary for the NBA is about $560,000, according to published reports.

"I feel like we have a lot of work to do," she said in a conversation with Maverick Carter in an episode of "Kneading Dough," a new series by Chase and digital media company Uninterrupted.

And that's coming from the No. 1 overall draft pick and winner of the Rookie of the Year award in 2012.

"Once you get more eyes on us, more ears on us, it'll bring more business and more private entities that help support us," the 6-foot-2 forward added.

I feel like we have a lot of work to do.
Nneka Ogwumike
L.A. Sparks MVP on the gender pay gap in basketball

Of course, it's not just basketball. Even when comparing the sexes with the same job title at the same company and using similar education and experience, the gender pay gap persists across the board: Men earned 2.4 percent more than women on average, down slightly from last year, according to a study by salary-tracking website PayScale.

As a woman, Ogwumike said she didn't realize she could make a living playing basketball until senior year of college, at which point she graduated early and signed with the Sparks.

To earn extra cash, the 27-year-old all-star said, many of her teammates work on the side or have started their own businesses. "A major majority of us have degrees," she said. "You have a lot of very ambitious women in the league."

As for Ogwumike, she said she makes the bulk of her living playing basketball in Russia, with the Dynamo Kursk squad, in the off-season. She said most players in the league earn the majority of their income on the side.

And still, she's conservative with her spending and saving: She doesn't own a house or even a car.

She stays focused on a few investments and beefs up her retirement savings. "I've maxed out my 401(k) every year so by the time I get out, I'll be good."

"When it comes to managing your finances, once you start making more money you shouldn't get too carried away," she said. "You can't cut yourself off from things that you want — here and there you should treat yourself; you just have to be smart."

Her guilty pleasure? "When I'm in Russia, I always go to Nobu," she said. (The pricey Japanese-fusion franchise, first launched in New York, has expanded internationally and now comprises 37 restaurants, including one in Moscow.)

The goal of Ogwumike's frugal approach, with the exception of an occasional sushi dinner out, is for continued success even after her basketball career is over. "I want to get a master's in public relations and involve myself in the sports world again," she said. "Maybe as the president of a club or even the league."

Ogwumike shared the financial lessons she lives by in the latest episode of "Kneading Dough." Earlier episodes featured tennis great Serena Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.