Back into the swing of school, you’d think I’d be writing about the NFL. You’d assume that I’d be spewing forth extraneous adjectives about how great football is and how excited I am to spend my weekends obsessing over it again. But I’m not writing about football. Not in this column, anyway.
Rather, I’m writing about a game instinctually rejected and ridiculed by the average football fan. A league whose playoffs, according to a recent ESPN.com poll, are considered less relevant by the average fan than NFL pre-season games. A game played out of season in front of often-paltry crowds in a league that carefully measures its progress from year to year, hoping to attract enough fans in each market to keep from folding teams.
I’m writing about the WNBA.
More than writing, actually. Writing implies some objectivity. In truth, I am professing my undying support for the Women’s National Basketball Association, a league I once utterly ignored.
Because I am hooked. I spent my summer becoming a WNBA junkie.
Last year I would have told you that, while the concept of the WNBA is good, the product fails to support the underlying egalitarian virtues of having a women’s professional league. I would have said that the game, running at a slower pace than the NBA and without its highlight-reel dunks, lacked the ability to hold fans’ attention. I would have argued that women’s basketball’s development at the college level did not yet justify the creation of a professional association.
ÊBut after spending 17 games on the sideline at Key Arena, home of the Seattle Storm, I know better than that. I know that Seattle’s Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson are the WNBA’s Stockton and Malone. I know that Malone’s daughter, Detroit Shock center Cheryl Ford, will rival her father’s dominance on the court. I have seen Chamique Holdsclaw elevate high enough to remove any doubt in my mind as to whether she could dunk if she wanted to. I have watched as Katie Smith rained down threes and hit clutch shots like Reggie Miller in his prime. I know that Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson hate each other, and have seen them provide the kind of on-court drama the NBA would love to have.
I know now the WNBA’s product is as good as its concept. Good enough to attract men. Good enough, in fact, to attract tough guys like Bill Laimbeer, the bad-boy turned mentor of the Detroit Shock and the 2003 WNBA coach of the year. And with a bumper crop of ballers, including Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard on the way from the college ranks in 2004, the product will continue to improve
Granted, it hasn’t always been this way. When the league began play in 1997, it had a rival, the American Basketball League (ABL), and a limited talent pool of aging former Olympians. The basketball was ugly, and so were the profits. But the NBA’s financial muscle has kept the league alive, allowing the WNBA to outlast the ABL and attract not only the nation’s, but the world’s best talent.
As a result, the WNBA is a game worth watching, both in person and on TV. Even if it means tuning in to Lifetime or Oxygen in order to do so.
I have been converted, and you can be too.
With the Connecticut Sun already in the Eastern Conference Finals, you’ll even have a team to root for. Heck, the Sun’s games are being broadcast on Yale’s radio station (WYBC 1340).
So I urge you, when you’re not watching football in these early days of classes, to watch the WNBA.
Still not convinced? I have the ultimate proof of the WNBA’s worth. In discussing the league with a former YDN sports columnist and ardent supporter of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, it was revealed that she didn’t consider Storm forward Lauren Jackson, who was the league’s leading scorer, an MVP candidate.
If East Coast Bias isn’t the fundamental marker of a mainstream American sport, I don’t know what is.