Loving the WNBA with a touch of positivity.
by Ben York
I strongly feel that basketball is, to a great extent, more than just a game. Similarly, I believe the WNBA is so much more than just another sports league. I share the same opinion as the great John Wooden that “basketball doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
Recently, I was fortunate enough to view a feature on ABC called “The Incurable Optimist.” It chronicled Michael J. Fox and how he made a conscious decision not to let his voracious love of life be affected while battling Parkinson’s disease for almost 20 years. Rather than focus on the negatives of the disease, Fox says he is the luckiest guy in the world and maintains that Parkinson’s has given him much more in life than what it has taken away. In my humble opinion, Fox has mastered the key toward living a comfortable and successful life.
As 2009 winds down, I’ve been surprised to frequently find myself in a reflective state of being. Admittedly, this is somewhat strange for me to do; I normally focus on the future rather than spending too much time dwelling on the past. By nature, I’m a positive and optimistic person and make no attempts to hide it or tone it down. But I’m finding myself relentlessly looking back on the year, assessing an unfortunate event and how it impacted my outlook on basketball and life.
One of my favorite people ever, Wayman Tisdale, passed away in May 2009. For those unaware, Tisdale admirably battled cancer for two years before it took his life this past spring. Tisdale had a cancerous cyst on his knee that was discovered after a fall broke his leg, which would later be amputated from the vicious nature of the disease. He spent over a decade in the NBA with various teams, his most successful years with the Sacramento Kings in the early ’90s. After basketball, Tisdale would devote his time to jazz recording eight albums as a bass player. But most of all, Tisdale was known for contagious smile and lovable take on life.
Tisdale’s story hit home for me, as I went through a similar diagnosis as a teenager. I, too, came close to losing a leg due to a cancerous tumor in my right thigh. Like Michael J. Fox, Tisdale was known as being an optimist to the fullest extent of the word. He never let cancer get the best of him and persistently upheld a jovial and positive attitude, even in the face of extremely difficult times. Unfortunately, looking back over 10 years ago to my own battle with cancer, I definitely wasn’t as positive or upbeat as both Fox and Tisdale, even though my diagnosis was far less severe.
Eventually, I learned (through trial and error) that faith and optimism would sooner or later lead to an enhanced quality of life no matter what kind of cards you’re dealt. I couldn’t control getting cancer and certainly won’t be able to prevent it in the future. What I am able to do, however, is look at the bright side of life and be thankful for what I do have. Fox and Tisdale had such an innate sense of life and what is truly important – something we should all aspire for – and Tisdale made quite an impression on me.
I look at the WNBA in a comparable manner; I realize I can’t control what people think of the league or transform beliefs that are already deeply ingrained. What I can do, is believe in the success and integrity of the league and share that sentiment with others. To me, the WNBA stands for so much more than just women playing basketball; it stands for advancement, empowerment, progression, and social evolution. My job is to bring some of the extraordinarily positive stories that occur on a daily basis in the WNBA to a wider audience – and I value that responsibility.
I also find myself making no apologies for doing so; just like the NBA has its more supportive writers and fans, so does the WNBA – and I’m proud to be one of them. There are far more good things that happen in the WNBA than bad, and I choose to focus on those things. If I’m honest, I try to bring what many WNBA fans already know to a new audience. It’s not difficult to find an encouraging story happening in the WNBA at any time, and that’s what I adore most about the league.
Focusing on the positive things in the WNBA allows us to move forward in spite of an array of setbacks. It forces us to learn from what doesn’t work and apply that knowledge to the future. That’s why there is a conscious effort by leadership to evaluate marketing campaigns, to assess what the WNBA’s niche will be in society, and to determine (again, through trial and error) the best possible decisions for future success. Pessimists always believe they know what is best for the league and how to “fix” it, but I assure you – that type of evaluation is a recurrent process and is regularly evolving at the league office.
In the end, I believe the WNBA will continue to succeed and gain the respect that fans and supporters have been searching for; and I believe that Donna Orender is the right person to take it there. Furthermore, I believe in the immense talent of these ladies and have no doubt that it will only get better along with the demand for the product.
As WNBA fans, there is a lot that we can complain about if we choose to. We can complain about how the WNBA doesn’t get respect (I have), how they are unfairly treated (I’ve also done this), and how society hasn’t given the league a fair shot (yep, I’ve done this too). But at the end of the day, we don’t hear this type of grumbling from the majority of the players or at the front office – they focus on the blessings they have, appreciate them, and look to improve in all areas possible as time goes on.
Setbacks are a part of life. We could choose to look at the continual transition or termination of WNBA franchises as inevitable signs of doom, instead of separate one-off instances. That said, there is a difference between solely focusing on the good things in the WNBA and being naïve to the things that need to be improved. Admittedly, I realize there are many things that need to be augmented in order for the league to flourish. Quite simply, it will just take time.
Ultimately, what plagues the WNBA in terms of mass appeal is the lack of dirt…and that’s what many people want (a la the new TMZ Sports). They want to hear the juicy stuff – the affairs, the arrests, the problems with the law etc. Like the Tiger Woods saga, we’re glued to the television and internet to see the latest text messages from mistresses or the newest details regarding Tiger’s whereabouts — I’m just as guilty of this. But in getting to know these players, their focus largely centers around their love of the game and inspiring young women…not letting their fame influence them to the point they’d have to confine themselves to a yacht. Thus, I feel that with all the negativity permeating the world today, a fresh approach is sorely needed. Speaking of which, isn’t it funny how being kind, gracious, or affable is sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness in today’s society? Sometimes, I think the WNBA gets a bad rap for being too nice. Food for thought…
In the interim, until things change, let’s focus on what we love about the league as the decade comes to an end. Let’s remind ourselves how far the league has come in 13 short years and let’s support these ladies as much as we can. The alternative (i.e. depressing, negative stories) don’t interest me in the least.
Still, it’s absolutely your choice. Thanks to fine examples set by Fox and Tisdale, I’m choosing to focus on the good – life is just too short for the negative.