Hoop Dreams Deferred: The WNBA, the NBA, and the Long-Standing Gender Inequity at the Game’s Highest Level_2018 OWLS

Document Type


Publication Date

August 2018

Conference / Event Title

2018 Oxford Women’s Leadership Symposium (OWLS)


Just a few years ago, the Women's National Basketball Association's top three draft picks – Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins – were perhaps the most talented top three picks in league history, and they were certainly the most celebrated. Each could likely have competed in the WNBA straight out of high school, and after their first collegiate seasons – during which Griner led the nation in blocked shots, Delle Donne was third in the nation in scoring average, and Diggins led her team in scoring, steals, and assists – each was clearly WNBA ready. All three women, however, were prohibited from entering the league under a rule that restricts WNBA eligibility to women four years removed from high school. Male collegiate basketball players are eligible to declare for the draft in the WNBA’s brother league, the NBA, after their freshman year (when they are one year removed from high school), and many of Griner’s, Delle Donne’s, and Diggins’ fellow rising sophomores did just that. Were the NBA and WNBA distinct, unaffiliated organizations, their disparate age eligibility rules would be an unfortunate but unactionable gender-based reality. However, in that the NBA founded the WNBA as a subsidiary corporation, has long funded the WNBA, instituted the WNBA’s age eligibility rule, and has generally exercised control over the WNBA throughout the great bulk of the WNBA’s existence, the disparate age eligibility rules raise sex discrimination concerns. This paper explores these concerns and concludes that because of the NBA’s involvement in and dominance over the WNBA, the NBA is potentially liable for Title VII sex discrimination caused by the WNBA’s age eligibility rule.

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