How the coronavirus has affected WNBA players overseas
Gabby Williams and Kaela Davis share their experiences in other countries
Gabby Williams left her home on the morning of March 19 in Montpellier, France, to go for a run on the neighboring beach. Running on the beach had become a part of her daily routine after her season with French club Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomeration was suspended on March 12 due to concerns over the coronavirus.
While on her run, Williams ran past the house of one of her teammates and popped in to say hi. Her teammate asked if Williams had seen the news. That morning, the mayor of Montpellier had closed the beaches, following up on French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision earlier that week for the entire country to stay inside their homes apart from “groceries, exercise or emergency.”
“By the time I returned home, all the cops were locking down everything and keeping people out,” Williams said.
Life was changing quickly for Williams overseas.
Williams, who plays in the WNBA for the Chicago Sky, is just one of dozens of players who have seen their overseas seasons suspended due to the global coronavirus pandemic. From Istanbul to Israel, many Americans playing their second seasons in all corners of the world have had to make urgent travel plans to return home to the United States. However, this comes with the difficult decision of breaking their contracts with their international teams and risking the loss of compensation. For many American players, the earning potential from playing overseas supersedes their WNBA contracts.
In China, Connecticut Sun forward Theresa Plaisance, who played for the Shaanxi Red Wolves of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), believes she had contracted the virus and was in a hospital for multiple days. But her team was still forced to play. According to reports, she traveled home to the U.S. and refused to return to China. The CBA suspended play on Feb. 1.
In Italy, Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby was placed on a mandatory quarantine after playing in Milan. She had been living with her 3-year-old daughter and mother in Italy, but sent them home to the U.S. ahead of her own return.
“It’s a situation where you’re in a contract over here, but if you leave before the season is up, then you break your contract and that gets into, ‘do we pay you, do we not?’ ” said Dallas Wings guard Kaela Davis, who plays for Bellona Kayseri Basketbol in Turkey.
For Davis, she was waiting on a decision from the league in Turkey. According to Davis, Turkey had taken extra precautions during the onset of the spread of the virus. But it wasn’t until recently that positive coronavirus tests led to a heightened response within the country. Finally, on March 19, Turkey’s youth and sports minister, Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu, announced the suspension of basketball and other sports in the country.
“Up until that point everything had been really normal. They hadn’t closed anything down, everything had been fine,” Davis said. “One case popped up and it kind of sent everybody into a panic.”
While Davis has been able to travel back home to the States, she’s unsure what’s next for her Turkish team.
“We can all attest to the fact that this is an ever-changing thing. We don’t really know what’s going to happen with that,” Davis said in a video on Twitter. “It’s exciting to be going home, but it’s not like we’re going home to a normal thing.”
Williams, meanwhile, is still in France. She has family in Paris but has chosen not to self-isolate with family in case she could be carrying the virus. Given her team’s schedule with the French league and Euroleague, she believes there is a “great” chance that she was exposed to the virus. In the last month alone, she played against teams from Turkey, Belgium, Spain and France. Williams’ team also played in Italy, now the epicenter of the pandemic, in late January.
“I just have to be responsible,” said Williams, who added that should she need to seek testing it is both free and accessible to her in France. “We have elderly people in our family and that would be irresponsible of me to go stay with them for the quarantine.”
Williams, who is fluent in French, will remain in Montpellier, waiting for word on whether her overseas season will be canceled or continued. She said she will be compensated until a decision is made.
“I think for me, I’m just waiting to see what’s going to be the safest option,” Williams said. “There’s no rush for me to come back to the States. I’m as much French as I am American.”
Williams tries her best to keep to a daily routine: Runs in the morning, sprints outside her house, indoor yoga, cleaning and cooking. It helps make the days go by.
“I’m just hoping one day to turn on the news and it’s going to say, ‘Oh, down this many cases, oh, the line is finally decreasing,’ ” Williams said. “It’s out of the league’s control. It’s a worldwide issue.”
The upcoming WNBA season is set to begin on May 15, but the league has yet to announce whether that start date will be pushed back.
“You really just have to appreciate the game because you’re never going to know if it’s the last time you’re going to step on the court.”