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KYRIE IRVING FUNDING WNBA PLAYERS WHO SKIP ‘WUBBLE’

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is making sure WNBA players can sit out the season —whether because of COVID-19 or social justice concerns— and not worry about where their next paycheck is coming from. He’s setting up a fund to supplement the income of those who won’t be participating in the WNBA’s “bubble” in Bradenton, Florida, nicknamed the “wubble.”

Unlike their NBA brothers, WNBA players don’t have huge, multi-year deals. The average annual salary for WNBA players is around $200,000.

As AP reports...

The Brooklyn Nets star is committing $1.5 million to supplement the income of players who choose not to play this season, whether it be because of coronavirus concerns or social justice reasons.

The funds will come from the KAI Empowerment Initiative that Irving launched Monday. It will also provide players with a financial literacy program created by UBS.

Irving said that with the help of WNBA players Natasha Cloud — who chose to sit out — and Jewell Loyd, he connected with several WNBA players who discussed with him the challenges they faced in deciding whether to play. The season began Saturday and will be played entirely at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The move was welcomed and praised across the NBA and WNBA.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Irving, who’s rehabbing from shoulder impingement surgery, has been heavily involved in community efforts aimed at helping those affected by COVID-19. Here’s what’s known publicly about those efforts...

—On March 23, his 28th birthday, Irving announced that he’s donating $323,000 to Feeding America, with Lineage Logistics matching up to $200,000 in donations as well amid the coronavirus pandemic.

—In April, he partnered with City Harvest and donated 250,000 meals across the New York area. At the time, Irving announced he was creating the Share-A-Meal campaign in partnership with local organizations “to help marginalized communities get the food sources they require.”

—In May, as the coronavirus hit the Dakotas hard, Irving along with Nike donated 17 pallets of food and 50,000 N95 maskts to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to be distributed across a wide expanse of North and South Dakota. Irving’s late mother was a member of the tribe.

To be eligible, AP’s Brian Mahoney reports, players must provide insight into the circumstances surrounding their decision and not be receiving salary support from any other entity. An opt-out for medical reasons must be connected to the coronavirus pandemic, Mahoney noted.

“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” Irving said in a statement.

Players can get information at www.kaiempowermentinitiative.com. They need to apply by Aug. 11 and recipients will be notified on Aug. 24, per AP. Here’s a screenshot of the application page...

Irving has been active in the NBA’s social justice programs, particularly in the run up to the league’s return-to-play decision. Irving joined rapper Common and Jemele Hill, among others, in early July for a TV special calling for action following the death of Breonna Taylor, the Associated Press reports.

The special, “#SAYHERNAME: BREONNA TAYLOR,” aired on the PlayersTV digital and broadcast network.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, was shot eight times in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13 by plainclothes officers serving a narcotics search warrant without knocking at her apartment. No drugs were found. The WNBA has dedicated its season to seeking justice for Taylor.

As we wrote in a review of the special, “It’s a subtle, but important thing to lend your voice and cede the floor to the people who are more knowledgeable and more connected to the day to day work of activism and community building.”