NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving is setting up a fund to financially support WNBA players who have opted out of the season, and he’s receiving a big assist from Natasha Cloud.
Irving announced Monday he’s committing $1.5 million to supplement the incomes of WNBA players who won’t participate in the league’s bubble tournament at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Cloud, who’s opted out of the season herself, helped connect Irving with WNBA players, along with Seattle Storm guard Jewell Lloyd.
Irving underwent season-ending surgery on his shoulder in February, and is opposed to the NBA’s own plans to restart. On a conference call with players last month, Irving reportedly said he wants to focus on social justice initiatives in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, albeit in more colorful terms.
The NBA and WNBA have both embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, painting the slogan on courts and allowing players to wear social justice messages on jerseys and warmup attire. On Saturday, members of the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty, including LGBTQ stars Sue Bird and Layshia Clarendon, walked off the court before the national anthem.
At least 10 WNBA players have opted out of the season due to social justice or health concerns, including Cloud. The Washington Mystics guard says her decision wasn’t easy, but is finding it difficult to focus on basketball amidst the nationwide racial unrest. “It’s hard to think about basketball with the climate of what we’re in right now socially after George Floyd was murdered,” she told The Undefeated. “I understand that I chose the path that was much greater than myself and much greater than basketball.”
Cloud is one of the league’s strongest social justice advocates, penning a poignant essay that calls for white athletes to speak out alongside their Black peers: “Your silence is a knee on the back of my neck.” Since the essay, Cloud, who’s engaged to softball player Aleshia Ocasio, has signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Converse.
With an annual salary of roughly $34 million, Irving has the financial means to help out WNBA players. The funds will come from the KAI Empowerment Initiative, which Irving launched Monday. The program is also giving WNBA players full access to a financial literacy program provided by UBS.
In recent years, Irving has been a source of controversy on the court, forcing his way out of Cleveland and spurring the Celtics in free agency to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. But in this case, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Irving says it’s important for athletes to focus on racial causes, and he’s trying to provide them with the appropriate resources.
Since the average WNBA salary is a little more than $200,000, Irving’s efforts will go a long way.