Kate Starbird won’t make anywhere near what Jim McIlvaine of the Sonics does. But she will make more money than any other woman playing in the American Basketball League, including Connecticut star Kara Wolters, who signed with the league Monday for $600,000 for three years.
The ABL is winning the war with the rival WNBA, signing eight of the 10 players both leagues wanted. And Starbird set the tone.
“She was the one player both leagues had to have,” said Gary Cavalli, co-founder and president of the ABL.
The league, not the Seattle Reign, for whom she will play, put up the money for Starbird. At the time she signed, Cavalli said the rookie could make the league maximum of $150,000 per year.
Steve Blick, Starbird’s California-based agent, wouldn’t say how much Starbird got from the ABL, but he also wouldn’t refute a comment by Tara VanDerveer, Starbird’s coach at Stanford, that she would get “$250,000 a year.”
That figure doesn’t include a substantial contract with Nike that Starbird agreed to over the weekend weekend.
“I thought to myself, ‘What’s this? They’re going to pay us to play a game we love,”’ Starbird said last week at the news conference at which her signing was announced.
They will pay Kate Starbird because they need her, because she was the college player of the year, because she gives a league credibility, because she will draw fans, because she is a role model.
Mayor Norm Rice gushed at the news conference about Seattle’s women’s basketball team the way politicians do, but much of what he said rang true.
“These athletes really do care about Seattle,” he said, “and they have accepted the mantle of role model.”
Starbird has. She remembers when she was 13 years old, playing basketball, and didn’t know the name of one female playing college basketball.
“Now the kids come at us with wild eyes, telling how hard they want to work and that they want to play college and pro basketball,” Starbird said.
Nike will have a Kate Starbird basketball shoe. But as much as she appeals to young girls playing basketball, Microsoft is banking on her appeal as a graduate in computer studies to get young girls involved in high-tech pursuits.
“We think she is a terrific role model,” a Microsoft spokesman said.
Microsoft will pay part of Starbird’s salary as part of its relationship with the Reign. Nike, a corporate sponsor of the WNBA, said it wanted Starbird regardless of the league in which she played.
“She is the right player at the right time for the right city,” said Blick, Starbird’s agent, “and she even has the right name.”
Besides the deal with Nike, Blick envisions his client being a perfect match for Starbucks coffee.
“M&M;’s has a Starburst candy,” he added. “There is also no question that many little girls are wearing knee pads (made by Trace) because Kate does. She sets trends.”
Starbird did for the ABL, which first signed Katrina McClain, the Olympic star who had been playing in Turkey; then Starbird; then Kedra Holland-Corn of Georgia, Beth Morgan of Notre Dame, Laticia Morris of Auburn, Yolanda Griffith of Florida Atlantic, Latina Davis of Tennessee, Shalonda Enis of Alabama, DeLisha Milton of Florida and now Wolters.
The WNBA, which drafted Monday, picked up Tina Thompson of USC and Starbird’s Stanford teammate, Jamila Wideman.
Starbird wanted to play in Seattle, she wanted to play in the winter, she wanted to play in a league with a proven fan base and proven players.
Along the way, they showed her the money, more than she ever dreamed about or the WNBA offered, but also the same as what the lowest-paid player in the NBA gets, she the savior, he the sub.
So far, and yet so far to go.