Kelsey Plum doesn’t take any of her opportunities lightly. Not the success — and she’s had plenty in the last 16 months — and not the sponsorship or partnership deals that have ballooned out of it. It’s all a step forward for the sport and the next step for Plum, 28, could largely impact that of the game.
The Las Vegas Aces champion told Yahoo Sports “it’s not official,” but she submitted a statement this week to run for vice president of the WNBA Players Association (WNBPA).
“I’m not much of a politician, but I am a firecracker,” Plum told Yahoo Sports, through her partnership with American Express and its NBA 2K23 Lab. “And so I feel like I can come in there and start some fires. I think that a lot of times people try to play nice and please people, and I’m not here to do that. I feel like my job, if elected, would be to represent the players at a true level and not just the top echelon of players, but the full range of players. I think that if given the opportunity, I’m really excited to go to work and go to bat.”
The WNBPA did not respond to an email for details regarding the process.
It’s been a constant go mode for Plum since she won the city of Las Vegas its first professional championship and a week later won the United States its fourth consecutive FIBA World Cup gold. In July 2021, she won Olympic gold in 3x3, and a year later, lifted the WNBA All-Star trophy. (Technically, she has two of them.)
As the accomplishments grow, so too do her partnerships in this new women’s sports ecosystem. Next week, she’ll compete in the American Express x NBA 2k23 Lab in an activation with Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu and NBAers Trae Young and RJ Barrett. She previously announced a deal with Google Pixel and Under Armor.
“I feel like this is a step in the direction where the game can grow and girls that are in high school right now or in college getting [name, image, likeness] deals and seeing pros that they watch that they can have better opportunities than I had,” Plum said. “It’s just one of those things that I feel is a part of a way to grow the game and grow the awareness of kind of the next step for the game.”
She’s been open about her own view on next steps and league difficulties, including in a wide-ranging chat on “The Residency Podcast” that made the social media rounds last week for her comments on equal pay and revenue sharing. But if elected, she said her priorities as a vice president would depend on the players she’s voted to represent and not any of her own opinions.
“I’m not here representing myself,” she said. “I’m here to represent them.”
Plum’s platform, priorities as WNBPA VP
Plum is one of the Aces’ current player representatives with two-time MVP A’ja Wilson and has seen and understood the “climate” of the league in front of open as well as closed doors. The No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft said she felt it was a great opportunity to get more involved since the players can opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2025.
If she were elected, she said she’d want a “pulse” of the league by sending out polls, surveys and chatting with players. Everyone might have different priorities, from prioritization, opportunities to go overseas, higher salaries or travel to “different opportunities that the league isn’t providing that it could provide.”
“I would definitely say that my job is to come in open, and whatever the majority feels like we need to push for, that’s what I need to push for,” she said.
Plum: ‘How can we screw over the Aces?’
The league released the full 2023 schedule on Wednesday, and while Plum views the expanded 40-game slate as exciting with more opportunities for big TV games, there are concerns. Fans and players immediately noticed the reigning champions, who return all five starters, won’t play in front of their home fans until the third game of the season on May 27.
How the hell the champs play on the road the first couple of games of the season …😒😐
— A'ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) December 1, 2022
“We open up on the road the first two games. I don’t know if champs usually do that,” Plum said. “Again, I haven’t been a champ, so I wouldn’t know. It’s definitely interesting, but I think that we’ll make the most of it.”
Las Vegas is the first reigning champion to open on the road since the Minnesota Lynx in 2014. Six of 24 teams have opened on the road (the 2019 champion Washington Mystics excluded given the COVID-19 bubble year to follow) including the 2013 Fever, 2009 Shock, 2004 Shock, 2003 Sparks and 1999 Comets. Only the ’04 Shock and ’03 Sparks played their first two games on the road. The Sparks had a four-game road trip, not uncommon for them since they often share the arena with the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers and NHL’s Kings in May.
All teams submit availability dates to the league, and the Aces' Michelob ULTRA Arena was listed as available on May 27.
The Aces are seeking to become the first back-to-back champions since that Sparks group. They’ll start on the road the first weekend, then play the first of a back-to-back on the road during a stretch of three games in four days over two cities. All are Commissioner’s Cup games, the in-season tournament they won last season. The Aces are the only team at a cursory glance by Across the Timeline that have two back-to-backs and two stretches of three games in four days.
“Someone looked at this schedule — not saying any names — but someone looked at this schedule and said, ‘How can we screw over the Aces?’” Plum told Yahoo Sports. “Well, they tried. We’ll see if it works.
“Yeah, I think that for me I looked at it, I just smiled, I looked at it as a great challenge, a great opportunity.”
Plum averaged a career-best 20.2 points per game, second in the league behind Breanna Stewart’s 21.8, and a career-best 5.1 assists. The league’s leader in made 3-pointers earned her first All-WNBA honors.
Mark Davis, owners finding balance
The CBA sets strict rules and regulations for how teams operate, which is what led to Liberty owner Joe Tsai being fined by the league for flying his team via charter in 2021. There are limits for salaries, the hard salary cap, roster numbers and travel arrangements, all issues players have spoken out regarding.
“There’s that fine balance of you don’t want to disrupt the league in terms of making an unfair advantage,” Plum said. “But at the same time, I don’t know how we grow if we don’t change. I will say, it’s a tough battle.”
Aces owner Mark Davis has made it clear he’s ready and willing to skirt around the rules of the CBA, which was passed amid great fanfare and growth in January 2020, but quickly fell out of date. He paid Becky Hammon a salary of $1 million per year, which hadn’t been done before in the league. The Raiders’ owner is building a practice facility in nearby Henderson with five-eighths of it dedicated to the Aces.
“What he’s done is just anything you could do in the CBA. Just the nicest versions of things that are allowed,” Plum said.
Since Davis couldn’t fly his team via charter in past seasons — something he, Hammon and players have been vocal about changing — Plum said he would buy the middle seats so the players didn’t have to sit directly next to other travelers.
“Obviously, that’s a really great way to catch COVID just sitting on a five-hour flight with someone that’s not wearing their mask,” Plum said. It’s his dedication to player health and safety, she said, that’s been “cool to see.”
Davis skipped a Raiders game for a potential Aces’ Finals clincher, a move that would seem obvious, yet isn’t so common. Other owners have been less attentive and present. It takes that investment to win, as seen in other teams consistently doing so across the league, Plum said.
And investment goes beyond team ownership. It includes sponsors, businesses and media entities getting involved. It’s what Plum has experienced first-hand this offseason.
Plum’s path bursting with opportunities
Plum said the partnerships she’s signed this year are a “privilege and an opportunity” for herself that are “opening a path.” The growth of the WNBA, particularly among young fans, is old news to those inside the game.
She sees brand and media companies adapting. The Amex partnership that will be held at Soho Loft on Dec. 8-11 is nearly evenly split between WNBA and NBA players. Plum, an avid gamer, will compete in the NBA2K game aired live on Twitch on Dec. 9.
“It being a live event brings the fans together,” Plum said. “I think for me [people] playing against someone in the WNBA, that’s exciting as well. I mean, it’s streaming on Twitch so I really have to be on my Ps and Qs. And if not, I’m going to hear about it.”
If the Aces’ parade celebration is any indication, she’ll be hearing about it. Plum knows how to enjoy the fun moments and is within the next wave of stars for not only her play, but her social media antics like a prank war with teammate Dearica Hamby she keeps in the back of her mind.
“It has subsided for now. I feel like [Hamby’s] pregnancy takes precedence,” Plum said. “But don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten. I have not forgotten about the last thing that happened to my car, which took multiple details to get right. So it’s coming, but I just got to give her some time. But it’s coming. … by next season for sure.”