“I was like, ‘When y’all are ready for basketball, just call me,’ ” Cloud said. “And they were like, ‘All right; it’s coming.’
“They are just like two amazing — and I want to say this in the best way — White men that literally believe in women and keeping women’s sports here and presenting opportunities and resources that haven’t been presented to us for the most part in any other setting.”
The Athletes Unlimited basketball league is set to debut in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a unique model. The league is completely player-driven, with a player executive committee that provides oversight into every detail of the league, as there are no individual team owners. Cloud is a member of the committee — along with current and former WNBA players in Tianna Hawkins, Sydney Colson, Ty Young and Jantel Lavender — and started recruiting as soon as she got the word from the founders.
The league features four teams with four captains who draft their rosters, though the squads change each week. The system is built around a player leader board instead of team standings. Players accumulate, or lose, points for team wins and individual statistics and being named game MVP. At the end of each week, the top four players are named captain for the following week and teams are redrafted.
Kelsey Mitchell (the 2018 WNBA draft’s No. 2 pick), Mercedes Russell (a WNBA champion), Odyssey Sims (the 2014 WNBA No. 2 pick) and DiJonai Carrington are the Week 1 captains. Games will be televised on YouTube, CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports 2 this week.
Dallas Wings forward Isabelle Harrison was the first pick in the draft. Cloud, a second-round pick, is playing for Team Carrington in the first week.
“The Athletes Unlimited model is centered around kind of connecting fans closely with the athletes that they love,” Patricof said. “What we’ve seen is that in pro sports a lot of fans have followed players through their careers from their college days and then typically to multiple pro teams. … So people develop favorite players, and they follow them throughout their career. So we’re really leaning into that.”
The most intriguing and possibly impactful aspect of the league is being an alternative for WNBA players who don’t want to play overseas. Many spend the offseason across the ocean playing in a variety of countries to supplement WNBA salaries that still have a long way to go for all players.
Athletes Unlimited has a pool of about $1 million for salaries and players will average over $20,000, including bonuses. Players can earn bonuses based on where they land on the points leader board, or by being on teams that lead at the end of quarters and win games. The league champion will make close to $40,000.
Overseas leagues can present all kinds of issues, from medical care to facilities to being paid on time. None of that includes language barriers and having to spend months in a foreign country.
Cloud said she has never enjoyed playing overseas and noted that different cultures can be particularly hard on women. She has been thinking about, and hoping for, alternatives since her rookie year.
Another aspect that fits in well with Cloud is the league’s Athletes Causes program, which matches 50 percent of a player’s season bonuses to a charity of her choosing. Cloud is playing for Planned Parenthood
The league has been busy in the lead-up to the debut, announcing additional partners such as Nike, Gatorade and Topps, along with agreements with a variety of content creators well known in women’s basketball.
“It’s really wild to be in this opportunity, but these are the rooms that both of us want to be in,” Cloud said. “I really do believe that this is the next thing for women’s basketball here in the States. My hope is that years down the road, people don’t go overseas because we made this so strong and it fits perfectly with the W.
“That’s what I keep saying in all these conversations or interviews: We are the perfect protection of their investment. We keep players at home. It’s only six weeks of play. You have adequate care and treatment, facilities. All those things that you don’t necessarily get overseas, you get them here. You get to keep your players home, in-market, and then it’s about a month in between the end of AU season and the start of the W. So I think it’s the perfect fit.”
Ocasio, who was the 2021 softball champion, added with a laugh, “And you get paid on time because you just never know overseas.”