Closing The Gap

Kyrie Irving commits $1.5 million to help cover the salaries of WNBA players sitting out this season

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on February 1, 2020 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is doing his part to ensure that his WNBA peers can opt out of playing this season without having to worry about their finances. 

The 28-year-old point guard recently announced that through his KAI Empowerment Initiative, he is committing $1.5 million to help cover the salaries of WNBA players who forgo playing during the 2020 season, reports the Associated Press. Currently, WNBA executives and players have agreed that any person who is considered "at risk" for the virus can opt out of playing this season and still receive a full paycheck, according to NBC Sports. Meanwhile, other athletes who are not "at risk" can decide not to play for various reasons, but they will not receive any pay.  

In addition to the fund, Irving has also partnered with the investment banking company UBS to provide financial literacy programs to all WNBA players, not just those who qualify for the money. 

"This platform was created to provide support for all WNBA players in hopes to relieve some of the financial strain imposed during these challenging times," Irving said in a statement. "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."

To qualify, players must provide details around their decision to not play this season and they must verify that they are not receiving additional financial support from other organizations. The deadline to apply is August 11, with recipients of the money being notified on August 24. 

Right now, the top annual salary in the WNBA is a little over $200,000, according to AP. Meaning that even if a player does get paid, her salary doesn't even compare to the millions of dollars top NBA players make each season, including Stephen Curry who made more than $40 million last year. 

Natasha Cloud and Bradley Beal speak at a press conference to raise awareness for social justice issues on June 19, 2020 in Washington DC. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)
Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images

Irving, who makes an annual average salary of roughly $34 million, said he was inspired to start the fund after WNBA players Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics and Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm connected him with several of their WNBA peers who discussed some of the challenges they would face if they opted not to play when the season started on July 25. Through these conversations, he said, "I have learned about the challenges and opportunities of their decisions and how it will impact their lives, family, and overall wellbeing."

Already Cloud, along with Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream, have announced that instead of playing this season they will be using their time to fight for social and racial justice. In addition to these players, at least 10 other players in the league have announced that they will not be playing because of health concerns or personal reasons. 

In a recent interview with ESPN's The Undefeated, Cloud said, "It's hard to think about basketball with the climate of what we're in right now socially after George Floyd was murdered." 

Though her decision to sit out this season wasn't easy, she said, "I understand that I chose the path that was much greater than myself and much greater than basketball."

CNBC Make It is NOW STREAMING on Peacock. Find our original programming in the Channels section.

Don't miss: ESPN's Maria Taylor on fighting voter suppression with LeBron and using her voice to create change

How LeBron James inspired former NFL player Marques Colston to go into business
How LeBron James inspired former NFL player Marques Colston to go into business