Bradley Central grad Rhyne Howard hopes to help WNBA grow

A historic moment in women’s sports occurred in May 2011, when Minnesota Lynx rookie Maya Moore became the first female athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand.

Eleven years later, there are now 14 WNBA players signed by the famous shoe brand inspired by NBA legend Michael Jordan. One of them is Rhyne Howard, the former star of Bradley Central High School in Cleveland, Tennessee, who became the first University of Kentucky player to be ranked No. WNBA when she was selected by the Atlanta Dream in April. 11.

It has been 11 years to the day since Moore, a former Georgia high school and University of Connecticut star, was the league’s first pick.

“I love being part of the Jordan Brand family, especially as a rookie,” Howard said. “I really worked hard for it. There are a lot of deserving players, and I thank God it was me.”

The 6-foot-2 Howard, a Kentucky All-American who helped the Wildcats win the Southeastern Conference tournament this spring, didn’t wait to play a big role for the Dream.

Atlanta has gone 23-65 the past three seasons, but Howard’s play has helped give hope for a turnaround. Although the Dream fell below .500 with Friday night’s overtime road loss to the Chicago Sky, their four-game losing streak follows a surprising 7-4 start.

From blocking four shots in his WNBA debut against the Dallas Wings to crossing five-time All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith from the Phoenix Mercury to drain a 3-pointer, Howard has found his place in the spotlight. Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd told Howard after a recent game that “the league is in good hands.”

“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Howard, whose 33 points in a May 15 win over the Indiana Fever is his season-high in 15 games. “It’s everything I dreamed of. Most of our home games have sold out so far, and people are really supporting us.

“I want to help Dream win championships. I will always stay true to my game and work to improve on the things that got me here. Winning is all that matters to me. If we take care of that , then the personal distinctions will take care of themselves.”

Photo gallery

Atlanta Dream rookie Rhyne Howard

Howard leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game, and his per-game averages rank second in blocks (0.9) and steals (1.6) and fourth in rebounds (4.1). ) and assists (2.6). She was among the top 15 scoring averages in the league after Friday night’s games and her 2.8 3-pointers scored per game was tied for second, but her impact on the Dream and the league could go beyond the ground.

If Howard and other young players generate more interest in the WNBA, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, women’s basketball will only continue to grow.

In 2016, the maximum income a WNBA player could earn in a season was $109,000. Now, the league’s super maximum annual salary is $228,094, with a maximum of $196,267 and a minimum of $60,471.

We are still far from the figures associated with the NBA, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year.

The Sky have the largest payroll in the WNBA at $1,072,350. The average NBA player salary is $7.3 million.

The 10 highest NBA player salaries are over $39 million. Meanwhile, the 12 teams in the WNBA this season represent $16,481,467 in total salary.

The Golden State Warriors, who last week won their fourth NBA title in eight years, had the league’s highest payroll for the 2021-22 season at $178,980,766; the Oklahoma City Thunder was last at just over $82 million.

The NBA’s No. 1 draft pick in 2021 was Cade Cunningham, whose rookie contract with the Detroit Pistons is worth $45.5 million for four years. By comparison, Howard signed a three-year contract with the Dream worth $226,668 with a fourth-year team option for $91,981.

For WNBA stars, sponsorship deals can offer a major bonus. When Moore signed with Jordan Brand in 2011, his contract was worth between $3 million and $4 million.

“Rhyne makes it extremely easy to be marketable with the way she performs on the court,” said Rheann Engelke, Howard’s marketing officer. “A lot of big brands have already come directly to her. She’s worked with quite a few big brands and expects even more.”

Still, Howard plans to follow in the tradition of WNBA players spending the offseason competing in foreign leagues — at least in part because countries like China and Russia pay far more than those top players can earn. on the ground in the United States. Brittney Griner earned $1.5 million per season playing in Russia, while Moore earned over $600,000 per season playing in China.

The average WNBA salary in 2022 is $128,369. Progress has been made as the WNBA has agreed with the players’ union to raise the average salary to $130,000 and top player salaries to over $500,000 by 2027.

“There are endless possibilities for the growth of the WNBA and women’s basketball in general,” Howard said. “The game is growing a lot, and more and more fans are coming to the games and taking notice. I think a lot of things are going to change in the near future. Female athletes are going to be seen a lot more in the national spotlight.”

In recent years, the faces of Atlanta’s professional sports teams have suddenly become younger, with Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and Hawks point guard Trae Young nationally known and appealing to the next generation not only with this what they can do in the sports arena but how they play.

Howard could be part of that trend, with benefits beyond the dream for the WNBA and women’s sports as a whole.

“Making an impact in the WNBA right away was really fun,” Howard said. “I just try to capitalize on every moment and take nothing for granted. I want to impact this league and help it reach new heights.”

Contact Patrick MacCoon at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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