Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi on pay scale: 'WNBA always finds a way to mess it up'

Why has the NBA "made rock stars out of its players," yet the WNBA pay disparity makes Diana Taurasi sad? The Phoenix star doesn't hold back. M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire

PHOENIX -- Diana Taurasi doesn't hold back.

When the face of the WNBA has an opinion, she shares it. When she talks, people listen.

Even in a season in which she has played sparingly as she continues to find her way back to the court after back surgery in April, Taurasi has a lot to say about the past, current and future states of the WNBA.

But even though Taurasi, who's in her 16th season in the league, has plenty of opinions on how much she and everyone else in the WNBA is getting paid, how the league treats its players and how the stars are (not) promoted -- along with a laundry list of other topics -- she admittedly doesn't have the answers.

Those, she told espnW, need to be found by the league.

With the WNBA All-Star Game getting the Las Vegas treatment this weekend, and new WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert expected to hold her first news conference before Saturday's game (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), the league is ready to take center stage. But the biggest issues -- player salary (the rookie minimum is $41,965, and the veteran maximum base is $117,500), playing year-round to supplement incomes, and the collective bargaining agreement -- will also be in the limelight and hot talking points.

Taurasi sat down with espnW and shared her thoughts on some of the WNBA's most pressing issues. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

espnW: How do you feel about the pay disparity in the WNBA?

Diana Taurasi: It's just so sad to me. You know, 15 years in, it's just such a sad thing to talk about. We had to go to a communist country to get paid like capitalists, which is so backward to everything that was in the history books in sixth grade. And even then, even within our pay scale, it doesn't make sense. On a team, you could have seven players making the same amount of money. That doesn't make sense to me.

espnW: The percentage is off, right? Is that the biggest argument?

Taurasi: Something's missing. I don't know. I don't know what the solution is. But what's going on now, it's not working. And I use an example of when B.G. [Brittney Griner] was a rookie, she was walking in this arena, and the janitor was making more money than her. But you want Brittney Griner to be this superstar and carry the league into where? The kid's got to go to Russia [in the offseason] for the next 10 years to get paid what she deserves.

"And it's just shocking to me, as we have the NBA as the best model ever. But the WNBA always finds a way to mess it up." Diana Taurasi

And it's just shocking to me, as we have the NBA as the best model ever. But the WNBA always finds a way to mess it up. I just don't get it. I'm so disillusioned with it all ... not because of what I had to go through, but for the younger kids. When you're in it, when you're playing and you're young, you don't worry about these things. You're just so worried about proving yourself and getting to the playoffs, being a better basketball player.

But when you get older, like Sue [Bird] and I, we start thinking about these things, like it's been 15 years. I think Sue said it best. In the last 11 years, I think we've had a 1.5% increase in our pay salary. I mean, who doesn't leave that job? It's like [Lionel] Messi. You play for Barcelona, and then you go back to Argentina and play in a YMCA league because you love the game. And you know what? We come back every single summer because we love the game. It's pathetic.

espnW: The WNBA says it wants you to be fresh and rested every season, but you have to go overseas to make money?

Taurasi: They don't care. They don't care about that. Any league that talks about that -- they care about their players -- is lying. Like I had to watch [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell talk about player safety. He doesn't give two s---s about player safety. Like, they can say all the right things. So I didn't go overseas [this year]. OK, that's great. Hey, can you pay for my therapy? Can you pay for my personal trainer so I can be in shape when I come play for you? "No, we can't do that. That's against WNBA rules." Oh, OK, then I'll just come in here fat and out of shape, since you really care about your product. See? I mean, they can say all the right things, but they need to show us what that means.

"In the last 11 years, I think we've had a 1.5% increase in our pay salary. I mean, who doesn't leave that job?" Diana Taurasi

espnW: Will the players opting out of the CBA change anything?

Taurasi: Well, those are going to be contentious points, and any time you renegotiate a CBA, they try to throw in all these little minor details that make it look pretty. But at the end of the day, we haven't been able to fix the biggest thing, and that's salary. And even on the union side, we can talk about all these other little things, but salary is the most important thing.

Bottom line. They can talk about housing. They can talk about per diem. We won't have to talk about that stuff if you just paid us more money. And where does that money come from? I don't know. That's their job to figure out.

espnW: What kind of impact are all the stars who are injured having on the game?

Taurasi: I mean, I wouldn't want to watch the NBA without LeBron [James], James Harden, Kevin Durant. That's just being realistic. It doesn't mean it's going to hurt. You talk about some of the names who are missing the whole season, some half of the season.

"The NBA has made rock stars out of their best players ... and we just have not been able to capitalize on any of that." Diana Taurasi

That goes back to, can you keep your product healthy? They're your employees. You want to put a good product out there, how do you keep them healthy? And sometimes, some injuries are obviously unavoidable, like, it doesn't matter if you're playing or not playing. Sometimes you just get hurt.

But to say it's not going to have an impact, that would be just dumb.

espnW: How can the WNBA do a better job of marketing players and expanding its footprint?

Taurasi: Once again, I just don't understand how the NBA has made rock stars out of their best players ... if you think about what they've been able to do marketing-wise. And obviously it started with Magic and Larry and Isiah, and then obviously Jordan took it to the next level. And then you had Kobe, Shaq, and now you have LeBron, Harden, Steph, Durant.

They've made rock stars out of these players. And we just have not been able to capitalize on any of that. Not even a little bit. Not even one bit. Like, are you kidding me with some of the stuff that they do marketing and promoting-wise? It's almost mind-boggling.