Thursday, July 13th, 2006 at 11:59 am  |  13 responses

She Got Game?

Ten years in, we check in on the WNBA…

by Lang Whitaker

If you’re a sportswriter, the easiest column in the world to write is the old “The WNBA Sucks” masterpiece. You don’t even have to actually watch the WNBA, you can just make a few simple jokes, draw a few vague parallels, talk about the turnovers…next thing you know you’ve got a column that your editor will love!

The key part there is not having to watch. Because as it turns out, hardly anyone watches the WNBA. The ratings are terrible; attendance isn’t much to write home about. Maybe people gave it a chance once, but it appears that most basketball fans in America have tuned it out.

I’m a part of that group of people who tuned it out. I tried watching a few years ago, and I actually went to a New York Liberty game, but I just couldn’t get into it. To me, from a quality standpoint, it seemed like a high school boys game — turnovers, missed jumpers, lots of lay-ups.

So last night, after maybe five years of ignoring the WNBA, I tuned in to the WNBA All-Star Game, in an attempt to give the league another chance. And I was surprised.

There are times when the WNBA is a lot like the NBA, at least in the general sense and particularly in the halfcourt offense. Within ten minutes of turning on the game, one of the teams came down and set up a pick and roll, with the uninvolved people standing around the perimeter. Just like the NBA. There are players (like Margo Dydek) who are obviously only playing basketball because they’re really tall — Dydek was really unskilled and couldn’t catch any pass unless it hit her in the hands, yet there she was, the starting All-Star center for the East. The passing was better than I remembered it being, although there were still plenty of turnovers and bad passes. (Granted, that could be because it was a bunch of players who don’t normally play together trying to play together.) They had the same arena announcer who does the Knicks games, they threw out t-shirts to the crowd. And that was about it as far as the similarities.

There were moments when the action made me ooh or ahh. Lindsay Whalen made a few fearlesss drives to the rim that were nice, and Lauren Jackson effortlessly grabbed one rebound and dribbled end to end, like Dirk Nowitzki. The best player in the game by far, at least to me, was Katie Douglas, who looked like she could play in the NBA — or at least the summer leagues — right now. Her passes were brilliant if simple, she seemed to understand spacing and the way the floor needs to be spread to create opportunities, and she was money on her jumpers, even if she does have the same shooting form as Jason McElwain.

It seemed the WNBA is largely a perimeter game, because the post play was at best sloppy. Even the names the casual fans know — Lisa Leslie, for example — didn’t seem to be so much skilled in the post as much as just taller than everyone else.

The worst part of the game, by far, was ESPN’s coverage of it. At halftime, commentator Anne Meyers couldn’t remember Yolanda Griffith‘s name (she called her “Yolanda…Yo…you know, Yo-Yo”) live on the air. Several of the players and coaches were wearing microphones, but the ESPN truck never seemed to never turn the microphones off, so there was a constant buzz of noise blaring away and drowning out the announcers. Sideline reporter Heather Cox thanked several players for all that they’d given to the league, as though she worked for the WNBA. Color commentator Doris Burke constantly told viewers (including three times on one play!) that Cheryl Ford is Karl Malone‘s daughter.

What was funny was that while watching the game, I felt like I was watching one of those black-and-white tapes of the NBA from the 1950s, when incredible athletes had to yet to take over and make it a league dominated by play above the rim. In 50 years, could the WNBA be where the NBA is now, in terms of playing style? Absolutely. But while the NBA is around, unless you’re a female basketball player hoping to have a career in the WNBA, why would you want to watch what the game used to be when you could just as easily watch what the game is right now? Last night’s game — and I’m assuming it was a fair representation of WNBA basketball — was OK. But I wouldn’t buy a ticket to go see a game at that skill level.

Well, unless Katie Douglas is playing.

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  • Brittany Vikse

    You should watch a couple of Connecticut Sun games then. If you enjoyed the Whalen part, and Katie Douglas. Of course Margo does play for the Sun, but mostly she’s just out there to get the jump ball and to block a few shots. Then they bring in Asjha Jones to hit the jump shots and Taj McWillians-Franklin goes to work down-low.

    I enjoy the wnba a lot. I even got my dad to watch a lot of games last year, and though he would never admit to enjoying the games, he always seems to watch the games that are on tv even when I didn’t tell them they were on.

    I watched a few Timberwolves games last year, (that probably isn’t the best team to watch if I want to see some good baskeball, but they are my home team so I support them) but the one-on-one individual play drove me crazy. I really couldn’t watch anymore.

    If you want to see unselfish, team oriented baskeball played the “right” way, I think you would really enjoy the wnba. But if you want to see high flying, above the rim, one-on-one basketball, then this isn’t the game for you. I enjoy both every once in a while, but if I had to choose I’d pick the W anyday.

  • Alex

    ^^ Well if you wanted to see unselfish, team oriented bsaketball played the “right way” you could also watch college…
    The good thing about the WNBA is it’s in the summer and there’s always a baseball game on so I never feel like it’s the best thing on.

  • Vyse

    You pulled an ESPN with that closing. You know how ESPN does it — your closing always refers to a comment you made earlier in your piece, and I suppose the object is to be a bit witty but it never is.

  • Jason

    Even WNBA fans were complaining about the All-Star game. It’s never an accurate representation of the actual game. As bad as ESPN is, they actually ran a great article on their site about that very thing and how the All-Star game turns off casual fans.

    The league itself is at a much higher skill level than what was displayed at the All-Star game unless you’re watching a NY Liberty game. They’ve got a general manager that believe it or not is worse than Isiah Thomas.

  • John

    I just remember watching part of the 2005 finals, and during the commercial it said it was sponsored by Herbal Essence, then showed some girly commercial. NBA has the beer, WNBA has Herbal Essence. I thought it was funny.

  • Brian

    I agree with Brittany to a point,, yes please make the trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena.. you will be surprised at the level of play. In regards to Margo, I am a big fan…Yes, she does not dominate, BUT, watch how the other team has to change EVERY thing they do when she is in the game. Just her presence alters the game..far less driving done towards the basket is just one example. I have really tried to watch the mens game – In my opinion there is no defense in THAT game. How do you stop a 6-8 inch 300 lb man from charging the basket, jumping and jamming the ball into the net? (unless you want a foul called on you) The mens game comes down to whoever dunks more balls, wins..

  • Ian


  • j.dean23

    ITS ABOUT TIME YALL RECONIZED WNBNA!!! they been doin their thing fa a long time bra!!!

  • j.dean23

    an oh yea… candice might do nice in tha league… but you kno that ivory latta gonna do her thing too… dont sleep on latta she will cross you an you wont kno wut hit you… also dont sleep on bobbit tha point gaurd fa tenn. watch out fa her tonight… even tho RUTGERS gonna win!!!!

  • Goody

    Ivory Latta done for the season with the knee as usual.

  • tmo

    I feel Parker will take the WNBA to the next level. Plus she is playing with Leslie and those two are the two best players not to mention it’s a gang of stars in this draft who will take the game to the next level. I also think these players will make more ladies want to play the game.

  • Gerald

    The WNBA sucks so much! How does any one watch that garbage. Half of the games are turn overs and missed lay-ups, exciting. Why cant they take a hint no one watches the games or care about the league so why not get rid of it.

  • Brayden

    The WNBA is only still in business because the NBA subsidizes their expenses. They’re losing money and have been for awhile. You can say all this about how they play the game the right way but pro sports are a business. David Stern is obsessed with making the WNBA a sucess and even made ESPN take them as part of their t.v. deal. Bottom line if the WNBA was so great we would’nt be having this discussion ten years into this league.