The decision to stay close to home was made easy, Clarendon said, by the WNBA’s landmark, seven-year collective bargaining agreement that was announced and made official last week.
“With these new potential opportunities to make earnings … I think it reinforces the good investment that the league is making in increasing our salaries,” Clarendon, who serves on the executive committee of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, said in a phone interview. “Because now I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t feel as bad not going overseas,’ or, ‘I’m really not missing out on as much money, because I can sign a contract for what could potentially make up the difference.’ … So in that way, I think it’s really cool that that investment is already paying off for me.”
Each player has a unique set of circumstances. Most have not seen the full agreement, and many will want to scan the fine print before they pass judgment. As a union leader, part of Clarendon’s role is to convince her fellow players that the best possible deal was struck. And it remains to be seen how some benefits, such as the increased salary cap, will be distributed. But Clarendon’s role in helping negotiate the agreement, as well as her status as a veteran but lower-profile WNBA player, give her insight into what the new provisions mean for her as well as their significance across the league.
For Clarendon, 28, the first and most obvious benefit comes this winter. The veteran of seven seasons is a free agent in an offseason when the salary cap for the league’s 12 teams will increase from $996,000 to $1.3 million. Among those hitting the open market, no point guard has a better career assist percentage, nor a résumé that includes playing for multiple WNBA Finals teams plus a stint on USA Basketball’s World Cup-winning squad in 2018.
Maximum salaries will jump from $117,500 to $215,000. Two WNBA talent evaluators, who requested not to be named because teams are not allowed to publicly discuss free agents until Jan. 28, said they thought that while Clarendon might not get a max deal, she could double her 2019 salary.
“Obviously I haven’t signed a free agency contract yet, but knowing the salaries, there’s a lot more wiggle room under the cap,” Clarendon said. “I think it just creates more security and more of an opportunity to start investing money. And obviously my wife and I bought a condo, and so you start to look at things that you could really set up for your future.”
Even so, Clarendon said, she has only begun to think through what that can mean for her. She has never been driven by money, and as a member of the union’s executive committee, her thought process was broader.
“I don’t know that I would completely double my salary,” she said. “That’d be pretty nice. But I think it’s starting to sink in now. And in the moment of negotiating on the CBA, I was just so invested in wanting to make sure that everybody rose.”
Even that rise means she expects to have more freedom to prioritize playing time over getting the most money she can. She played in the 2017 All-Star Game with the Atlanta Dream, but after a trade to the Connecticut Sun, she found herself playing more limited minutes behind starter Jasmine Thomas before an injury cost her most of the 2019 season. She is also part of the USA Basketball team pool and has upcoming exhibition games.
But she is also thinking about issues as simple as rooming preferences. The new labor deal guarantees her own hotel room and economy-plus seating on flights.
Legroom is no small issue for WNBA players — less so for the 5-foot-9 Clarendon than, say, all-star Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, who is a foot taller. But your own room? That’s a game-changer.
“The toughest thing was scheduling,” Clarendon said. “Some people stay up late and watch TV; some people talk on the phone at night. So that was always the like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to room with this person because they’re going to be on FaceTime at whatever o’clock.’ ”
Clarendon is also better able to plan starting a family. When the time comes, stipulations in the collective bargaining agreement including a $5,000 child-care credit and guaranteed two-bedroom housing for a couple that makes its home in the Bay Area will matter.
Clarendon also made sure that the proposals were written in a way that reflected the many different kinds of families in the WNBA.
“From the beginning I was like, ‘We better be queer-inclusive on this,’ ” Clarendon said. “Does it cover this type of mom, or does it cover only the person who carried the child, not if the person wasn’t going to carry? All those things from the very beginning, I’m trying to really make sure we’re making it as inclusive as possible for all types of working moms in this league.”
Clarendon would like to see that focus on diversity reflected in how the league distributes the $1.6 million annually in marketing agreements promised to the players under the deal.
“We’ve had some conversations just around the power of authenticity with the league, around how we know, as a league, we haven’t done a good job marketing us,” Clarendon said. “And you have to acknowledge the historical context: Women being gay in sports has been a stereotype that I think the league hasn’t wanted to touch, right? We’ve been afraid. We’ve been more afraid to be like, ‘Oh, God, we’re the gay league,’ or that we fit that stereotype.
“But I think now we’re realizing that there’s so much more opportunity and it’s really cool to be gay now,” Clarendon continued. “It’s cool to be a black woman. It’s cool to have natural hair. And so it’s a softball in so many ways because our league is literally [made] up of these types of women.”
Clarendon also said she plans to utilize the new professional development opportunities offered within the CBA to pursue career opportunities after basketball.
Is there more room to grow? Absolutely. Clarendon cited offseason trainers as one needed benefit for what the league hopes will be a greater number of players forgoing traveling overseas to play year-round. And, of course, Clarendon would love to see a Bay Area WNBA expansion team.
She doesn’t know when that might happen. But it feels a little bit more possible now, after so many other possibilities have become reality.