WNBA Roiled by $100K Gifts to Las Vegas Aces Amid Salary Cap Debates

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As the warm lights of the Las Vegas Aces’ locker room flickered, a revelation sparked an unexpected controversy that dramatically transcended the boundaries of the basketball court. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has now found itself enveloped in a thorough inquiry, focusing on what have been reported as generous $100,000 gifts to each of the 12 players of the Las Vegas Aces.

Declared with no stringent conditions attached or known obligations, the monetary gifts are an addition to the players’ regular season earnings for the current season and the one upcoming in 2025. The source of these generous donations emerges as none other than the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).

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Steve Hill, the president of the LVCVA, surprised the assembled Aces team during a meeting last week captured in a video posted on Twitter. He looked into the eyes of the players and introduced this unprecedented, ground-breaking initiative, stating its purpose as recognizing and rewarding them individually. In a phrase that duly resonated with his captive audience, Hill declared the intent, saying, “We want to put some money in your pockets.”

In a remarkable turn of timing, the surprising revelation came just a week after President Biden lavishly praised the Aces as the two-time reigning WNBA champions on a high-profile visit to the White House, in recognition of their resounding 2023 Finals win against the New York Liberty.

The reactions to this unexpected move by the LVCVA, initially categorized as a ‘sponsorship’, are widely mixed, reflecting the multifaceted nature of this complicated issue. Women’s Hoops Network responded astoundingly to the news on Twitter, lauding it as a significant investment in women and the broader community.

In contrast, others have a more skeptical view, perceiving the generous gifts as a creative circumvention of the WNBA’s enforced salary cap. This perspective sees it as a tactical maneuver to keep the team’s synergistic composition intact, counteracting potential recruitment efforts by rival teams eager to poach their top performers.

Despite the prevailing mixed opinions, one incontrovertible fact remains—six of the Aces named in the surprise news announcement currently receive annual salaries less than the offered gift. The average 2024 income from the team to its leading players ranges from $110,000 to $200,000, according to The New York Times.

The LVCVA asserts that their hypothetical ‘sponsorships’ remain within the bounds of the $1.43 million per team WNBA salary cap. Their stance is built on the premise that the deals were not orchestrated in concert with the team but rather were crafted behind closed doors in conjunction with each player’s agent, resembling the structure of the Name, Image, and Likeness agreements common between third parties and college athletes.

However, ESPN reports an ongoing probe by the WNBA into the propriety of these monetary surprises, which could essentially bypass the rules against illegal salary boosts.

The unfolding saga has provoked critics, who are quick to point out that the LVCVA’s generosity comes from its revenue generated from hotel room taxes. Consequently, some believe a billionaire such as Mark Davis, owner of the Aces and the Raiders, rather than taxpayers, should have made such gifts.

Thus, as the investigation continues to unfold, the future promises even more intense scrutiny and unprecedented ramifications that could forever alter the WNBA landscape.