Why I Love the WNBA
by Ben York
At the creation of The W just a few weeks back, things got off to such an incredibly fast start that I never really was able to write an introduction or welcome post.
Obviously, if you’re reading this blog, you know that I’m an avid fan, supporter and apologist of the WNBA. And, let’s be honest, there is a good chance you are as well.
I guess the question that now remains is…why?
I grew up mostly in Phoenix and Denver and have played basketball all my life. The closest I got to playing professionally was a tryout with a minor league professional team here in Phoenix in the International Basketball League. No, I didn’t make the final cut, but it was a fantastic experience.
Growing up, however, one of my best friends was former WNBA player Ann Strother. Ann played at UConn with Diana Taurasi and was a phenomenal basketball player. In fact, when I told Diana that Ann was one of my best friends a while ago, Taurasi smiled and said “Annie! The Tennessee Killer!” Ann was about a foot taller than I was (still is) and she would constantly beat me at basketball. Every time. Her jumper was a thing of beauty and she could handle the ball with the best of them. Needless to say, I quickly had a vast appreciation of the women’s game. I never felt emasculated or ashamed – Ann was damn good.
Thus, early on I was a fan of the women’s game and loved watching it wherever and whenever I could. In fact, the way the game is played at that level isn’t much different that the men’s game.
At age 14, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Synovial Cell Sarcoma. During this difficult time, basketball was the sole outlet for me and allowed me to step away from all the medical stuff that I had going on at that time. It took a while for me to be able to step onto the court again, but just being in the gym or around the game sufficed. The purity of the game of basketball was a savior for me and to be able to forget “real life” for even a small moment was something I’ll never take for granted.
Now, the key word here is purity. At times, if I’m honest, I think it’s lacking in the NBA. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a die-hard NBA fan (I have a tattoo my favorite team on my arm) but, at times, the essence and purity is discarded for individual accolades and success. This isn’t to say that the WNBA is perfect, not by a long shot, but overall the honesty and integrity of the game is superior.
The same type of “purity” in regards to the game of basketball when I was going through my bouts with cancer is found on a consistent basis in the WNBA. Something about the whole experience is magical. To some, I’m positive that describing the WNBA in that way sounds extremely corny or over the top. All I can say to those people is you’ll have to watch a WNBA game live to get the full spectrum of the experience.
It often becomes difficult to articulate the feeling I speak of regarding my adoration for the WNBA. The best way I can describe it is that you aren’t detached from the game and players; you feel like an actual, legitimate part of things. Like you have an affect on the outcome of the game beyond mundane superstitions. The ladies clearly appreciate each and every fan that comes to the arena and it’s reciprocated with the fans’ devotion. The fans are passionate in every sense of the word, and love the players whether they win 20 games or five games.
Maybe it’s the innocence of the WNBA that makes me love it. Nothing is guaranteed. With only 13 teams and 11 players on each (that’s 143 total players if you want to do the math) the competition for a roster spot is still, especially with a constant influx of new talent from the college ranks. Hence, a player wanting to make a WNBA squad will not only need to have incredible skills, but a team-first attitude to accompany their physical abilities. If their head isn’t on straight, their career in the WNBA will undoubtedly be a quick one.
Perhaps it’s the fact that they make significantly less than their male counterparts. I realize that it’s not that big an issue to some people, but for me, I respect the dedication and devotion these ladies have for what they make. It’s all about the love of the game. Again, not to say that this isn’t found in the NBA, but I’d question how many players would remain in the NBA if they only made $30,000 – $40,000 annually.
Everyone has their own reasons for loving something, and they should all be respected. I’ve never understood the venom and sheer disdain some have for the WNBA. I’m not a big hockey fan, but I absolutely respect what they do and don’t mind catching a game now and then. Similarly, you don’t have to be a devoted fan to enjoy a WNBA game, as thousands found out when they attended an Indiana Fever playoff game with free tickets bought by Larry Bird.
So, there you have it. I’m a guy, I played basketball at a high level, and I love the WNBA.