Lisa Leslie, formerly of the Los Angeles sparks. s_bukley/shutterstock

Not too long ago, I covered the philanthropy of top WNBA stars in the league today. Unlike other major sports leagues, like the NBA and NFL, WNBA players aren’t raking in the big bucks—with leading athletes and gender equity advocates alike calling out the inequity. This does not, however, mean that WNBA players are inactive on the philanthropic stage — quite the contrary. And like many of our “Glitzy Givers,” they also leverage their platforms to bring awareness to causes. Current stars like Washington Mystics Elena Delle Donne have their own foundations. Others like Sue Bird take a hands-on approach to charitable work.

Going forward, there is also some reason to believe that things will improve on the earnings front. Many WNBA players already play abroad in other leagues in order to continue earning money. And a new collective bargaining agreement guarantees that the top players in the league will eventually earn in excess of $500,000 annually. All that is to say, getting a handle on what WNBA players past and present are doing in philanthropy now might reveal how this growing cohort might make an impact further down the line. And we know from athletes and other big donors that many don’t fully engage in philanthropy until after retirement.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some retired WNBA players and how they give:

Clarisse Machanguana

6-foot-5 Clarisse Machanguana played for the Los Angeles Sparks during the early days of the WNBA alongside Lisa Leslie. She later spent the bulk of her career playing abroad in Spain, France, Brazil, South Korea and Italy before finally retiring at 40. Machanguana set up the Clarisse Machanguana Foundation in 2014, a Maputo-based nonprofit organization focused on empowering Mozambican youth through its three primary pillars: health, education and sport.

“Even though I was paid to make shots, I want to make the most important shot of all—making changes to peoples’ lives. I want to change a whole generation of youth,” Machanguana told IP last year.

The athlete also plans to walk 1,800 miles across her home country of Mozambique to raise awareness of HIV and obstetric fistula. She also recently returned to the United States to pursue a nonprofit management degree on a Fulbright scholarship.

Swin Cash

UConn star Swin Cash was drafted second overall in 2002 by the Detroit Shock, where she was one of the game’s early stars. A year later, she helped lead the Shock to their first championship. Cash, a three-time champion and Olympic gold medalist, retired at the end of the 2016 season. During her playing days, Cash was one of the first in the WNBA to don Black Lives Matter T-shirts, even incurring a fine to do so. On the philanthropic front, she launched Cash for Kids, a youth nonprofit that focuses on physical fitness, nutrition, education, cultural trips and sports camps. She also launched Cash Building Blocks, an urban development company that renovates and offers affordable homes for low-income families.

Rebecca Lobo

One of the first WNBA stars I saw in person, center Rebecca Lobo was an early superstar for the New York Liberty. Lobo also had a storied college career at University of Connecticut. Back in 2001, Lobo and her mother, RuthAnn, founded The RuthAnn and Rebecca Lobo Scholarship in Allied Health and Nursing at UConn. Scholarships are awarded annually to students studying health sciences in an effort to encourage diversity in the health professions. RuthAnn battled breast cancer and was a cancer-awareness advocate.

Lisa Leslie

Southern California hoops legend Lisa Leslie was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in 1997, where she would spend her whole career. She won two back-to-back WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002. Other notes in her storied career include being the first to dunk in a WNBA game. Leslie retired in 2009.

Lisa Leslie works with the Kay Yow/WBCA cancer fund, which focuses on breast cancer and is named after Yow, a coach for the North Carolina State women’s basketball team. Leslie also works with My Liver Cancer Options, a program and website that shows users their options and provides additional information about cancer. The motivation here is personal, as her stepfather passed away from the disease. She’s also involved with Vaccines for Teens.

Tamika Catchings

Recently ranked the second-best WNBA player of all time by ESPN, Tamika Catchings led the Indiana Fever to a 2012 championship. She retired in 2016, but all the way back in 2004, established the Catch the Stars Foundation, which aims to empower youth by providing goal-setting programs that promote fitness, literacy and youth development. The foundation runs several fitness programs, including one for adults, and its literacy work includes operating Catch the Stars Reading Corners, currently in Riley Children’s Hospital and Auntie Mame’s Child Development Center.

Cheryl Swoopes

An early star for those dominant Houston Comets teams, four-time WNBA champion Cheryl Swoopes has since worked at her alma mater Texas Tech and as an analyst for ESPN. In 2019, she and her husband Chris Tellison launched Back to Our Roots, a youth empowerment organization that focuses on farming, gardening, goal-setting, sports and exploring different cultures—particularly African culture.

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