WNBA loses star Diana Taurasi for season because of big Russia payday

Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi will sit out the 2015 WNBA season in order to rest up for her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg's upcoming season.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

The 2014 WNBA finals MVP, Diana Taurasi, will be M.I.A. in 2015, and she’s going to make even more money doing so.

Taurasi announced Tuesday that she will sit out the 2015 WNBA season to rest for her Russian EuroLeague club team UMMC Ekaterinburg’s upcoming season.

Taurasi reportedly makes $1.5 million per season from the Russian team -- a figure that dwarfs her WNBA salary near the league maximum of $107,000 -- and she’ll be compensated even more to rest.

“The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down,” Taurasi wrote in a letter to her fans promising her WNBA return in 2016. “They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it.”

Taurasi, 33, is among the majority of WNBA players who take their talents elsewhere during the U.S. league’s off-season. However, she is the first to sacrifice a WNBA season to regroup for an international one.


The WNBA is made up of 12 teams with 12 roster spots each and, according to the league’s own figures, more than 101 of its 144 athletes play for different organizations in more than 14 countries all over the world in the off-season.

The reason is simple economics.

The average salary in the WNBA is said be be somewhere around $72,000. The minimum, about $38,000.

To boost their income, players go overseas where they can commission much larger pay days.

In 2011, the Sparks’ Candace Parker reportedly made more than $1.2 million playing for the same team that employs Taurasi in Russia. In 2013, Brittney Griner, then a WNBA rookie and another of the league’s most recognizable names, made $600,000 playing for a team in China for four months.

But all that often comes at the cost of physical and mental exhaustion.

“We understand Diana’s choice not to play this season, a decision that undoubtedly will extend her career and will benefit the Mercury in the future,” Mercury Coach Sandy Brondello said in a statement.

Taurasi was the No. 1 overall pick out of Connecticut in the 2004 WNBA draft and has led the Mercury to three championships (2007, 2009, 2014) while averaging 20.1 points, 4.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game over the course of her 11-year career.

She’s also won Olympic gold medals with Team USA in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Follow Matt Wilhalme on Twitter @mattwilhalme