The Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions, but they might soon have to make room for another basketball team in Canada’s collective heart.
A group representing a bid to bring a WNBA team to Toronto says they will submit league paperwork by the end of the summer, which would allow for a franchise to be up and running in time for the 2020 season.
This is a big deal. The WNBA is the highest level of women’s professional basketball. Once approved, the unnamed Toronto team would become the first professional women’s basketball team in Canada. And with the recent folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, it would be the only major professional women’s league team in the country.
Literally the only one.
There are no more major professional women’s hockey teams. Or baseball. Or lacrosse. Even the players on our beloved Shania Twain-singing women’s national soccer team have to play somewhere else if they want to get paid even remotely fairly.
That is wild.
Women’s sports are fresh on the world’s minds after the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. The United States national team obliterated the tournament on the back of the purple-haired lesbian goddess Megan Rapinoe, who along with the rest of the team is an outspoken advocate for pay equality in the sport.
“Everyone is kind of asking what’s next and what we want to come of all of this. It’s to stop having the conversation about equal pay and are we worth it and should we and the investment piece,” Rapinoe told ESPN after the team’s gold medal win.
Five members of the U.S. women’s team – including Rapinoe — are currently suing the governing body of American soccer over equal pay and mistreatment. In some cases the men’s team received upwards of five times the amount of prize money for placing in the round of 16 in a World Cup than the women’s team for winning the gold. That’s a huge problem that plagues other women’s professional sports too, including the WNBA.
Last year, WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm was paid around $56,000 in base salary.
Compare that to the three-year, $103-million contract NBA Finals MVP, board man and forever-Canadian-hero Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. And that comes amidst serious discussions of load management for the star — not playing him too much, giving him what he wants.
“Board man gets paid. Board woman should get paid too.”
Meanwhile, to financially support herself, Stewart, the most valuable player in the highest league of women’s basketball, had to play the offseason abroad in Europe where she tore her Achilles, effectively ending her 2019 season.
Board man gets paid, but board woman should get paid too.
“If you’re not on the right side of this fight, and advocating fiercely for equal pay — whether it’s in soccer, or basketball, or in any other industry, and across every intersectional boundary — then I just straight-up feel bad for you,” WNBA star Sue Bird — who is also dating Rapinoe — wrote in a piece for the Players Tribune last week.
A WNBA team coming to Canada would mean more exposure for the league and its players and the fight for equal pay. It would mean a whole other country of support for the legal fights and challenges happening right now in the U.S. women’s leagues. It will be a greater stage for discussions around pay equality, like the one Rapinoe has forced to the global stage like a sharp penalty shot to the back of the net.
It also means representation for young, diverse athletes across the country. Kids who’ve looked up to hockey’s Hayley Wickenheiser or soccer’s Christine Sinclair will have a new set of athletes to admire. And much like women’s soccer, the WBNA is a leader in terms of queer representation in sports.
And it could set the stage for a return of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and important conversations around how other professional women’s sports like soccer are regulated and paid in Canada.
And besides, fresh off the Toronto Raptors’ historic NBA season, Canada is primed to support a WNBA team. I know we can be a basketball country.
Remember the rapture we felt as that shot bounced four times before falling in? Or when Fred VanVleet bled on the court? Remember all of the free stuff we gave Kawhi to lure him here, only to have him go home? Remember how everyone from St. John’s to Vancouver came out to support a Toronto team?
WATCH: Raptors’ Fandemonium Brings Toronto To A Standstill. Story continues below.
If I — a prairie lesbian who stopped playing basketball in middle school because I once shot a basket and the ball came back and hit me in the face — can get behind the Raptors, certainly we all can jump on the bandwagon of this potential new WNBA team.
Imagine Drake courtside at a WNBA game. Imagine the outpouring of love we gave the Raptors this year given to female athletes. Imagine giving condos and gym memberships to a WNBA star to convince her to stay.
The more we care about and support women’s sport, the more it will thrive. The Raptors and the Women’s World Cup have captured our attention, let’s keep it going and, if given the chance, welcome the WNBA to Toronto with open arms.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Stewart’s Achilles injury effectively ended her basketball career. In fact, she is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2020 WNBA season. A previous version of this story also stated the expected value of Kawhi Leonard’s contract with the L.A. Clippers as $140-million. On July 10 he officially signed a three-year $103-million contract.
CLARIFICATION: The headline of this story was changed to clarify that no formal decision has been issued on the WNBA coming to Toronto.