No one would attend a minor league baseball game or watch college hoops if all anyone wanted to see was a sport’s best product. So why is that excuse OK for not watching the WNBA?
Last night, the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm hosted the Minnesota Lynx at KeyArena, the team with this years No. 1 and No. 4 draft picks.
The champs ended their home winning streak at 22 games, losing 81-74.
The rookie sensation and top overall recruit for the Lynx, Maya Moore, scored 14. Moore is the latest signing and the only woman ever to Nikes legendary Air Jordan brand.
Sounds like an awesome setup for a game. And, in another sporting universe, it may have been a marquee affair.
But this is the WNBA, where games dont warrant a media marquee billing.
Yet, the WNBA, reprising its role as basketballs red-headed stepchild, is back for its 15th year. And along with another year, come the recycled arguments that that WNBA offers an inferior game as compared to the NBA and, as such, its status as a lesser sport is why television viewership is lower than it is for the NBA and why fewer people show up to support WNBA teams.
Rightful or not, comparisons between the two leagues are unavoidable if someone is looking to pick such a fight. But I refuse to waste a drop of digital ink on the merit of one leagues product over the other.
I will, however, delve into the theory that the WNBAs attention woes stem from the idea that the womens game is lesser as compared to the mens.
That argument has little merit.
If people waited to watch only the best-of-the-best, why watch any NBA regular season game? Or college game? Why attend a minor league baseball game? Or any Kansas City Royals game?
Why people watch, attend or dont attend any sports event often has little to do with whether the product on the field or court is the finest the sport has to offer. This means that the reasons people enjoy various sports are unquantifiable.
That makes for a challenging business model.
With only 7,500 seats, our fans are closer to the action, said Aaron Artman, Tacoma Rainier team president. There is an intimacy here that the fans appreciate. They can smell the newly cut grass and hear what the players and coaches are saying.
So, even though the product on the field of the Mariners’ AAA affiliate is widely acknowledged as, by definition, not the caliber of the major leagues, the fans still bother to come.
The Storms CEO, Karen Bryant, bristles at a comparison between the WNBA and minor league baseball.
The WNBA isnt a feeder system into anything, Bryant said. We are the pinnacle of womens basketball.
However, Bryant concedes that there is something about the intimacy both environments offer, saying that baseball purists appreciate a similar quality in minor league baseball that basketball purists appreciate in womens hoops.
John Wooden, the storied UCLA coach whose teams amassed 10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975, was an outspoken supporter of the womens game. Wooden wrote an article called Why I am a UConn fan for Sports Illustrated in April 2003, just after the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship. Wooden said that UConn reminded him of his UCLA teams.
The top women athletes play a more pure game than the men, Wooden said.
But that is only one mans opinion.
Interestingly, Bryant said that one of the WNBAs largest growing segments of fan base is basketball coaches.
Coaches appreciate what we do because they can actively witness the strategy between the coach and players, Bryant said. Studying the NBA has no relative value to a high school coach.
Bryant says that athletes in both leagues have comparable training, strategy and tactics but that is where the similarities end.
A dunk, for example, is the least athletic play in basketball, Bryant said. How is watching someone 7 feet 4 inches tip his hand over the rim called athletic?
Sure, but it is pretty entertaining to watch the 64 guy put an exclamation point on a drive by levitating 34 inches and finishing with a posterizing dunk over his flailing and gape-mouthed opponent.
The exciting dunking scenario supports Bryants point about how the NBA isnt relevant to youth coaches because explosive dunks are rarely applicable to youth players. Most of these coaches will never design plays around a kid’s vertical leap. Point given.
Doesn’t mean a youth player shouldn’t aspire to such an intimidating and indisputably sensational play.
Of course, were not going to see the Los Angeles Sparks All-Star Candace Parker shatter the glass anytime soon. Thats too bad for the WNBA because shattered backboards make for great television, conversation and headlines.
Detractors [to the WNBA] say that the womens game doesnt have the athleticism that the mens game does, Bryant said. I think that what they really mean is that they miss the very physical play. The contact. On the other hand, we hear that the womens game is graceful.
And, if youre looking for more signs of grace, you can also look off the court. The WNBA hasnt had teammates pull guns on one another the locker room. No WNBA player has thrown anyone through a plate-glass window.
In fact, aside from a smattering of nude photos and Phoenix All-Star Diana Taurasi being wrongly accused of having taken a banned substance, the biggest social impropriety that can be leveled against the WNBA is that some of its players are lesbians, as are some of its fans.
Purity and comparisions aside, Bryant maintains that womens basketball is a mainstream sport.
No, it is not. And thats OK.
The NBA was once a quaint game, too, appreciated only by the games purists. It wasnt mainstream 15 years after its inception. In fact, even in 1981, more than 30 years after the NBA was founded, most of the leagues championship series between the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets was televised on tape delay.
So dont get defensive, WNBA. You have time.