The reigning MVP tore her right Achilles tendon while playing overseas this winter and because the league has no injury list for teams, the Seattle Storm suspended Stewart without pay to free up a roster spot.
The WNBA will pay Stewart in excess of the roughly $65,000 base salary she would have made with the Storm, agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas confirmed to the AP on Friday.
Colas said that the deal was done Thursday in discussion with deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum, who has been serving as the interim WNBA President. This was after Seattle and Stewart mutually agreed on the suspension. Seattle offered to keep Stewart on the roster and pay her full salary, but the 24-year-old said she wanted to help the team be the best it could be by not taking up an active roster spot.
"The Storm made the decision independently to suspend her because of the injury," Tatum told the AP at the New York Liberty game Friday night. "After they made the decision, we at the league office said 'What a great opportunity to have the reigning MVP promote the league'. I spoke with Lindsay and then got on the phone with the team after they made the decision. What Stewie wants to do is help us grow and promote the league. It's a great thing for the WNBA."
Colas was happy that the league was willing to think outside of the box.
"The league delivered on the idea that they need to invest in their stars and be collaborative with the players. They understand Stewie's value to the business," Colas said. "I applaud them being entrepreneurial. This is a good thing for everyone. We are excited to pilot what I hope will be a model for how stars can work with the league and its partners to engage fans and drive interest year round."
The Storm also lost Sue Bird indefinitely to a knee injury this week, meaning they would have started the season with only 10 healthy players. There is a clause in the current CBA that if a team gets below 10 healthy players, they can sign a replacement player until they get back above 10.
The union, which was informed of the Stewart decision, is interested some kind of change, whether it's in the form of an injured reserve list or a roster expansion.
"We thought it was a great idea and encouraged the league to think of other players that would make great ambassadors," said Terri Jackson, who is the executive director of the WNBPA. "We wanted to see how it develops as the concept and plan rolls out. This league is represented by many great players."
It will definitely be a big topic of discussion around the CBA, which expires after this season because the players opted out at the end of 2018 season.
"That's definitely something that would help the league grow," Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike, who is the president of the players' union, said in 2017. "It's all about resources and talking about the logistics of everything. Looking forward, we'd like to spark that type of change."
The league had an injury list from 1997-2005. Players had to sit out a minimum of three games from the date they were placed on the list. Then, the WNBA had a two-person inactive list from 2006-08 before rosters were reduced to 11 in 2009. Rosters are back up to 12 now.
Chiney Ogwumike missed 2015 and 2017 because of two separate injuries. In 2015, she had microfracture surgery on her knee and the Connecticut Sun kept her on the roster all year, costing them a spot. Although Ogwumike couldn't play, she was still the face of the franchise while making appearances.
Two years later when she hurt her Achilles tendon, the Sun suspended her, freeing up the roster spot and not having to pay her.
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