Athletes Unlimited basketball league to debut

“I was like, ‘When you’re all ready for basketball, call me,'” Cloud said. “And they were like, ‘Okay; it happens.’

“They are like two amazing – and I mean it in the best way – white men who literally believe in women and keep women’s sport here and present opportunities and resources that have mostly not been presented to us in any other framework.

The Athletes Unlimited basketball league is set to debut in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a unique model. The league is entirely player-driven, with a Players’ Executive Committee overseeing every detail of the league, as there are no individual team owners. Cloud is a member of the committee — along with current and former WNBA players in Tianna Hawkins, Sydney Colson, Ty Young and Jantel Lavender — and began recruiting as soon as she received word from the founders.

The league features four teams with four captains who draft their rosters, although the teams change weekly. The system is built around a player ranking instead of a team ranking. Players rack up or lose points for team wins and individual stats and are named the game’s MVP. At the end of each week, the top four players are named captain for the following week and teams are re-formed.

Kelsey Mitchell (2018 WNBA Draft No. 2 pick), Mercedes Russell (WNBA Champion), Odyssey Sims (2014 WNBA Pick No. 2), and DiJonai Carrington are the Week 1 captains. Games will be televised on YouTube, CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports 2 this week.

Dallas Wings forward Isabelle Harrison was the first pick in the draft. Cloud, a second-round pick, plays for Team Carrington in week one.

“The Athletes Unlimited model is all about a kind of close connection between fans and the athletes they love,” Patricof said. “What we’ve seen is that in professional sports, a lot of fans have followed players through their careers from their college days and then usually to multiple professional teams. … So people develop favorite players, and they follow them through their careers, so we really lean into that.

The most intriguing and perhaps impactful aspect of the league is being an alternative for WNBA players who don’t want to play overseas. Many spend the offseason across the ocean playing in a variety of countries to supplement WNBA salaries that still have a long way to go for all players.

Athletes Unlimited has a pool of approximately $1 million for salaries, and players will receive an average of over $20,000 including bonuses. Players can earn bonuses based on where they land in the points standings or by being part of teams that lead at the end of quarters and win games. The league champion will earn nearly $40,000.

Foreign leagues can present all sorts of problems, from medical care to facilities to getting paid on time. None of this includes language barriers and having to spend months in a foreign country.

Cloud said she never liked playing overseas and noted that different cultures can be particularly difficult for women. She’s been thinking and hoping for alternatives since her rookie year.

Another aspect that fits well with Cloud is the league’s Athletes Causes program, which donates 50% of a player’s season bonuses to a charity of their choice. Cloud performs for Planned Parenthood

The league has been busy preparing for the debut, announcing additional partners such as Nike, Gatorade and Topps, as well as deals with a variety of well-known women’s basketball content creators.

It’s really crazy to be in this opportunity, but these are the rooms we both want to be in,” Cloud said. “I really believe this is the next step for women’s basketball here in the United States. I hope that years later people won’t go overseas because we made this so strong and that it matches the W perfectly.

“That’s what I keep saying in all these conversations or interviews: we’re the perfect protection for their investment. We keep the players at home. It’s only six weeks of play. You have proper care and treatment, facilities. All those things that you don’t necessarily get abroad, you get here. You can keep your players at home, in the market, and then there’s about a month between the end of the AU season and the start of the W. So I think that’s the ideal solution.

Ocasio, who was the 2021 softball champion, added with a laugh, “And you get paid on time because you never know overseas.”

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