Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart will likely miss the entirety of the 2019 WNBA season after rupturing her right Achiles tendon in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game on Sunday.
Stewart was playing for Russian club Dynamo Kursk in the title game, then flew to Los Angeles for an MRI on Monday.
Stewart Expects to Return in 2020
The 24-year-old Stewart is the reigning WNBA MVP and Finals MVP, having averaged 21.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game during the regular season for the Storm. Stewart announced the bad news in a statement released on Wednesday.
“The situation is still a shock to me,” Stewart said. “This is just another obstacle that I will overcome. I’m thankful that I have so many people in my corner to help me every step of the way. I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”
According to the Storm, Stewart is expected to be ready to play for the team in the 2020 season, which would also put her on track to participate in the 2020 Olympics for the United States. On average, the typical recovery time for a ruptured Achilles ranges from nine months to a full year.
Low WNBA Salaries Send Players Overseas
The injury is likely to reignite the debate over the level of compensation given to WNBA players. While playing in the WNBA gives elite women’s basketball players the best opportunity to play against high level competition, and provides media exposure that can lead to sponsorships and endorsements, players can make significantly more money playing in Russia or other overseas destinations.
According to a report by ESPN, Stewart made $56,793 in base salary in the 2019 season. Her achievements allowed her to earn several bonuses: she made $15,000 for winning the MVP award, collected $11,025 when the Storm won the WNBA title, took $2,500 for appearing in the All-Star Game, and earned $10,000 for being named to the All-WNBA First Team.
All told, that means that Stewart made just over $95,000 in total as arguably the WNBA’s most successful player last season. While it’s unclear just how much Stewart made from her contract with Dynamo Kursk, chances are it was much more than she made in the United States. Diani Taurasi famously sat out the 2015 WNBA season to concentrate on playing for a Russian team, where she made about $1.5 million in a year.
“Obviously, these clubs have more money than what the WNBA team’s cap space is,” Stewart told ESPN in 2017, when she played for Shanghai Baoshan Dahua of the Chinese league. “The WNBA salary is not moving, at all. When you are overseas you have the ability to negotiate with what you want, what the team wants and that kind of thing.”
The Stewart injury creates an immediate issue for the Storm, who had a league best 26-8 record last year on their way to a WNBA championship. With Stewart at the center of its offense, Seattle was considered the favorite to defend its title, with the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opening the Storm as a 9-5 favorite for the 2019 championship. After the injury, those odds have fallen to 15-1, putting Seattle squarely in the middle of the pack.