By Brad Townsend
The Dallas Morning News
Back in August, Dallas Wings star Skylar Diggins-Smith made national headlines when, in several interviews, she strongly expressed umbrage about the Grand Canyon-wide pay gap between WNBA players and their NBA peers.
During one of those interviews, with Wealthsimple magazine, Diggins-Smith called out Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for not having attended any Wings games. She also cited her “low-six figures” salary and the $24 million made last season by Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes as an example of basketball gender injustice:
He’s definitely younger than me. Do you know his stats? Was he an All-Star? I mean, it doesn’t matter. But last year, I was First Team All-WNBA, which only goes to five players. I was also a WNBA All-Star for the third time.
Much has since happened. Diggins-Smith’s Wings made the playoffs, but lost in the first round. WNBA president Lisa Borders stepped down in early October. And last week Diggins-Smith announced on Instagram that she is pregnant.
What we didn’t know was that Diggins-Smith and Cuban met for about 90 minutes at the Mavericks’ offices, at Cuban’s invitation, shortly after her salary-gap comments.
Neither Diggins-Smith, nor Cuban, publicized the meeting. We only know about it now because Cuban mentioned it in conversation before the Mavericks’ home opener Saturday, when he was asked whether he has any advice for the WNBA in the wake of Borders’ departure.
“I met with Skylar Diggins and this is exactly what I told her,” Cuban said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to go out there and create new properties. You’re not going to all of a sudden double WNBA interest so that you can get a huge TV contract to save the day. But what you can do, because the WNBA is so much bigger, dramatically bigger, outside the U.S. than it is in the U.S., there’s players that won’t play here because they make more money overseas.
“The opportunity is the same one as with the men’s game, and that is to create your own World Cup and back out of the FIBA one and make that a source of revenue so the [women’s] players can earn more money.”
For the record, Cuban never took issue after Diggins-Smith told Wealthsimple: “We’ve had Cowboys and Mavericks show up at the game and support us. I haven’t seen Mark Cuban at a game. And I’m sure I wouldn’t miss him.”
In fact, Cuban tweeted the Wealthsimple article link and had this Twitter interaction:
Cuban, who has two daughters and has invested in numerous women-owned companies during his nine seasons on ABC’s Shark Tank, apparently gave Diggins-Smith what amounted to an elongated private session in the Tank. He said
Diggins-Smith was acutely aware of the financial challenges the WNBA and its players face.
Perhaps Cuban was right about the occasional necessity to “get loud to go forward.” By publicly going loud about Cuban, Diggins-Smith quietly gained a powerful sounding board and mentor. Here’s what else Cuban has to say about the WNBA-NBA pay gap:
“The difference is the total amount of revenue. It’s not a gender issue. It’s a revenue issue. If it so happened that the women had greater revenue than the men, the women would make more money.
“The challenge is when they talk about the percentages it kind of avoids the business 101 topic, which is there’s a certain hurdle of fixed cost that you have to overcome… If your business makes X-amount in sales but your costs are up here, you’re going to have to pay lower commissions. It’s just like we paid a lower percentage to the men until the revenues went up. And when our revenues went up we were able to pay a higher percentage.
“If you can get your top line to grow significantly then there’s more of that to share because you’re covering fixed costs of teams in the league. That’s the difference and that’s the conversation I had with Skylar. She understood it and I’m sure they all understand it.”